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State of the Institution 2019: An Address by Providence President Dr. David Johnson

Monday, October 21, 2019

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The State of the Institution Address was presented at the annual Providence Corporation Meeting on Friday, October 18th, 2019 to Providence employees, Board Members, and Providence Corporation members in attendance. 

Tonight, as we begin the 2019 annual meeting of the corporation of Providence University College and Theological Seminary, we acknowledge that Providence rests on lands occupied over many centuries by the Cree and Anishinabe peoples joined later by the Metis. Their descendants are found in the Red River Metis and, closest to us, the Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation community. It is within their territory that our activity as a Christian educational institution takes place under Treaty One signed in 1871. We honour them as current hosts and original trustees of this part of God’s creation. May we live well in the land together!

As part of this meeting, three of my Cabinet colleagues are going to report on developments of the past year. Heath Holden, Vice President Administration, Cameron McKenzie, Vice President Academics, and Cody Quiring, Vice President External.

I will use my time to present our strategic plans to give you a sense of where Providence is going.

Providence is a Christian academic community in the evangelical tradition that teaches people to grow in knowledge and character for leadership and service in churches and communities around the world. This is our mission. This is who we are.

We name five values that guide us in making our plans for the future. First, Jesus Christ is Lord of all. The rest of our values are under his sovereignty. Second, we value the Community that we call Providence. Third, we value Academic Excellence which is tied to our mission under the lordship of Christ. Fourth, to attain academic excellence we value Exploration, a curiosity about what God has created. Fifth, to attain academic excellence in community we value Diversity of Thought, a willingness to dialogue on what we have explored even when we disagree.

We have called our strategic plan, “A Living and Learning Community.” We believe that the best way for students to learn is in the context of real life in community. We observed again last week that this is true. We had 65 seminary students here for one week living intensely in community. They ate together, studied together, interacted together. I saw lots of students relaxing together all the while learning together. We also find this is true at the undergraduate level. Every educational study we have read says that learning is most effective when it takes place in community settings. We are breaking down the barriers between life and the classroom.

To be a living and learning community in our Christian context we have determined three goals.

  1. To provide a valuable education for our students. Students pay more to come to Providence. We want to provide value for the extra dollars they spend on their education. We have added value to the Providence educational experience in the past year.
  2. To develop our human, physical, and financial resources. Mission always comes first. But without resources there is no mission.
  3. To enhance our Christ-centredness. We exist as an institution to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ. We unapologetically aspire to put Jesus at the centre of everything.

To accomplish these goals we have determined 14 strategies which we will initiate over the next couple of years.

  1. Implement an institutional “Living and Learning” philosophy. This is central to the new Providence. We will integrate learning and life, knowledge and character, service and leadership.
  2. Grow a missionally aligned and academically capable student body. This is crucial for a Christian University and Seminary. We need more students and we need students who are aligned with our vision to be among the leading Canadian Christian universities where students grow in knowledge, character, and faith to serve Christ in an ever-changing world.
  3. Build educational programs that
  • partner with Indigenous communities,
  • extend our reach to more non-traditional learning populations, and
  • enhance the international student experience. These three communities will become an area of expansion for us.
  1. Increase the capacity of faculty to integrate faith and learning. It is not enough to be a Christian and teach. Faculty need constantly to improve their ability to explain and critique their disciplines from a Christian perspective. Unlike many, we declare our presuppositions up front.
  2. Ensure all students understand our Christ-centredness. Not every student who comes here is a mature Christian or a Christian at all. Our intent is to be very clear as to what a Christian is and how they can grow in their faith.
  3. Graduate students who are fully prepared for their next steps. These days, people want value for their time and money. We want our graduates to be ready to enter the workforce, a ministry, or further studies. We’ll help them be ready.
  4. Provide infrastructure for an excellent student experience. As one donor, who is leaving us an estate gift for maintenance, put it, “you have a lot of older buildings that will need repair.” We have made some great strides this past year. We will keep upgrading our facilities if possible and when not, we will find another use for them and look at all options.
  5. Become a workplace of choice. We have a lot of people who have been at Providence for a long time. Our average tenure here is ten years. A few people are new within the last three years. Some have been here a long time. We want to make Providence a great place to work. We are a living and learning community for our staff as well as for our students.
  6. Create economic viability. As you can see by our financial report, we suffered a poor financial year last year as we encountered a so-called perfect storm. Our strategy is to create economic viability. The Board will discuss and determine the way forward tomorrow and we will report to you sometime after the meeting.
  7. Expand the donor base and increase engagement of constituents, churches, and alumni. Impact 2020 has been a great success. People said we would never reach our goal of $12.5M and we are now at $13.3M and still climbing. We are not done. Your donations are crucial to our success, because we do not receive what other schools in Manitoba receive from the government. There are now 33 people who have left us in their estate plans for anywhere between $10,000 and over $1M.
  8. Build a strong relationship with the provincial government. We have had some really encouraging discussions with government officials in the last six months. We want to build on this. We believe that Providence adds a lot to the Province of Manitoba, and we want to do more.
  9. Leverage our rural location to benefit internal and external constituencies. For some time people thought our location was a detriment to our enterprise. We want to change the story. Many of us love being here on the banks of the Rat River with a hundred acres of living space. We want to make the most of our location.
  10. Align staff, faculty, and Board more fully with our evangelical heritage and ethos. As staff and faculty turn over we want to include in the on-boarding process a full description of the evangelical tradition which we still enjoy. Evangelicals have gained a poor reputation because of some of the things that have taken place south of the border. But around the world, evangelicalism is a major reason for the church’s growth. We do not want to become “Western-Centric” in our faith. I believe that the historic Christian faith is a warmly evangelical faith. As long as I am president, we will describe Providence as evangelical. We will practice a middle-of-the-road evangelicalism or what some people call a “big-tent” evangelicalism. If people don’t want to be called evangelical but can subscribe to the basic tenets of the evangelical faith, there is room for them here.
  11. Strengthen the Board. We have good people on our Board. We need to understand our roles as Board members and fill those roles to the best of our ability. I want to make Board participation a really happy and satisfying experience for each Board member. A school’s quality cannot grow beyond the quality of its Board.

It is pretty hard to miss the fact that we are building something new just south of here. Last year at this time we put the building on hold. We realized we needed more time for very careful planning. Our current plan is to have students move into this new building in January. Women will occupy the rooms on the second and third floor. This building is a symbol of our strategic plans. It is for students to live and learn together in community; but it is more than a symbol, it is a means to the end of becoming a living and learning community. Every space is intentionally designed to accomplish our goals.

This building will serve students by developing Christ-centred relationships under the care of our fantastic student development leaders. It will also provide an environment for the positive mental health of our students. There are lots of study spaces and community spaces for individuals and groups. The large windows will provide lots of natural light in rooms and in the lounges. Good mental health needs community, and it needs connections with nature. That is how God has created us. So we are building in keeping with how God created us.

Why do we do all of this?

Because we believe that our calling is to provide the Lord Jesus Christ with Christian servants of knowledge and character to be servant leaders in the church and in the world.

About Providence
Providence is an accredited, interdenominational, multi-cultural, Christian institution that offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in Arts, Biblical Studies, Business, Professional Studies and Science. A learning community that transforms students into difference-makers, Providence teaches people to grow in knowledge and character for leadership and service.
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