Ryken’s leadership: five year review

Twenty-two years after graduating from Wheaton College in 1988, Philip Ryken returned to campus as Presi­dent Ryken in July 2010. This May is the end of Ryken’s fifth academic year as president, and his leadership has led to changes in many areas of cam­pus. Most visibly, Ryken’s stra­tegic priorities, developed from a Green Paper submitted to the campus community after his first year as president, reveal both growth and areas still in need of change five years later.
“The Green Paper was a sketch or a study and now we’re maybe halfway through putting a painting onto campus,” Ryken said. “Al­though there’s a lot of work still to be done, some things are coming into focus.”
Enhance Music and the Performing Arts. The stra­tegic priorities identify a new Conservatory building as the “most pressing facility need” at the college. This new center for music education and the per­forming arts is planned to meet the needs of a growing Whea­ton College Conservatory of Music, including classrooms and space for performances. The fundraising goal for the new facility is $60 million.
“To date, over $27,000,000 of cash and commitments have been made by our do­nors to this goal,” said Kirk Farney, vice president for Advancement, Vocation, and Alumni Engagement. Funds for the new building will con­tinue to be raised through the “From the Heart, For the Kingdom” capital campaign.
“We’ve made very substan­tial progress in fundraising for a new conservatory building and performing arts center,” Ryken said. “But really the way to measure progress is by actually constructing a new building.”
Deepen Ethnic Diversity. The next step for deepening ethnic diversity at Wheaton is a planned campus-wide audit by outside reviewers of Office of Multicultural Development (OMD) programming and the campus climate toward diver­sity. The evaluation will point out areas in which Wheaton needs to improve and provide new practical ways to engage with this strategic priority.
Ryken cited specific ex­amples of progress made to­ward this priority over the past five years, including the relocation of the OMD to lower Beamer, the Shalom Community and the imple­mentation of the Alvaro L. Nieves Scholarships, which provide two full ride awards for Latino students annually.
According to Ryken these are “small but meaningful steps toward the bigger goal” of building a diverse cam­pus that reflects the body of Christ as a whole and where people from all backgrounds feel safe and respected.
According to the Office of Institutional Research Enroll­ment Report for Fall 2014, from 2010 to 2014 the num­ber of Black Non-Hispanic students decreased from 70 to 56 undergraduate students. In the same time frame, the number of undergraduate stu­dents from Asian or Pacific Islander background increased from 186 to 208, the number of Hispanic undergraduate students increased from 94 to 129 and the number of stu­dents from two or more races increased from 14 to 116. In 2010, there were 2,012 white undergraduate students on campus. In 2014, the number of white undergraduate stu­dents on campus was 1,834.
Diversity is a topic fre­quently addressed at Whea­ton, and conversations sur­rounding the strategic priority of deepening ethnic diversity are likely to continue far into Wheaton’s future. “I think that’s going to be a work in progress at Wheaton College for a long time,” Ryken said.
Promote Liberal Arts Ex­cellence. Under the strategic priorities, promoting liberal arts excellence includes invest­ing resources to renew Whea­ton’s liberal arts identity and clarifying Wheaton’s defini­tion of educational excellence.
“The approval of the new general education curriculum that actually enriches and en­hances liberal arts education at Wheaton … is a huge ac­complishment,” Ryken stated, referring to the new general education curriculum, Christ at the Core, which passed in November 2014. The new cur­riculum was approved last fall and is the result of years of fac­ulty debate and collaboration on general education reform.
New programming dedi­cated to preparing students for a variety of vocations after college, like Opus: The Art of Work, also demonstrate prog­ress in building up liberal arts values, according to Ryken.
Globalize a Wheaton Ed­ucation. One of Ryken’s ini­tial goals within his strategic priorities was to continue to globalize Wheaton’s education through expanding scholar­ships, revising curriculum and doubling the number of stu­dents who receive academic credit through off-campus and cross-cultural experiences.
These steps include ap­pointing a dean of global and experiential learning, develop­ing a campus-wide task force advisory group on global and experiential learning, making funding portable for BestSe­mester programs and adding the Wheaton in Mexico program.
Ryken noted that Wheaton has seen a growing number of students who have taken advantage of for-credit op­portunities in cross-cultural context. However, these num­bers remain below the level that Ryken would like to see.
