STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 05/20/2011

Faith, Love and Strategy: The Story of a Presidency

It would be fair enough to call Jud Carlberg an “evangelical of evangelicals.” Like A. J. Gordon, who founded Gordon College in 1889, he is named for Adoniram Judson (1788–1850), trailblazing missionary to Burma. He and his wife, Jan, are both preacher’s kids; Jud, in fact, comes from a family of church leaders going back several generations. “Early on there was an assumption that I would go in the same direction,” Jud says. “There was a sense of responsibility bequeathed to me from my family.”

Along with seeds of Christian vocation, “global” seeds were planted early in Jud’s life. His father was pastor of Baptist Temple, the leading evangelical church in the mill town of Fall River, Massachusetts. Baptist Temple was located in the inner city, and the Carlbergs were noted for gracious hospitality. “There was a constant flow of people through our home,” Jud says, “including missionaries on furlough and Navy men who came to dinner and told their stories. They gave me a different perspective on the world—an international perspective with a sense of the needs of other parts of the world.” For Jud there were no strangers—only people he had not yet met; and the Kingdom of Heaven was prefigured for him by the family dinner table in Fall River.

Through leadership experiences at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, and later at Denver Seminary, Jud’s concern for both souls and society became more sharply focused as he sensed the call to contribute to the Kingdom not as a pastor but as a leader in Christian higher education. Following an M.Div. from Denver Seminary he earned an M.A. and a Ph.D. in higher education administration at Michigan State University, and came to Gordon as dean of faculty in 1976. He couldn’t have known it at the time, but what began in those earliest years would, in retrospect, be recurring themes connecting the entire 35 years of his service to Gordon.

World Christians by Definition

March 1993: Jud Carlberg introduces ABC News Medical Director Timothy Johnson and former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.

Jud understood that an essential part of the DNA of the College was a global vision; it was his role as dean of faculty to translate that vision into a systematic broadening of the global studies program and a stronger international emphasis in the curriculum in general. There was a highly personal dimension to all of this as well: he credits a drive to get away from the “safe places” not just to his upbringing in Fall River but also to a five-country immersion trip in 1983 that he and Jan took with a handful of other Christian college senior administrators to Haiti, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Columbia. The key word was “immersion”—not “tourism”—and this experience ultimately led to the founding of the Latin American Studies program two years later. It was notable for getting students to “hard” places, and was a precursor to the later “Gordon IN” semester immersion programs.

Also very much in keeping with the ideals of Gordon’s founder was Jud’s bringing together the liberal arts with their practical, vocational applications. As College historian Thomas Askew has written, “Neither personal aggrandizement nor learning for its own sake were ever objectives for A. J. Gordon; education was always preparing for a life of stewardship and responsible leadership.” But before, roughly, the early 1980s, the College was still strictly—even somewhat fiercely—“pure” liberal arts.

Several important changes occurred while Jud was still dean of faculty. He introduced cooperative and career services as well as a program of faculty development. Business administration was added as a major in 1981–82, along with computer science. The 1985–86 academic year saw the addition of marine biology (later subsumed under biology), accounting, and social work. “These new majors were hard fought for,” Jud says. “But they all took off during the 1980s and have had a profound effect on the direction Gordon has taken since then.”

In 1990 Jud was appointed senior vice president for development. There he began his legacy of campus-wide building initiatives by supporting then-President Richard Gross with the completion of a capital campaign and construction of A. J. Gordon Memorial Chapel. He also told the Gordon story winningly, broadening the donor base for the College, attracting the naming-level donors he knew the College would need to enlist in order to move ahead.

In short, he had a robust understanding of the core identity of the College, plus the administrative ability to translate ideals into programs and infrastructure. These were traits that led the Presidential Search Committee, in May 1992, to invite Jud to become Gordon’s seventh president.

Putting on the Mantle

By the time Jud had accepted the offer, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) had completed its accreditation review (April 1992), concluding that “Gordon is a special place. It is consistently quite distinct, something that has been clear throughout the evaluation process.” Along with the College’s well-defined sense of mission, the NEASC also praised its “strong integration of faith and learning; high-quality academic programs and well-qualified faculty; and strong off-campus programs, remarkable in an institution Gordon’s size.” Concerns included the “need for more systematic planning in enrollment, staffing, programs and finances; and a need for financial resources to realize current goals in compensation, capital improvements and financial aid.”

Jud inherited a growing, well-regarded institution from outgoing President Richard Gross, but he understood the challenges that would need to be met for the College to continue to thrive. “Gordon will lose its competitive edge if we are not able to offer better physical facilities,” he said, “both for athletic/recreational purposes and for developing the gifts of music, art and drama.”

