By Katie Shatzer
Several of Union’s key leaders reiterated the university’s goal to focus on its identity and mission during a board of trustees meeting, April 9. Earlier that morning, the board approved an $80 million budget for the upcoming year, the university’s largest budget to date.
Dr. Kimberly Thornbury, dean of students and vice president for Student Services, described the board’s response to the budget and the newest strategic plan as “heartening,” and various people present commented on the spirit of concord, which Rod Parker, board chairman, called “rare” for boards of trustees.
Dr. David S. Dockery, university president, traced the university’s journey through the three previous strategic plans: “Vision and Values 2001,” “Vision and Values 2005” and “Union 2010: A Vision for Excellence.”
He related the highlights of each plan and how they each shaped Union’s campus and direction.
Dockery described how the previous plans led to the newest strategic plan, “Renewing Minds: Union 2012,” which the trustees voted to approve last December.
The “2001 Plan,” which was adopted in December 1996, established the university’s four core values. The following December, a 25-year plan to rebuild and reshape the campus was developed.
In December 2000, trustees approved the “2005 Plan,” which introduced a new mission and identity statement. The “2010 Plan,” adopted in December 2004, introduced the university’s Statement of Faith along with an unprecedented capital campaign.
Through each plan, the university’s leadership established new academic programs, qualitative initiatives and quantitative goals.
“RENEWING MINDS: UNION 2012”
Dockery said in the meeting that the most recent plan aims to focus on “quality more than quantity,” and includes the finishing touches on current projects, followed by a year’s hiatus from construction.
Following Dockery’s introduction, Dr. Gregory Thornbury, dean of the School of Christian Studies, spoke to the trustees about the mission of the university.
Thornbury said Dockery’s two books, “Renewing Minds” and “Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal” contributed to Union’s rise in the eyes of other institutions in recent years.
“Renewing Minds,” published in fall 2007, served as the basis for the new strategic plans. Gregory Thornbury and the speakers who followed each explained an aspect of the “Union 2012” plan, drawing upon concepts and themes found in the text of “Renewing Minds” — a distinctive mission, reclaiming and applying the Christian Intellectual Tradition (C.I.T.), “Great Commandment” thinking and a grace-filled community.
Thornbury said the university’s flourishing is tied to its mission and identity, and he spoke of the importance of not forgetting these or taking them for granted.
“The adjective in ‘Christ-centered higher education’ is just as important as the noun,” Thornbury said. “We are providing a theologically grounded education.”
Dr. Gene Fant, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, followed Thornbury with a presentation about the future of the C.I.T. and its part in the mission and identity of Union.
“At Union, we celebrate tradition, not traditionalism,” Fant said. “We celebrate principles.”
These principles can be understood as students interpret the world through a Christian worldview, which is the “sharpest view of the world,” Fant said.
Fant’s explanation of the C.I.T. was funneled through an explanation of “Great Commandment thinking,” reflective of Chapter 9 in “Renewing Minds” and offered by Dr. Thomas R. Rosebrough, dean of Education and Human Studies.
“Great Commandment thinking” involves a commitment to spreading the Gospel, without the accommodation of secular culture. This includes the way members of the Union community view social justice, Rosebrough said.
Dr. Carla Sanderson, university provost, approached the subject of a grace-filled community and its importance as part of Union University’s mission.
Sanderson presented a list of “concrete building blocks” that she said the university’s leadership pursues seriously with the hope of fostering community.
The list, which is also found in “Renewing Minds,” includes discernment, generosity, hospitality and genuine humility, among others. She cited the importance of community in the classroom and unity among faculty and staff.
“In order to face the future well, with all the challenges of higher education, we must be in community,” Sanderson said. “We are going to pursue joy in what we do. … We are a people who know grace has been lavished upon us.”
Kimberly Thornbury outlined priorities within Union’s grace-filled community. She identified several needs and future projects, and the necessity of strong leadership and management.
“(The 2012 plan) does not necessarily focus on the new or the novel, but deepens what has already been articulated in other strategic plans,” Thornbury said.
Rich Grimm, vice president for Enrollment Services, described the challenges and successes of recruitment at Union. He returned to the message of “Renewing Minds,” citing its importance in attracting students.
“This message resonates with students and it resonates with influencers,” Grimm said. “There is opportunity (at Union) to love God with your mind that you aren’t going to find elsewhere.”
The university’s future projects and dreams were discussed by Gary Carter, senior vice president for Business and Financial Services, and Charles Fowler, senior vice president for University Relations.
Carter mentioned the newest facilities Union enjoys, the Bowld Student Commons and Smith Memorial Soccer Complex among them. He said the road through the Moss Creek property given to the university, at Exit 83 off Interstate 40, will be complete by the end of the year.
Later in the meeting, Dockery commented on future uses of this land.
“It’s an amazing asset,” he said. “We don’t want to rush in and just fill it up. We want to use it wisely.”
Carter also explained the aesthetic choice behind each new building project.
“The current administration has made an intentional decision to connect the look of the old campus (prior to 1975) with the new,” Carter said. “Buildings are an expression of God’s grace and goodness.”
Fowler ended the formal presentations, looking back again to 1997 and encouraging the board of trustees to continue to “dream in a bold and faithful way.”
He thanked them for their support and focused leadership.