Complementary Priori­ties. Several complementary priorities accompany the four main strategic priorities. The first, refreshing Wheaton’s mission statement, was ac­complished in August 2013, marking the first change to Wheaton’s mission statement since the 1980s. The other priorities are to nurture a vi­brant Christian community, maintain affordability and strengthen graduate education.
“I think the strategic pri­orities have been a big suc­cess in there’s wide campus awareness and buy-in … that lead to people making their own decisions in their own departments about how to make progress,” Ryken said.
Five years in, he still sees these priorities as the right way to go. “The big picture, fundamentally it hasn’t changed,” Ryken said.
Changing Culture. Ryken’s leadership style has also created a unique campus culture distinct from that of his predecessors. Coming in to his position as president, Ryken was greeted by a partic­ular Wheaton culture that had been shaped by the leaders be­fore him, most recently, Presi­dent Emeritus Duane Litfin.
“When there are leadership changes, communities and organizations often look for­ward to new leadership with a review of the past,” David Malone, campus archivist and associate professor of Library Science, wrote in an email. “For Wheaton this has created what may seem like a pendu­lum effect that can be seen when Jonathan Blanchard passed the reins of the college to his son Charles.” Malone explained that while Jonathan was a driven leader who aimed to fight social ills, Charles was more interested in building relationships within the state­wide educational community.
But though presidents may have different leader­ship focuses, Malone said, “Each of Wheaton’s presi­dents have filled a need for the time that they served.”
Malone said one way that Ryken has changed Wheaton’s culture is by taking steps to create a more open community.
“He hasn’t shied away from documenting the nega­tive elements of Wheaton’s past,” Malone said. “As he has said publicly, there is no place where the gospel is more needed than at Wheaton.”
According to Marilee Mel­vin, who served as Litfin’s ex­ecutive assistant beginning in 2006, and who currently serves in the same role to Ryken, “Dr. Litfin’s leadership style was ideational and principled, where his principles and ideas guided his relationships.” Un­der Litfin’s leadership Whea­ton’s mascot was changed from the “Crusader” to the “Thunder.” Additionally, Lit­fin sought to address societal shifts that occurred in the ear­ly 1990s, creating task forces to guide him in the areas of eth­nic and gender diversity, en­vironmental safety, the HIV/ AIDS crisis and sexual identity.
Coming in to a Wheaton culture shaped by the leader­ship of Litfin, Melvin explained that Ryken’s leadership style “synthe­sizes com­munity ideals and principles as reflected in the individu­als who are in relationship.”
Melvin ex­plained how Ryken’s lead­ership style within his of­fice and his cabinet has extended to the Whea­ton campus communit y in an email: “I think what had been an intense pace already has inten­sified. Part of this is just the nature of higher education in general, part of it is generated by the needs of a residential community of young adults, and part of it flows from Philip Ryken’s vision and capacity.”
From his inauguration, Ryken has emphasized his de­sire to establish a “community of grace” on Wheaton’s campus. This community becomes most evident in “how we respond to disappointment and failure in relationships in our com­munity,” Ryken said. Progress in creating this community is measured by whether there is a redemptive response to sin and failure within the community.
Wheaton College also sits within a broader cultural con­text, and has become directly involved in larger cultural dia­logues, including the Health and Human Services Mandate lawsuit and LGBTQ topics on campus. Ryken said that often, “(Wheaton’s) institu­tional response is a reactive one to events as they develop.”
Ryken does aim to keep his board well educated on issues that surround the context of higher education. At their up­coming bi-annual retreat in Washington, D.C. this June, the board will be meeting with politicians, journalists, lobbyists, demographers and others who can help Whea­ton’s leaders better understand the full range of legal, social and educational issues that surround higher education.
For most college students, five years is more than the difference between freshman orientation and standing on stage at graduation. But in the view of a long-standing insti­tution like Wheaton College, President Ryken’s new direc­tions are setting the future of the college and the experiences of future Wheaton students. While students will only see some aspects of Ryken’s stra­tegic priorities and leadership style unfold, they will still glimpse the outcomes of new leadership on an evolving in­stitution of higher education.
See also a Q-and-A with President Ryken, where he shares his favorite day of the year and about the burdens of leadership: Q-and-A with President Ryken five years in

Leave a Reply