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State of the Institution 2020: An Address by President Dr. David Johnson

Oct 20, 2020 | Institution / General, News

The State of the Institution address was presented to Providence corporation members, board members and employees who were in attendance (remotely) at the annual Providence Corporation Meeting on Friday, October 16th, 2020.

As we continue the 2020 Annual General 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!

This is my ninth and last state of the institution address. It has been my distinct privilege to serve the Board, the Corporation, and the Providence community as its president. Providence is 95 years old. I will leave it to others to assess my eight years as President. Tonight, I will talk only about the past one.

God has been good to Providence over the past 12 months. Not that we haven’t had our trials. But even in our trials, God’s presence has been apparent. I won’t tell stories tonight. You can see these in the latest edition of the Eye Witness, which was mailed last week.

One of the most significant developments this year was the work of a small team of people who met for many hours to propose a future for Providence. This cross functional team included Provost Cameron McKenzie, Vice President External, Samantha Groenendijk, Director of Athletics, Scott Masterson, Dean of Student Life, Leshia Verkerk, Assistant Professor of New Testament, Joshua Coutts, and Assistant Professor of Biology, Rebecca Dielschneider. They proposed a statement of Providence’s core focus: “Providence infuses learning with Christian faith to form and equip students for a wide variety of vocations to participate in God’s creative and redemptive work in the world.” They identified some of the limitations we face and proposed some steps forward. Their work will guide Providence as we move toward our centenary year in 2025.

God has been with us this year as we have advanced our mission to teach people to grow in knowledge and character for leadership and service. In 2018, we planned to move forward over three years on fourteen strategic initiatives. Last year was the second of three. You can see these strategies in our strategic plan on the Prov.ca website under “Why Providence.” In what follows, I measure our progress on those strategies.

In January, students moved into Muriel Taylor Hall. I hope some of you were able to attend the grand opening. This building was designed as a living and learning centre, a place where students, faculty, and staff infuse learning with faith. It is designed for community. Unfortunately, our responses to the current pandemic do not allow for the flourishing of face-to-face community. Nevertheless, this residence will stand Providence in good stead as the pandemic abates. While many schools have declined in enrollment this fall, our enrollment remained steady. Seminary enrollment actually grew. Last week, 67 students took one-week online modules in the Seminary. Our marketing and enrollment teams and our coaching staff recruited the wonderful undergraduate class of 2024. At great personal sacrifice, our fantastic team of faculty and staff have made huge adjustments to the delivery of the Providence experience to protect students while still giving them the high quality, personalized education for which we are known. Students are availing themselves of various learning modalities, which the faculty devised over the summer.

Our engagement with the provincial government continues to grow. We are making headway in modifying programs to be more in line with the economic needs of Manitoba. Canada needs graduates who have Christian values, and are critical thinkers and great employees. In the works are plans to help students become job-ready upon graduation.

We are in discussion with various indigenous Canadian groups to develop partnerships where we can all learn from each other and make strides toward equity and equality among all peoples in Canada.

Our international population is less this fall, but we anticipate that it will increase again as the world learns to deal with COVID-19.

We have improved our infrastructure over the summer, reducing deferred maintenance and enhancing living and learning spaces through remodeling in residences and up-grades in technology. Our facilities and IT staff worked exceptionally hard to make our rural location attractive.

In January, we took another step to make Providence a workplace of choice by once again increasing salaries for all employees. Over the past three years we have addressed our market disparity by increasing salaries by 20%. Our salaries are still at the low end of the spectrum, but they are better than they were a few years ago. At the same time, we have stewarded our resources so that we are more fiscally viable. Thanks to prudent planning and government emergency aid, we have money in the bank to see us through this current crisis. Prudence is not always easy. We reduced our work force over the last two years by about 20%. There are some things we can no longer do because we don’t have the horses to pull those wagons. We have become more laser focused on our strategic plans.

Our development team has done a great job in securing investments to advance our work. Impact 2020: The Campaign for Providence is coming to an end. Five years ago, it was a dream that we would raise some money to make some needed improvements at Providence. We set a goal of $12.5M to be raised in cash and pledges by the end of 2020. People had doubts. I had doubts. God has a way of going beyond our dreams. By January 2019, we had almost reached our goal. So, the Board approved a stretch goal of $14.5M. More than 1500 people have contributed to the Campaign with over 11,000 individual investments. Today we have received $14.2M in cash and pledges (mostly cash). We have a better than 98% pledge fulfillment rate. $300,000 to go! More importantly the campaign has allowed us to make Providence better for students to the glory of God.

  • We added a fully equipped Bachelor of Science degree with two majors, biology and health sciences. This program is very popular.
  • We began the Buller School of Business in new spaces with a Bachelor of Business Administration and a Bachelor of Arts in Business. Our largest undergraduate major.
  • We created a beautiful Welcome Centre where students do all their school business.
  • We upgraded our Internet capacity. As a result, the Seminary counselling program has grown to over 100 students, and we have been able to offer online courses during the pandemic.
  • We enhanced our recruiting efforts through a new website and additional digital marketing.
  • We invested in the professional development for our staff and faculty and thereby increased their capacity to fulfill our mission.
  • We added $1.5M to insurance proceeds from the burning of Bergen Hall to build Muriel Taylor Hall, a state-of-the-art living and learning centre.
  • We increased our endowment to provide more scholarships for students for years to come.
  • We increased Providence Fund donations for operations by $300,000 per year.

In addition, we have more than 30 people in our estate registry, people who want to make an impact at Providence beyond their lifetime. I continually give thanks to God for bringing generous friends into the Providence orbit, friends who have generously shared their wealth to help students grow in knowledge and character for leadership and service. You all are among those friends. Thank you!

Three weeks ago, I attended a thesis defense for one of our doctoral students. Mere words cannot express how proud I am of our faculty, staff and students. The thesis presentation was superb. The student was articulate. The research was at a high level. The thesis makes a contribution to the life of the church. This is in many ways an epitome of all that we are achieving and a testimony to the work of every faculty and staff member at Providence. I wish you could sit with student leaders to hear their heart, with alumni as they share their passion, with faculty and staff as they explain why they work here. Providence is a great educational institution that is making an impact in churches and neighbourhoods in Manitoba, in Canada, and around the world.

I don’t want to miss the opportunity tonight for us to thank the Providence Board of Governors. God has provided you, the Corporation of Providence, with a superb governing Board. Their commitment to Christ and to Providence is evident at every turn. They serve you with their wisdom, their time, and their financial investments. It is because of them that we continue to fulfill our mission.

Finally, let us all give thanks to our Father in heaven. For 95 years, God’s Spirit has provided all that we need to glorify our great God and Saviour through the work of Providence. We are Jesus followers. According to a key verse in Mark, Jesus came preaching the gospel of God saying, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel, the good news, the Evangel.” The gospel, the Evangel, was at the centre of Jesus’ ministry. So, we at Providence, continue that evangelical ministry. Our core focus is to “infuse learning with Christian faith to form and equip students for a wide variety of vocations to participate in God’s creative and redemptive work in the world.”

Thank you for your faithful interest in Providence. Together, we are making an impact in God’s world. Providence makes a difference.