Ten questions for Dr. Ken Shaw

On behalf of the Board of Trustees for Southwestern Adventist University (SWAU), Southwestern Union president Larry Moore was very pleased to announce last year that Dr. Ken Shaw accepted the position of president of the university. Dr. Shaw was formally inaugurated last November and replaced Dr. Eric Anderson who retired after nine years at SWAU's helm. Dr. Shaw is a graduate of Southern Adventist University and holds a doctorate in mathematics education from the University of Georgia. Most of his academic career has been spent at Florida State University (FSU) in Panama City, where he was Dean of the Campus and Dean of the College of Applied Studies. He was also active in fundraising for the campus.

1. Having spent most of your career at a state university, what do you like best about your move into the Adventist educational system?

I have enjoyed the spiritual aspects of the campus. This is very different from a state institution. Observing students leading out in praise and worship services, praying with fellow students, and desiring opportunities where they can minister for others is a real inspiration to me. I also love the rich history of how the school came into existence and realize that this is God’s school. This fact is humbling and instills in me that what we do here is of eternal importance. 

2. I am hearing and seeing that you are open to casual interactions with students, on sidewalks, in the cafeteria and elsewhere, and that the students really appreciate your friendliness and approachability. How do these interactions help you in the job?

I have really enjoyed interacting with the students. The students are the reason why this school exists. The student body is diverse and it has been a real privilege getting to know the students. Talking to students helps me understand their concerns and helps me think about what can be done to make their experiences better. 

3. For most of the last few years (except for last year) SWAU has had flat or declining enrollment, and is already one of the smallest Seventh-day Adventist colleges in North America. We know from the sad story of Atlantic Union College that it is possible for an Adventist college to cease operations because of lack of students. What are your plans for recruitment and increasing enrollment?

SWAU has seen a modest growth in both fall and spring full time equivalent students this year. The Lord has definitely blessed. We are also blessed with quality faculty and staff and some people from the community have told me that our university is the best-kept secret in North America. Our marketing and public relations department and our enrollment department have been very intentional about sharing this secret. We have also increased our enrollment staff, adding an additional recruiter. Our new five-year strategic plan outlines our intentions to increase our enrollment by 50 students per year. Though I think all of us here enjoy the intimacy of a small campus, we do have the capacity to grow. We desire to better share the good news about SWAU in the years ahead.

4. AUC's problem was not only lack of students but also ultimately lack of money, and its debt situation and lack of financial reserves led to its loss of accreditation. One of your duties at FSU was fundraising for an endowment for the university. How can university endowments be used to increase the financial stability of a small school like SWAU?

One of my main efforts is to improve the financial situation with respect to philanthropy, and I'm happy to say our supporters are making a difference. Philanthropic giving has increased from $878,000 last year to nearly $4 million this year. Of that $4 million, I am very pleased with the support from the Adventist Health System who provided a $2,000,000 endowment to support the department of business. In general, interest from endowments provides for faculty salaries, student scholarships, and other important programs. Major universities have very large endowments in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Those endowments provide strength and power to the university. Part of our five-year strategic plan is to increase our endowments to provide continued support for our programs.

5. One of the biggest issues with religious college education is cost. When I was a student at SWAU in the 1980s, students worked part-time at local industries, including Brandoms (kitchen cabinets), Nu-Cushion (stick horses and other toys), Southwestern Colorgraphics (printing), Bascombs (church furniture), and Birdwell (brooms and mops), all of which are gone today. How do we help students defray the cost of higher education without assuming too much Guaranteed Student Loan debt, which is not dischargeable in bankruptcy and will haunt them for much of their working lives? Is there anyone on staff trained to help students find local jobs?

College is a very good lifetime investment. Annual income increases the more education one receives. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the median income for those with a high school degree is $34,736, associate’s degree is $41,184, and a bachelor’s degree is $57,252. We have employees who work with students to secure part-time employment, as well as help students with student loans and grants. In addition, we are working to secure additional endowed scholarships that will help students support their college education. 

