Statement from the President

Gregg A. Chenoweth, Ph.D.

Press Conference, Sept. 19, 2018

Bethel College, President’s Dining Room

Shift of Name from Bethel College to Bethel University on May 6, 2019

Thank you for coming, and welcome to Bethel.

I wish to remind you today of something important you probably learned so long ago you forgot: Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s starry-eyed lovers, had last names. Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet fell in love, but were doomed from the start as members of two warring families. But Juliet has a master theory of life.  She tells Romeo that a name is an artificial feature of their relationship. She loves the person called "Montague." In a seminal moment, Juliet assures Romeo: “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." 

She was saying, how you behave matters more than what you’re called.

Today we announce that on May 6, 2019, Bethel College changes its name to Bethel University. And we bear the influence of Ms. Juliet – how you behave matters more than what you’re called.

As for the name University, there is no accreditation standard detailing that threshold.  There isn’t even consensus across higher education on what constitutes “academic excellence.” Michele Lamont of Harvard wrote a book whose title alone is worth the price: “How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment.” She describes a universal commitment to “academic excellence,” but that is completely non-referential. It’s like two real estate agents using different comps to determine the value of the same house. She says, “Evaluating academic excellence is akin to connoisseurship – an inherently intrinsic, more emotional than rational process.” 

For example, look to graduation rates at Chicago State University and Boston College.  It’s a numerical inversion. Recent public records show that University graduates 19 percent; that College graduates 91 percent. I guess Ms. Juliet was right.

So, Ms. Juliet would be more interested if Bethel behaves like a University than our name. The high-level talking points are that Bethel now enrolls one-in-eight as graduate students, with all the research rigor that entails; one-in-10 students are in online format, reaching across broad geographic and cultural spaces; one-in-13 students are from outside the United States; alumni are in 65 countries, where the name “college” more often connotes tech school or community college than a four-year bachelor’s degree.

But Juliet would look to far more than that.

She would see our breadth of program, with more than 50 undergraduate degrees, 10 graduate programs, about 15 in online format by next year. There is a wide-ranging diversity of academic pursuit, from A to Z. Forgive the long, labored list, but that’s the point: students may study here anything from Accounting and Applied Politics to Biology, Business, Chemistry, Counseling, Economics, Engineering Management, Exercise Science, Financial Services, Graphic Design, History, International Health, Leadership, Marketing, Math, Medicine, Music, Nursing, Pastoral Ministries, pre-Physical Therapy, Science Education, Sign Language Interpreting, Sociology, Studio Arts, Teacher Education, Theater, Youth Ministry, and more.

Juliet would also look to our excellent faculty with top credentials in their field, including Dr. Chad Meister, a national expert who published more works on the Problem of Evil than any other in the United States, nine books in the last seven years alone. Faculty accomplishments from Bethel include: an average of more than 100 scholarly presentations and performances each of the last five years, reaching every corner of the United States (California, Oregon, New York, Washington, D.C., Georgia, Texas, etc.) and across the globe (e.g. Kenya, Greece, Israel, Jamaica, France, etc.), including elite sites such as Oxford, Cambridge, Aberdeen, and Carnegie Hall.

Academic disciplines are deepened by Bethel faculty projects on all sorts of things. Again, forgive the long, labored list, but that’s the point. Faculty study: suffering, shame, the logic of forgiveness, Islam, mentoring, culture shock, health care among the Amish, eating disorders, home births, monotone mathematical triangles, top predator conservation, adolescent reading, capitalism, gene segregation, Great Lakes fisheries, social-linguistic patterns among the LGBT deaf, ecological imagination in American fiction, Russian education, Latino values in education, theater sound and stage design, leadership pressure, the ethics of a Library Bill of Rights, deviance in American political allies, non-violent resistance, simulation learning in Nursing, Shakespeare, depression in cancer patients, race-based tension, art exhibits in every medium, choral and instrumental productions of great variety, and more.

Juliet would also examine our academic programs that are regionally or nationally rated, carrying unmodified accreditations, with modern laboratories and lecture halls, such as a cadaver lab for pre-med students, a undergraduate rarity. Our students who apply for med school are accepted at double the national average, more than a 90 percent rate compared to the upper 40s. We also see 100 percent job placement rate in nursing whose program was ranked No. 7 in the United States, a top 4 percent finish nationally in competitive math performance tests, and 100 percent pass rate every year on the national performance standard for a unique academic major in American Sign Language. 

Juliet would see our alumni in 65 nations and every U.S. state, and current students come from about 30 states and 20 countries, from Brazil to Vietnam to Germany. Alumni professional achievements include the No. 1 rated School Superintendent in Indiana, the No. 1 rated School Principal in Indiana, a Top 1 percent pediatric surgeon in North America, the former Executive Director of the largest Youth for Christ district in the nation, the Chaplain of Barak Obama’s childhood school, the lead in the national tour of Lincoln Center’s “South Pacific,” a laboratory director in sustainable energy, MLB All-Star Team representative from the Cleveland Indians Justin Masterson, MLB pitcher for the San Diego Padres Eric Stults, a senior Midwest manager for Blue Cross / Blue Shield, and, among others, the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Midwest Region, Don Clark.

