This talk was a part of the semesterly Dub Senate, a time for Oliver to speak to the student Senate and answer questions that student leaders might have.
Union Senate began as usual. SGA vice president Emma Kurt first called the Senate to order, chaplain Ryan Sinni read a Psalm and roll call revealed almost 20 senators absent.
Union University Garden, a gardening society dedicated to tending a garden by Luther Hall, and Letters in Motion, an organization built around service projects including sending personal letters to orphans in Nepal, were affirmed by the Senate.
Ordinarily the body would move to legislation, but there was no legislation this meeting. This better allowed for Oliver to speak.
Oliver first mentioned the library, opening Nov. 6. It is the first new facility to open on campus since 2010.
“It is stunning, beautiful, you’re going to love it,” he said.
Oliver then moved on to discussing Union’s new strategic plan for 2016-2020. The theme of this plan is “United in Spirit; Grounded in Truth,” Oliver said.
This plan involves seven focal points for Union. The first focus is bearing witness to the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Oliver said we live in a culture that has undergone tremendous value shift recently. They have shifted away from faithfulness to God’s word, he said.
He said Union must remain steadfast in its commitment to God’s word, but do so in a way that is helpful.
“[We should be] a place that lifts high the banner of Christ and the word of God,” Oliver said. “But do it in a way that doesn’t beat people up or tear them down.”
Oliver cited Jesus’s interaction with the woman at the well as an example of speaking the truth of God with love and concern for our neighbor.
The second goal of Union’s new strategic plan is expanding enrollment across the university. Oliver mentioned how Union has seen an increase in enrollment over the last year, but he hopes to see a much larger increase. He also said that Union will see the establishment of many new programs and initiatives, referencing the new EDGE program as an example of Union’s expansion.
Thirdly, Union will seek after enhancing operational effectiveness and efficiency.
He said this focus will “keep cost as low as possible, but not give up what we are known for,” citing small classroom sizes and quality teachers as strengths of Union that must be preserved.
Revising core curriculum is the fourth focus of the strategy, reassessing what it means to graduate with a degree from Union University. This was later discussed in the question and answer section of Senate. While there are no specifics as of yet, Oliver mentioned that the best ideas currently being discussed deal with a more integrated focus to the core.
Union also will focus on supporting meaningful research for students and faculty. Oliver said this focus should better help those in graduate programs or professional programs. Expanding research also would help undergraduate students who lack the resources they need to enter the academic world after undergraduate college, Oliver said.
The sixth focus is developing leaders for the future. By providing internships and work opportunities, Oliver said Union can become “a place that spins off leaders for Christian higher education.”
The seventh and final focus of the new strategic focus will be bolstering student life and building community. This focus is also still being discussed by the administration, but Oliver mentioned that it may include experimenting with academic integration in the residence halls, along with more “Union swag, spirit and enthusiasm.”
After outlining the new strategic focus of Union, Oliver moved on to questions.
Some students asked questions about dorm life and rules. He was asked about the possibility of increasing or eliminating open dorm hours.
“There’s room for discussing it,” he said.
He said while dorm hours are unlikely to change, he understands that some students are more mature than others.
“Ultimately our desire is that you would be able to live faithfully and well after Union,” he said. “I do want us to be thoughtful about what kind of boundaries we have.”
He was also asked about removing the current policy against any shirtlessness in public for males on campus.
“I think we could certainly have a discussion about this,” he said.
Oliver was asked about the possibility of expanded library hours. He responded that the library would examine how the library was being used and see what would be best used for students, but that students will be encouraged to sleep eventually.
“We’ll see what the patterns are,” he said.
Oliver was also asked questions about the use of space at Union.
When asked about the use of the old library space, he responded that while nothing is set in stone, the university is considering moving the wellness center into the space currently occupied by the old library. The art department may get part of the space that the wellness center would be leaving, and admissions and financial aid would move where the Hundley center used to be, which will be relocated to where admissions used to be in the Student Union Building. This is all speculation, Oliver added, saying that the university will be asking for recommendations in January.
Oliver was asked about the lack of automatic doors on campus. He responded by saying that the current situation is unacceptable, for which he personally apologized. He said the plan is to have an automatic entrance in every building.
Oliver was also asked about his personal habits.
When asked what he was reading, he responded that he was reading Onward, by Russell Moore, A Final Word, by Chuck Colson, Prayer, by Tim Keller and Echo in the Darkness, by Francine Rivers.
He was also asked how he rested. Oliver responded by saying that he reads scriptures every day and does not work on Sundays.
One student asked him if he planned to go and see the new Star Wars movie, to which he responded, “Absolutely.”