Ancient Prayer for a Modern Day

 

There is an ancient prayer of the Church, attributed to St. Augustine:

Reform Your Church, Lord. Begin with me.

The best legacy of the Reformation is a living, continuous change in each one of us who claim the name of Christ.  This year on our campus we will observe the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses, a seminal event in the reformation of the church and in fact the world. I enjoy reading and studying Reformation history. But if the Reformation remains to us an historical event rather than a vibrant, ongoing reality, it loses its relevance to church and society.

Appropriately, I think, our Book of the Year is A Good Time for the Truth. The book is a collection of essays, more properly oral histories, providing perspective on race in Minnesota. In the Introduction, Editor Sun Yung Shin positions the book as “A call for us to listen and learn about one another’s real lives in Minnesota.” We are at our best at our university when we continually practice listening and learning. We think of ourselves as a community which values racial and ethnic diversity, and the mutual understandings which occur when we exercise our listening and learning skills within our multicultural urban environment are magnificent.

But, as Sun Yung Shin points out, there are some hard truths “that we must understand and agree upon.” The experience of a person of color in the United States has always been and is still today a different experience from that of a person who is white. That is a hard truth which prompts the prayer Reform your Church, Lord. Begin with me.  Moreover, much of racism is historically liked to efforts to colonize the “New World” by Christians, who often viewed Indigenous peoples as less than and not worthy. That is another hard truth. Reform your Church, Lord. Begin with me. More than anything else in this world, I value the love of God in Jesus Christ who, while we were yet sinners, came to die for us and rise from the dead to give us the certain promise of forgiveness and everlasting life. We are, in the words of the theme of our academic year, Saved by Grace. To realize that this fundamental Christian message has too often been linked to racism and oppression is, for me, the hardest of truths. But if I am to genuinely live a life rooted in Christ, it is a truth that must be faced. Reform your Church, Lord. Begin with me.

During this academic year we have before us a fortuitous confluence rich themes: Reformation – Diversity – Grace. Let us capitalize on them as an academic community in the spirit of this humble prayer: Reform your church, Lord. Begin with me.

Tom Ries

Giving Space to Giving Voice

On Sunday, June 4, Concordia University was host to the Giving Voice Chorus-Saint Paul®.  The Giving Voice Initiative (GVI) inspires and equips organizations around the world to build choruses that bring joy, well-being, purpose, and community understanding to people with Alzheimer’s and their care partners. The only organization of its kind, GVI is triggering a movement to build choral music communities that celebrate the potential of people living with dementia.  https://givingvoicechorus.org/about/

Those living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, both the individuals and their companions, often tend to become isolated and out of touch with any social network.  Singing is proving to be a remarkably effective way to build community among both the individuals affected by the condition and their care partners.  Those who participate in the chorus generally are still living in their homes, but may find it difficult to find places where others share their unique challenges and hopes, and share them in a constructive context.  Music fosters that constructive environment and brings people together.  Often songs are evocative in that they come from not only the mind but also the heart and the spirit.  Most of us associate certain songs with various times in our lives, and those with Alzheimer’s are no exception.

The chorus, under the direction of Ms. Jeanie Brindley-Barnett, presented a dozen familiar folk songs collected under the theme This Land is Your Land.  They chug, chug, chugged through This Train is Bound for Glory, whistled out Red River Valley, executed melodiously the memorable harmonies of California Dreamin’   by the Mamas and the Papas, and gently crooned the ballad Kisses Sweeter than Wine.  An individual with Alzheimer’s and a care partner introduced each number and recalled how it had touched their lives, for example through a meeting with the original artist, or a time when they were young and falling in love, or raising children, or participating in some great cause.  The large crowd of families and other loved ones applauded and cheered loudly at each offering and ended the afternoon with a standing ovation.

Long-time Concordia “family member” Emmy Treichel helped bring the chorus to our campus, reflecting on the time when she was a care partner with her beloved Herb who lived out his last days with Alzheimer’s.  CSP librarian Geruth Buetow is personally involved with the group.  Dr. David Mennicke as well as CSP’s crack Conference and Events staff were of great help in making the event a success.  We were delighted to give space to Giving Voice.

Such an event is but one example of the hundreds of ways Concordia University students, faculty, staff, and other stakeholders are involved in civic engagement each year.  Attending to the needs of the university’s various communities has long been part of CSP’s makeup, whether those communities are in the neighborhood, the greater Twin Cities, outstate Minnesota, or local congregations and the church at large.  Scores of organizations and thousands of individuals are touched through the university each year.  It’s another reason CSP is a satisfying place to live and work.

Grace and peace.