A less tangible but more daunting challenge for the new president was what Richard M. Winchell ’50, director of TEAM (The Evangelical Alliance Missions), called “two and a half unbelievable years” of world history in the making, which included events such as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Desert Storm war, and the fall of the Soviet Union. Storms on the world stage played out in storms in American culture—including, of course, the evangelical subculture. The “culture wars” were heating up. The expression gained wide usage in 1991 with the publication of Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America by James Davison Hunter ’77, a sociologist at the University of Virginia who, while at Gordon, had been a student of Stan Gaede. In his book Hunter described what he saw as deep and often bitter divisions in American culture by stances on “hot-button” moral issues. But while some branches of evangelicalism were becoming more insular, Gordon, by design, maintained an evangelical openness toward and concern for the whole world. In his inaugural address Jud stressed that “any tendency to be constrained by a narrow ideology associated with a particular brand of Protestant evangelical theology must be resisted. Our position in the Christian mainstream is historically sound and institutionally wise.”

Vision and Strategy

Jan, who has known Jud since they were sophomores at Wheaton College and involved in student government, says, “I see Jud as a Micah 6:8 man: acts justly; loves mercy; walks humbly. He knows where his strength comes from. He stays focused, on target. When he has to make hard decisions, he wrestles—but then he makes the decision and moves on. I’ve never known anyone who uses his time as well as Jud does.” She pauses and adds, “Though he is interruptible.” Being interruptible when circumstances called for it is a trait that would prove crucial both for a family man and for the head of an institution who needs to respond with agility and grace to challenging times.

When asked what in his nearly 20-year presidency went most according to plan, Jud responds, with his trademark smile, “Actually, the strategic plans went largely according to plan.” Unlike general management, which is focused on day-to-day operations, strategic planning is concerned with big-picture, long-term goals. And every aspect of an organization—people, programs, facilities and finances—has a role to play in the strategy. “College presidents must always be thinking 10–15 years into the future,” Jud has said. “Where will this college be? Will its mission change? Will its graduates be prepared to enter a world no one can actually define?”

The first strategic plan under the Carlberg presidency was approved by the Board of Trustees in April 1994. Its stated intention was “to move Gordon to a new level among Christian colleges by the year 2000”; specific goals included the strengthening of distinctive programs (such as cooperative education and career planning, and the La Vida outdoors program); the creation of a Center for Christian Studies (begun in 1994); a new communication arts major; and the improvement of residence hall life and programs to enhance the spiritual formation of students. It noted, as well, the pressing need for new facilities, particularly in the sciences and arts, which were vibrant programs making do with outdated and inadequate facilities.

Salt Where There Is Spoil; Light Where There Is Darkness

Fall of 1997 saw the kickoff of The Salt and Light Campaign, a $38 million dollar capital campaign. The campaign bore good results, eventually raising $43 million in gifts and pledges. The Bennett Athletic and Recreation Center had already opened in 1996 (the result of the earlier “quiet phase” of the campaign), making possible greatly expanded opportunities for students in both intramural and intercollegiate athletics.

In 1999 Rhodes Gymnasium became Barrington Center for the Arts, named in honor of Barrington College of Rhode Island, which merged with Gordon in 1985. The Barrington Center was one of the most modern centers for the arts north of Boston and quickly became a North Shore destination for high-quality arts exhibits and theatre performances. Similarly, the Phillips Music Center, dedicated in 2000, is a state-of-the-art facility housing a classically oriented, conservatory-level music program and affording space for performances that, like the Barrington Center, consistently draw the wider community to campus.

Also very much according to plan, the Center for Christian Studies emerged as a leading forum within Christian academic circles, devoted to “fostering Christian thought and action.” Harold Heie, founding director, appreciated the freedom Jud gave him and Stan Gaede (then provost at Gordon) to be creative. “Jud’s vision for such a new initiative was a testimony to his admirable expansive view of the role of Gordon faculty as aspiring to be both effective teachers and productive scholars. That is an all-too-rare combination among Christian colleges.”

Strengthening the Center

The next strategic plan—Planning 2001: Blending Tradition and Innovation—was approved by the Board in September of 2001: “After years leading up to the 21st century of quick expansion (10 building projects, several new undergraduate majors, a graduate program and rapid growth in the student body), this is a moment for consolidation, for ‘strengthening the center.’” The plan advanced three key priorities:

  • Reaffirming tradition: Sustain and strengthen Gordon’s place on the intellectual landscape; strengthen programs to prepare students to become Christ’s servants and leaders in the world and the church.
  • Expanding vision: Strengthen connections between liberal arts and graduate studies or employment; invest in innovation and reward creativity; reach a greater diversity of students.
  • Map the future of information technology at Gordon.

