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State of the Institution Address

Oct 20, 2021 | Institution / General


OTTERBURNE, MB – There are so many things going on. I am four months into my role as your President and I am still learning all the ins and outs at Providence. Forbes says that a leader’s first 100 days are crucial to the success of that leader’s administration. I am a little bit past that mark now. I am feeling more like this is, in fact, my life and not just some crazy dream that I fell into at some point along the way. Life at Providence is what we do and who we are now. We are Providence people.

Together with Cabinet and our leadership group, we have already faced several challenges, but we’ve also embraced opportunity. It has been an amazing time. Not all of it was positive but it has been wonderful to see the hand of God even in the harder things. I am more convinced than ever that God has called me and my wife together to this role. And I’m grateful that you and the Board have given me that trust.

IN-PERSON – This Fall, we have been in person and on-campus together. This year’s Welcome Week was a wonderful time with students, faculty, and staff. We were able to be on campus at the same place at the same time. We didn’t have to do everything by Zoom. It created a great spirit among those who gathered.

ENROLLMENT – Our Enrollment Team came close to reaching our budget target as it related to credit hour enrollment. Although the ongoing COVID saga has continued to financially challenge us particularly as it relates to our ability to recruit international students, overall, we are very encouraged by our enrollment numbers.

MORALE – I think we can say that morale is strong around Providence right now. That is my take. Of course, I don’t have other years to compare it to, but people are telling me it is true.

FINANCES – You can see a snapshot here of our 2020-21 finances in our Report to the Community. To summarize, our short-term finances are not dire, but they are not positive either. We are in a serious deficit position right now. However, it is manageable. We have several initiatives under development which give us significant hope for the future.

We expected to be in a serious deficit position last year (2020-21). By God’s grace, and by the good graces of our Federal Government, we were able to receive significant support that allowed us to finish the year in the black. We are not expecting that to happen again this year (2021-22). We are doing multiple things to address the situation. At this point in time, we are not making major cuts. We are working to grow ourselves out of the problem. We think we have significant reasons to be hopeful and optimistic. Nevertheless, we do value your prayers and we do value your support because our financial situation is problematic. We do believe we have enough of a window to innovate, to adjust and to build our way out of this.

LEADERSHIP TEAM – I want to give credit to my Cabinet leadership team particularly to our Vice President External Relations, Sam Groenendijk, our Provost pro tem, Nicholas Greco, and our Vice President of Operations, Scott Masterson. I also want to extend thanks to Catherine Rust-Akinbolaji, our University College Dean, and Tim Perry, our new Seminary Dean. There is so much excitement around this team. All of us are new to these roles. There has been a dramatic shift in leadership. Everybody is a year or less in our roles. And that has brought a new sense of vitality to the institution. We are still building on the legacy of Past President David Johnson and his team and those who came before them.

COVID-19 – I need to say more about the COVID-19 situation, and in particular, the vaccine mandate that we announced in August. As you are aware, we were faced with a difficult decision (two weeks before the start of the Fall 2021 semester) which resulted in our announcement of a vaccination mandate and/or testing for our whole campus community. This was important for a number of reasons – legally, reputationally and morally. This decision was prompted by the decision made by every other major university and college in the province who came out in unison to publicly announce a vaccination mandate. That decision put Providence at risk should we not have followed suit. Our legal counsel confirmed that we would have risked “a foreseeable outcome for which we could be seen by the courts as negligeable and liable for a major award against us should we have experienced a negative health outcome.”

Even more difficult would have been the reputational damage to our plans and hopes for partnership with government, other schools and agencies which is part of our strategy to deal with our deficit. But most importantly, we believe that mandating vaccines was the best thing to do for our people to keep them safe and to show love to the vulnerable. However, as predicted, it was not appreciated by a segment of our constituency. We did receive angry calls and letters as the news spread through the media. But, at the same time, we also received some encouraging responses from folks who were supportive of the decision. We did the best that we could to respond graciously to people on both sides of the issue.

We held two vaccination clinics on our campus. Our rapid testing regiment is ready to go beginning this week. The campus community, in my estimation, seems settled. I learned this morning that more than 90% of our students in residence are fully vaccinated now. This was not the case just a few weeks ago. There are still a few who are going to submit to testing on a regular basis. I’m pleased that we were able to give people options, so they didn’t feel forced.

So far, we’ve avoided a COVID outbreak. (This is no small thing. We need to be thankful to God for that). I know of another Bible College in a neighboring province that has had a severe outbreak. I met with their president, and it is a difficult thing for a school to deal with. Let’s pray to God that, with all these measures in place, our people will remain safe and able get through COVID. We rely on God’s grace as we act as prudently as possible.

NEW INITIATIVES – There are so many other things – exciting things – to talk about including:

  1. We’re launching a new Centre for On-Demand Education (CODE) at Providence. This is a creative innovation that is going to allow us to deliver education to people where they are, to the degree they want it and in the patterns that are meaningful to them. We are going to be working directly with employers, churches and missional agencies of all kinds. We already have partners lining up including organizations who are working around the world and in the far north of our province. They are excited to work with this new, innovative approach to learning.
  1. We have had amazing dialogue with the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Immigration. In particular, we have met with Minister Wayne Ewasko and members of his team. They have shown themselves as enthusiastic supporters of Providence.
  1. We have other major partnerships in development. Partnerships that can deliver us more students and significant sources of funding. For instance, I will be meeting next week with the President of the Assiniboine Community College in Brandon, MB.

Several other partnerships/opportunities include:

  • Coming alongside of an organization known for their work with international students. We have been talking to them for some time now and working out details.
  • We are in close conversation with the Anglican Church in the Far North (Nunavut, Yukon and Northwest Territories) to provide training for Indigenous ministry leaders in their context and customized to their needs through CODE.
  • We are having other conversations with Indigenous leaders around questions of Indigenous identity. Together we celebrated Truth and Reconciliation Day on our campus. We brought in Indigenous leaders to speak to our staff and faculty on our Employee Orientation Day in August. There is a higher concentration of Indigenous population per capita in Manitoba than any other state or province in North America. So, we need to take this seriously.

UPCOMING – Some upcoming events are as follows:

  1. Our Harvest Festival is being held virtually on Thursday, October 21st. Be sure to tune into https://www.facebook.com/ProvManitoba/ or https://www.youtube.com/provmanitoba at 7:00 pm CT.
  1. Some people have asked about the Presidential Inauguration, which is an important, formal event for the school. We’re planning to hold that on the afternoon of March 12, 2022.
  1. We are less than four years away from our 100th Anniversary for Providence. We anticipate that it will be a great celebration of God’s faithfulness.

As we approach the end of the calendar year, we look to our friends for support. I’m praying that you will continue to support the good work we do at Providence because God is in it, and we are seeing the results in the lives of people. For more details, please check out our annual Report to the Community here.