Tom Ries

Commencement Inspiration

 

Our 2017 lineup of commencement speakers is sure to inspire.  Speaking to the Friday evening undergraduate class will be 2009 CSP alumnus Kirk Ingram.  A wonderful student and talented athlete during his time at Concordia, Kirk incurred a life-changing spinal cord injury several years ago.  He will talk about how his faith, family, friends, and determination have kept him focused on the future.

Addressing the Saturday morning undergraduate class will be The Honorable Elizabeth Kautz, who has served as mayor of the City of Burnsville, Minnesota for 22 years.  Mayor Kautz has displayed a servant-leadership approach throughout her years of public service and views her work as mayor as “her ministry.”  She has helped Burnsville, one of the Twin Cities older outer-ring suburbs, continue to grow and reinvent itself, and integrate tens of thousands of first-generation Americans into the community

Colonel Kevin Olson will speak at the Saturday afternoon Graduate School commencement,  Col. Olson earned his masters degree at Concordia University and at the time of his commencement was on active duty in Iraq.  He will speak about how his education in a Christian academic community designated as a “yellow-ribbon” school has enhanced his life, career, and service.

A number of inspiring individuals will receive honorary awards.  CSP alumnus Fred Voightmann and his wife Paula Voightmann are the 2017 recipients of the Aeterna Moliri Award, recognizing exemplary lives of service to Christ.  A veteran of the United States Air Force, Fred has been a practicing attorney working in Asia for the majority of his career.  He has helped establish numerous Lutheran schools in Asia, and continues to serve on the boards of a number of them.  Paula established a ministry to help the abandoned children of Taiwan, which has impacted thousands of “the least of these.”

Several distinguished individuals will be awarded honorary doctorates.  Mr. Rich Robertson had a long and productive career in business before being named as President of the Lutheran Church Extension Fund.  LCEF fosters Christian ministries throughout the world, and Rich has expanded the scope and impact of this important ministry during his tenure as president.  He is also an active member and leader in the congregations where he and his wife Cindy are members.  Dr. Loren Leslie, a veteran of the United States Navy and board-certified physical therapist, has served on the Concordia University Board of Regents for the past nine years.  He has been instrumental in helping Concordia  expand its academic offerings in health care, most notably our Doctor of Physical Therapy program.  Dr. Jeffrey Burkart, CSP emeritus faculty member and artisan extraordinaire has had an incredibly productive life sharing the Gospel through the written and spoken word, and through music and drama.  More importantly, he has equipped untold numbers of others to share their faith using their own God-given abilities.

With respect to Edward Pola and George Wyle, at a university commencement time is truly The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!  We look forward to celebrating with all of our graduates, and their families and friends, and saluting the class of 2017!

Grace and peace.

Tom Ries

Sorrows and Grief in the Lenten Season

 

During the season of Lent, we are reminded that our Lord Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).  Lent is a time for reflection on Christ’s journey to the cross and his redemptive suffering and death.  He, the God of gods and Lord of lords, became one with us, experiencing both our joys and heartaches.  He took our sins upon himself, and by his wounds we are healed.  We participate pensively in this Lenten journey, but also know that the unlimited joy of the resurrection message “He is not here, he is risen!” is the end of the story.

This particular Lenten season has been one of much grief for our university.  In recent weeks we have been astonished as one great sorrow after another has been visited on members of our community.  The untimely death of the brother of one of our students, was soon followed by the equally untimely death of the son of a long-time faculty member, then the sudden deaths of the wife of another long-standing faculty member and the brother of yet another long-time member of our faculty, and the unexpected death of one of our students.  Others in our community, including faculty, staff, and regents, very recently have experienced major cardiac incidents and cancer diagnoses.  Within the span of just a few weeks we have ourselves become reacquainted with sorrows and grief.  Like the psalmist of old, we are calling, “O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to my pleas for mercy!” (Psalm 130:2).

I have written many notes and made numerous telephone calls in the last few weeks, assuring the grieving members of our university community that “your Concordia family stands with you in this time of loss and trial.”  That is certainly true.  We are one body here, and when any member of the body is hurting, we are all hurting.  May God sustain us as we journey through these grievous times together, and especially sustain those members of our family most closely touched by loss.

When all has been said that can be said, and all done that can be done, when every tear is shed and every prayer is uttered, ultimately “our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8).  He is our Rock and our Redeemer.  The Christ of the cross is also the Christ of the empty tomb, and the resurrection power by which we are all sustained is truly our source of everlasting hope.  Grace and peace to you as we make this Lenten journey together.