Blending Tradition and Innovation was followed in 2005 by another capital campaign, Heart of Discovery. With a naming gift from technology pioneer Ken Olsen, the hoped-for building became the Ken Olsen Science Center, an 80,000-square-foot facility beautifully equipped for teaching, learning and cutting-edge research in the sciences. Phase One was completed in August 2008 and included biology, engineering, ecology, marine biology and chemistry labs; faculty offices; and an auditorium. Phase Two of the Ken Olsen Science Center was begun in 2009, adding new labs; classrooms; and office space for botany, computer science, physics, kinesiology, mathematics and psychology. It is slated for completion in 2011–2012.

Faithful Expectations

In the fall of 2009 the President’s Cabinet was expanded to include additional staff and two faculty members, and was tasked with building on previous planning efforts to produce a new strategic plan. Through the fall of 2009 the Strategic Planning Cabinet focused on reviewing and revising the Mission Statement and completing the task force reports inaugurated in 2008. To broaden the traditional SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) the Cabinet asked for input from a number of “content-experts” from across the campus.

The title of the new plan, Faithful Expectations, intentionally references Thomas and Jean Askew’s centennial history of Gordon, A Faithful Past ~ An Expectant Future: “This strategic plan projects a future for Gordon that is both respectful of the school’s rich heritage and responsive to the acute challenges and possibilities of the hour.”

The plan, approved by the Board of Trustees December 10, 2010, acknowledges that “the evangelical ethos which emerged during the mid-century under such leaders as Billy Graham and Harold J. Ockenga has become more variegated as liturgical and charismatic practices have sprung up in evangelical congregations. Particularly among younger Christians, partisan loyalties and ideological wars are often less compelling than social entrepreneurship targeted at relieving human suffering and environmental degradation. . . . While Gordon appears well-placed to shape the new landscape of evangelical Christianity, it will not do so effectively without adopting some new models for recruitment, hiring and teaching.”

A Way in the World

Even the best-conceived strategic plans can’t predict the future; in fact, “expecting the unexpected” is an indispensable part of such planning. The worldwide financial crisis of 2008–9 did not leave Gordon unscathed. “Recent economic news has been grim,” Bruce Webb, professor of economics and business since 1977, wrote in a 2008 STILLPOINT essay. “Rising unemployment; loss of consumer confidence; families losing their homes to foreclosure; falling home prices; higher energy and food prices; a credit crunch. Over the short term, borrowers, including students and their families, will likely face higher rates and stricter credit terms. College enrollments may suffer as families become less willing to commit to large financial outlays in the face of an uncertain economic future. . . . If there ever was a time to take seriously Paul’s words to Timothy about ‘uncertain riches,’ it is now.”

The crisis, however, provided valuable institutional learning. The ensuing struggles to address the problem areas, apply strict belt-tightening to weather the storm, and insert strong internal controls, have resulted in a renewed confidence that the College has the capacity to work through very difficult issues.

Another unexpected arc was the exponential growth in information technology during the 1990s and beyond. “We knew in 1992 that technology would grow and be hugely important,” Jud says, “and our strategic objectives reflected that; but we didn’t know how huge a change it would be.” Just a few months after the Internet had broken into popular culture, Board member and College benefactor Ken Olsen took Jud aside. “Uncontrolled, the Internet will make virtually everything accessible to Gordon students,” Ken said to Jud. “At the very least it will be a huge time waster and distraction.” Yet this was still a number of years before information technology had shifted from being primarily about data storage to a massive social experiment.

The continuing of the culture wars through the 1990s and into the new millennium meant continuing divisions among believing Christians as well as marketing challenges for the College. One of the distinctives of a Gordon education was—and still is—“education, not indoctrination.” But this principle, along with the College’s tagline “Freedom within a Framework of Faith,” has not always been easy to sell to parents of prospective students, who sometimes interpret “freedom” as license (or freedom from limits), rather than freedom for service—a freedom hard-won through study, self-discipline and spiritual growth.

Jan says that as a couple Jud and she have taken a “two-pronged approach” to addressing cultural divides. “We’ve been involved in the Christian-college affiliate groups, like CCCU (Council for Christian Colleges & Universities) and CCC (Christian College Consortium),” she says, “but early on we made a conscious decision to engage on a national level with secular groups as well.” Gordon is part of the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), the major national organization for all small and mid-sized, independent, liberal arts colleges and universities in the U.S.; the American Association for Presidents of Independent Colleges and Universities (AAPICU), the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), and the Annapolis Group. Jud’s involvement in these groups has given him opportunities to be an advocate not just for Gordon but for other independent colleges as well.