6. When I discussed apologetics and the integration of faith and learning with your predecessor, Dr. Anderson, he stated that he tried to see that our faith was integrated into all academic disciplines. What would you do, what programs or initiatives would you put in place, to see that learning and faith are integrated across the curriculum, so that students are given a really Adventist Christian education, and not an essentially secular education at a nominally Adventist college?

This year, our faculty and staff voted on a new tagline for the university. It is Knowledge, Faith, and Service. Our faculty members are committed to educating a diverse student body in a Christ-centered environment shaped by Seventh-day Adventist Christian beliefs for service and leadership. It is in the environments of the classrooms, offices, cafeteria, gymnasium, dorms, and churches that we desire Christ to be exemplified in our thoughts and actions.

7. Along those lines, SWAU has been famous for its strongly creationist biology/geology professors, including Dr. Arthur Chadwick and Dr. Suzanne Phillips (who, sadly, left for Loma Linda just as you were coming to Keene). Dr. Chadwick has organized and held origins seminars at Keene and elsewhere at which prestigious creationists such as Harvard paleontologist Kurt Wise have been invited to speak. How do you plan to support Dr. Chadwick and the biology faculty in integrating faith and learning on the origins issue? What do you think of an endowed chair on Faith and Science Integration?

Dr. Chadwick and the entire faculty are great assets to the university, providing quality experiences where students can learn. This year we have received grants from the Faith & Science Council and from ASI to support Dr. Chadwick’s research and the completion of a dinosaur museum in the basement of Scales Hall, and are exploring additional sources of funding. We are also continuing the Saxon Lecture Series in Science and Religion, bringing in guest speakers to address relevant topics. 

8. A new building, a University Center, is planned as a matching counterpart to Pechero Hall, on the western lawn of the school.  My understanding is that several million dollars has been raised for that purpose; how close are we to being able to erect this building without going into debt? There was also a discussion of a major renovation of Scales Hall, the science building, in part to house Dr. Chadwick's large and growing collection of dinosaur bones. Have any concrete plans been made to either renovate Scales Hall or construct a totally new science center?

I am not aware of any major plans to build a University Center or renovate Scales Hall, though I would deem these projects as worthy. We are, however, remodeling the lower level in Scales to house a new dinosaur museum to showcase Art Chadwick’s work.  Originally there were plans for an academic/performance hall building with a cost close to $17-18 million. This year, the university’s master planning committee and the university’s Board of Trustees made a decision to plan for a nursing and administration building as we have seen a lot of growth in nursing in the last 15 years. The current nursing building is an older structure built in the 1960s. We intend to build a state-of-the art nursing building for about $10 million, with specialized skills and simulation labs. The administration offices will be on the third floor of that building. We have about $3.4 million to raise by April 15, 2016 to meet the $1 million challenge grant we received from the Mabee Foundation this year. We are very excited about this opportunity.

9. How have you enjoyed interacting with the faculty at SWAU? How important is it to you to have a faculty that sees teaching not as a job, but as a calling or vocation, a form of ministry? 

One of the first things we did last summer was to sit down with faculty and staff and identify where we want to go over the next five years. This led to the creation of a strategic planning committee and throughout the year, many planning meetings took place. All of the work of the faculty and staff came together with a unanimous vote of our Board of Trustees to support our new five-year strategic plan. All faculty and staff have an important part to take in the various roles and ministries of our university. This is a mission field and we are entrusted to carry out the work that God has called us to do.

10. What do you think of Texas weather? Isn't it a wild roller-coaster ride?

I certainly have experienced the extremes this year, a hot summer, the winter snow and ice and the spring storms and floods. I have also found that Texas has some real beauty. Recently, I enjoyed the spring bluebonnets, gorgeous sunsets over our campus, and a relaxing time on Lake Whitney. God has blessed us here in North Texas