Celebrating 25 Years in Redding

Celebrating 25 Years of Service and Leadership in Redding

By Dr. Robin Dummer

Simpson University campus life in the early years in Redding was, by all accounts, challenging. During the summer of 1989, faculty and staff had to do "whatever it took" to get the campus ready to open in the fall. There was no grass, no landscaping, no shade, no rain. Meals were served out of a mobile kitchen, and eaten in a classroom. Chapel was held in a classroom, or a tent, or in the dining room. But through it all, as former employee Marion Brown so wonderfully stated in a 1996 President's Convocation address, there was a "bone-deep conviction" that God would do new things at Simpson in Redding. And I think it is safe to say that that is precisely what has happened over the intervening quarter century.

In terms of the physical plant, first the Francis Grubbs Learning Center was completed, along with two residence halls (Irwin-Shellrude and Thompson-Mangham). The Emeriti Dining Center joined the campus footprint in 1990. In the three years from 1995-1999, during what can only be described as a time of "construction fury" on campus, four more residence halls were built (Measell-Taylor, Cooper-Heath, Currie-Ediger and Morgan-Sharpe), in addition to the Heritage Student Life Center and the LaBaume-Rudat classroom and academic building.

By 2004, 15 years after the move to Redding, the changes were profound. Thanks to the work of presidents Francis Grubbs and James Grant, in particular, the Simpson campus had 11 major buildings, worth about $30 million. This included the new Owen Student Services Center, our largest building at 45,000 square feet. The student body had increased by six times (from 200 to 1,200). The employee base had quadrupled in size. The budget had increased seven-fold.

And then we entered an era of program (and mission) expansion, starting with the name change to "university" in 2004. This included the gradual shift to a university structure, with designated schools and deans. In short order over the eight-year period from 2005-2013, we began to offer athletic scholarships for the first time in our history (2005). In 2007, the RN to BSN step-up program began in ASPIRE; the biology and outdoor leadership majors were launched; and A.W. Tozer Theological Seminary (formerly, the Simpson Graduate School of Ministry) began operation, with an M.Div. degree anchoring its offerings. In 2009, a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology program was introduced.

In 2011, a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing began, as well as our first entirely online degree program (B.A. in Organizational Leadership). Further online programs include psychology in ASPIRE (2013) and an M.A. in Organizational Leadership (Online) (2013). And we cannot forget the ROTC program; the Simpson University for Seniors program; the many new intercollegiate sports added (baseball, cross-country, wrestling, golf, softball, etc.); and the expansion of our education credentialing and degree programs into nearby counties, and even, for a few years, to Korea (M.A. in Education and teaching credential).

For some added perspective, by 2009 (20 years after moving to Redding), there were 1,350 total students enrolled on campus. Nearly 7,000 students had completed a bachelor's degree, master's degree, or certificate program. And the ASPIRE degree-completion program continued to experience record enrollment and program growth, offering eight degrees for working adults; indeed, as I write this overview, more than 3,400 students have obtained their degree through the School of Adult Studies.

Let's step back for a moment, though, and gain some perspective. We often think of a college or university as a physical campus, a location in space... which, of course, it is. That's why the move from San Francisco to Redding was such a significant event, and why we tend to focus so much attention on physical changes such as a new building being opened, a purchase of land, or a new athletic field being constructed. As I look out my office window at the new Science and Nursing Center that is on track to open this fall, it is natural to think of Simpson University in that way.

Thinking more deeply, however, we realize that a "bricks and mortar" campus only facilitates what universities such as Simpson are truly in existence for: namely, higher education. So, not surprisingly, we move from a focus on the physical campus to that of the curricular and extracurricular programs offered-- majors, degrees, courses and certificates, athletic programs, student life activities. That's all well and good, too, but there is something even more significant than this at work.

At its heart, a university, specifically a Christian university in our case, is a community of shared values and experiences. And that's why, in spite of the fact that the physical campus and programs get the majority of the media attention, our most profound memories involve the community. You will not likely hear people say, "I'll never forget the year the cafeteria was expanded," or, "my fondest memory is when the Spanish minor started."

Rather, you are more likely to hear the best memories being "when we gathered at the cross for that time of prayer for the campus," or, “when my friends and I hung out all night at Denny’s and studied for exams," or, “when my WorldSERVE Thailand team experienced God’s unmistakable presence in Bangkok," or, “when my psychology professor invited me and my friends to her home for dessert,” or, "when my family and friends stood and cheered as I crossed the stage at commencement."

Thus we may enjoy picturing Simpson's undeveloped campus in 1989, with no landscaping and only one or two buildings; but you can be sure that what those pioneering Redding students will never forget is what it was like to live, study, serve and worship together in such a challenging environment.

The Next 25 Years

It is not easy to imagine what Simpson University will look like in 2039; this is a season of rapid and profound change in higher education, with powerful forces at work shaping the landscape. Perhaps the most significant of these forces is technology. The classroom environment has already been changed dramatically; the traditional academic calendar is being upended; student expectations with regard to technology are putting ever-increasing upward pressure on the annual budget as well as on our delivery models.

Political pressures are great as well, concerning matters as diverse as our basic institutional accreditation and how much financial aid our students can receive from the government. Governmental regulations continue to increases and impact higher education. Cultural changes are significant, too: the perceived value of a traditional four-year residential education continues to fall, as does the perceived importance of faith-based (and for that matter, liberal arts) education. The question of return on investment related to higher education has shifted student interest to professional programs. What students and parents expect from a residential experience continues to change, too. The net impact is that 25 years from now, we may be largely unrecognizable from the Simpson of the past.

That's why the value system that underlies the educational process is so critical to who we are, and what we will become. The values we share, based as they are on unchanging biblical truths, we share as a community regardless of the programs we offer, the delivery systems we use, or the buildings we inhabit. We remain “mission firm, method flexible,” yet it will continue to be relationships that mark and define who we are. We are followers of Christ, created to serve and glorify Him. We are in it together. We are Simpson. We will continue to educate those students God sends our way, to the best of our abilities and for His sake.

This article was first printed in the spring/summer 2014 issue of Gateway magazine.