He is also currently a board member for the Biologos Foundation, which, founded by Dr. Francis Collins, is a national organization of Christian leaders dedicated to addressing the culture war between science and faith.

“The other prong,” Jan says, “was that we’ve stayed deeply involved in the church in New England. It’s been as important to be ambassadors for Gordon in the evangelical world as in the secular one. Jud’s family connections going way back were helpful, but evangelicals in New England were sometimes suspicious of Gordon as a ‘liberal’ school.”

The Carlbergs have been involved with Vision New England, which supports “local church leaders in New England for disciple-making and evangelism in the 21st century.” Jan, in fact, worked with Steve Macchia (who served as president of VNE from 1989 until 2003) not only through VNE but also years earlier, when he was associate pastor of Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts, and she was coordinator of women’s ministries there.

Jan has also strengthened connections with evangelicals through her own writing and speaking. As a preacher’s daughter, she grew up with stories and biblical themes, and blended them together to create her own stories. The Hungry Heart (Hendrickson, 1991), for example, “grew out of my own hunger to know God and from the awareness there were many hearts seeking spiritual food.” She has been a popular speaker at conferences, churches and colleges across the United States, as well as speaking and hosting events on the Gordon campus. Greg Carmer, dean of chapel, has referred to Jan as “a tireless encourager—she is the first (and perhaps loudest) in celebrating the work of God in and through the lives of others.”

The Gordon DNA

In February about 50 representatives of social service agencies from the Greater Boston area visited campus. Their high praise for Gordon students who have served as interns over the year included comments such as “They’re very professional,” “They ask great questions,” “They take initiative,” and “I put Gordon students in the same category as Eagle Scouts.” One representative from a correctional facility said he’d initially worried that Gordon students might be too sheltered to relate to incarcerated people from tough backgrounds. “Those fears turned out to be completely unfounded,” he said. “They not only have a strong sense of social justice; they have a strong sense of why they want to help people.”

“A general love of humanity will only take you so far,” the head of a Boston agency said. “Gordon students are actually called to do what they do. They have a well-thought-out predisposition to serve. Because of their faith they’re centered, so when they’re challenged they aren’t overwhelmed but rise to the occasion.”

Mark Sargent, provost, notes that Gordon excels in cultivating a “moral imagination” in its graduates, which involves approaching Scripture as “a compelling moral vision and not simply a moralistic code.” This kind of vision “requires a wide reach—some grasp of logic, empathy, creativity, intuition, patience and foresight; in other words, the full range of the imagination.”

But a college in which this kind of intellectual and spiritual formation takes place does not just happen. “It starts at the top—or it doesn’t happen at all,” says Harold Heie, founding director of the Center for Christian Studies. “Jud is very much a shaper of the spirit of this place,” concurs Bruce Herman, longtime art professor at Gordon. “He holds all things lightly, and yet he’s totally committed. As a result the ethos of Gordon is lighthearted in the best and most profound sense.”

It’s this kind of “lightness” that produces graduates who strive for excellence in their work yet also understand that the most significant event in their lives might be some utterly unheralded act of service, love or beauty. “We are prepared to be men and women with purpose, to be seeds in the Kingdom of God,” said Thomas Routhe ’01 in an address to his class. “We’re prepared to have souls deep enough to withstand the dry spells.”

In his 2002 book The Good Life: Truths That Last in Times of Need, the late Peter Gomes (Harvard professor and minister), paid tribute to Christian colleges as places that “build people up rather than tear them down,” and to Jud specifically as a leader of such an institution. He quotes Jud’s own assessment of what Gordon is all about:

We undertake the task (the search for truth) seriously and with humility, not assuming before we start that the search will be fruitless. . . . Does teaching matter? Yes, but it’s not enough. Morality matters. Integrity matters. Conviction matters. In short, substance is more important than style, and that’s why a Christian liberal arts education is worth every penny.

Story credits: Rick Sweeney ’85, “Celebrating the Carlberg Years” (p. 14); Patricia Hanlon, “Faith, Love and Strategy: The Story of a Presidency” (pp. 16–23).

Sources referenced or cited include: NEASC evaluation statement, 1992; “For Such a Time: Looking Back, Gazing Forward,” Anne C. Harper, STILLPOINT Summer 1992; “R. Judson Carlberg, Seventh President of Gordon College, Announces 2011 Retirement,” Jo Kadlecek, press release, August 2010; Thomas A. and Jean M. Askew, A Faithful Past ~ An Expectant Future (1989); Faithful Expectations: Strategic Plan 2011–2015; Peter J. Gomes, The Good Life: Truths That Last in Times of Need (HarperCollins, 2002).

NEXT: The Carlberg Years: A Timeline