Juliet would take note of many independent, third-party organizations that endorse Bethel’s quality. Bethel is ranked as a Top Tier Midwestern College for 15 consecutive years by U.S. News & World Report, is one of 10 Indiana schools to be named a national College of Distinction, and by Washington Monthly is No. 66 in the nation for graduate degrees and No. 7 in the Midwest for “Best Bang for the Buck.” Money Magazine named us one of the “Best Colleges in America,” and we were No. 1 in 2015 for Top Christian Colleges Exceeding Expectations. 

Sounds like how a University behaves, right? This meets the Juliet Test.

But just as your first name distinguishes you from the common-name family, we are not just a University. Our first name is Bethel. On this day that we announce “University,” you must know the great meaning of “Bethel.”

We are not like the common conception of a University. As Chad Wellmon wrote last year, as professor and resident director at the University of Virginia, following white supremacist activity on his campus (Aug. 14, 2017, “For Moral Clarity, Don’t Look to Universities,” Chronicle of Higher Education): 

U-VA has “vague values,” and “seems institutionally incapable of moral clarity,” with “press releases that read like the bowels of a modern bureaucracy.  …  What can the president of a contemporary university say? The University of Virginia is many things — a health center, a federal contractor, a sports franchise, an event venue, and, almost incidentally, a university devoted to education and knowledge. It is most often, as Clark Kerr wrote in 1963, a multiversity, with little common purpose but the perpetuation of itself and its procedures. … (And) scholarly practices are insufficient.  Universities cannot impart comprehensive visions of the good. They cannot provide ultimate moral ends.  Faculty members, myself included, need to acknowledge that most university leaders lack the language and moral imagination to confront evils such as white supremacy. They lack those things not because of who they are, but, as Weber argued, because of what the modern research university has become.”

Not so at Bethel University. Though there might sometimes remain a gap between our intent and outcomes, not so.  

Education isn’t content alone, but carries a set of assumptions about life. At Bethel we unashamedly declare those assumptions as God-centered, not man-centered; we spend more time asking ourselves, “What is God’s dream for us?” than “What is my dream?” 

In fact, our first name comes from a story in the Bible where Jacob realized -- with shock and joy – that, “The Lord is in this place and I didn’t even know it.  How awesome is this place?!  I will call this land Bethel, the House of God.” (Gen. 28:16-17). 

At Bethel, you attend a class, and we invite God there, though you might not know it.  You play intramurals, eat in the Acorn Deli, travel to Oxford England on Study Abroad -- God is invited there, though you might not know it.

What difference does this invitation make? Coherence. It puts the “Uni-“ in the otherwise di-“versity.” A Godward education is not unthinking, legalistic drudgery, but an unafraid, imaginative investigation, an education at peace that -- as Augustine said -- all truth is God’s truth, wherever we find it. We don’t celebrate exposure to theories or practices as the goal, for that is work only half way done, but ask the integrating question, “What is God’s claim on this theory or technique or movement or ambition?”  The best academic work is focused and rigorous. We gladly embrace what Jesus called the greatest commandment,  to “love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind” (Matthew 22:36-37);  to “take every thought captive so it might align with Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5);  for “Christ is the image of the invisible God, and in him all things were made, things in heaven and earth, visible and invisible, whether powers or authorities, all things are created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17). 

That’s “Uni-“ in the di-“versity.”

This makes our Bethel Project an influence upon students to “be true, be blue, and be you.” There are stable moral and theological truths in the world … it’s not all relative or socially constructed (be true); there is a Bethel Blue way of pursuing that truth;  this results not just in affirming the current version of you, but inspires the very best version God intends. No wonder Jacob said, “How awesome is this place?!”

“Be Blue”: This intention actually changes our climate in a distinctive way.  When we invited two outside, independent firms to learn from our alumni, students, and staff what is unique and relevant to the Bethel Experience, and to compare that to other colleges, they first affirmed several things you would expect, and one way not. 

They talked about: awesome professors (the people), strong academics (the programs), valuable diversity in the student body, they highlighted our beautiful, park-like setting, and more.  That’s University talk.

But they also said one of the leading traits in our Bethel Experience is our breadth and depth of mentoring. That’s Bethel Blue talk. Here’s the evidence: 

  • nearly seven in 10 residential students voluntarily participate in a one-on-one or small group mentoring team; 
  • about half have at least three meaningful campus group participations (clubs, etc.); 
  • 70 percent of students have mentoring off site through an internship, field placement, or clinical experience;
  • Every freshman is assigned to a First Year Experience group with two faculty and two upperclassmen for the entire first semester; 
  • Our students ranked far higher than other universities in expressions of concern for individuals.

Do you see the pattern? At B.U., we see you. And God sees you. 

Don’t take it from me. Hear it from recent alumna, Kate Weaver. During her work as a double major in Mathematics and Biochemistry, Kate published in a peer-reviewed medical journal and held an internship at UCLA. After graduation, she wrote me from Medical School at Johns Hopkins University to say: 

  • “Dr. Isaac has been my advisor for all four years at Bethel. He excels in his Christian example. Whenever I faced issues, he reacted with understanding, humility, and compassion.” 
  •  Also, “Dr. Ellis was my research professor. He gave me patience, respect, confidence, and encouragement, helped me apply to Med School, and has been a perfect role model in dedication to his job, family, and others.”
  •  “Both of these mentors have been a remarkable influence in my life.”

As we announce a shift of name, from Bethel College to Bethel University, our thrill isn’t the number of graduates each year, but the nature of those graduates. And when that happens, we say with Jacob, “How awesome is that?!”

Thank you for attending this press conference. We welcome any questions now.

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