Tom Ries

 


Immigration: In the CSP Wheelhouse

 

The cover story on immigration in this week’s Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal includes some substantive quotes by Concordia’s Dr. Bruce Corrie and provides a reasoned presentation of the value of immigrants to the Minnesota economy.  This is no surprise to Bruce.  I have heard him wax eloquently on this topic many times, and he is frequently called upon by state and local government, as well as the media, to offer his expertise.  His research data is clear:  the value of immigrant capital is vital to the interests of our State and nation.

 

Nevertheless, immigration is a hotly debated topic.  Certainly there are matters of national security involved that need careful consideration.  Certainly there are important reasons to manage our borders and also to respect the rule of law in the immigration process.  But the reality seems clear to me . . . we need immigrants.  Given the right opportunities, they contribute mightily to our economy and society.  Though I am by no means an expert, in my simple view the public discussion should be focusing on helping greater numbers of documented immigrants into the country.

 

I’m hoping we can have some constructive discussion of this issue on our campus this semester.  Immigration is in our wheelhouse.  For many decades Concordia has been in the center of a number of migrations, including African Americans from the south in the 1950s and ’60s, Hmong, Laotian and Vietnamese from refugee camps in Thailand in the 1970s and ’80s, and the most recent arrival of African immigrants to the Midway district of St. Paul.  I have seen first-hand that settling in a new country and unfamiliar culture is not easy.  But we have seen amazing outcomes from our immigrant friends who have been among us now for several generations, and in just the last six years we have seen substantial progress in education, jobs, businesses, and social acclimation among our newest neighbors.  Concordia has proven its capacity to dialogue around difficult issues, and the issue of immigration should be no exception.

 

We, too, have a rich biblical context from which to discuss immigration, particularly the Old Testament where Yahweh encourages the people of Israel to support the immigrant and the foreigner, because they too were at one time immigrants and foreigners.  Let us rise to the challenge to do what we can in our small corner of the world to have civil discourse on immigration and, more importantly, to reach out to and help the newest members of our very own community, God’s people of many races, ethnicities and languages right here among us.

 

Grace and peace.

Tom Ries

 

 

 

 

Blessings Abounding, Globe University, and a couple more things

 

 

As we close out the fall semester, we once again have nothing but praise and thanks to God for his goodness to us this academic year.  Wow, what a year to celebrate!  The accomplishments of our students in classrooms, athletics, the arts, and leadership.  The accomplishments of colleagues who also are collecting recognitions and accolades from many different sources.  Our growing success and strength as an institution.  All these blessings and more are reasons to give thanks!

 

Yesterday local media outlets began reporting that Concordia University is assisting Globe University students complete their education.  A for-profit university, which has been in business for well over 100 years, Globe and its partner Minnesota School of Business is ceasing operations in Minnesota effective December 31st.  This development has left hundreds of students with deep uncertainty about their future.  The principal owners of Globe contacted Concordia about eight weeks ago asking if we could help with the transition for their existing students and possibly continue some of the academic programs Globe currently offers, but we do not.  Several teams of faculty and staff, coordinated by Provost Dr. Eric LaMott,  have been working extremely hard to see what we can do.  The Minnesota Office of Higher Education (MOHE) and other state and private accrediting bodies have come along side this process with invaluable assistance.  There are many accreditation details to work out, but at this juncture Concordia is doing what it can to help students transfer into our existing academic programs, which match what Globe is currently offering.

 

I mention this for two reasons.  First, if you encounter Globe students in your offices and classrooms during spring semester, please give them an extra-special welcome.  The uncertainties they have faced this fall as the Globe closure has played out has been disconcerting to them to say the least.  But excitement is building among them for Concordia, and they are beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel.  KSTP reporter Joe Mazan filed this fine report yesterday:  http://kstp.com/news/globe-university-minnesota-school-of-business-shutting-down-some-campuses/4350285/ .  Second, this is a new experience for Concordia.  We have acquired academic programs before, but it is a new experience for us to take on something with this extraordinary time pressure to complete the process.  Please keep the process in your prayers.  Our Board of Regents Executive Committee and particularly Chairman Mark Moksnes have been very helpful and encouraging, and the full Board was apprised of this potential opportunity early on.  Later on I will personally and publicly thank all those who have helped move this along.  For now, just know that they are still very busy.

 

God has blessed us to the extent that we will once again be implementing a 3% pay raise at the beginning of 2017, our sixth such annual increase in a row.  I am pleased that we are able to make this happen again.

 

The university was blessed this year with the largest matching gift in its history . . . $150,000 to match dollar-for-dollar every gift to our Opportunity Fund through the end of the year.  If you are considering making a gift to the University this year, there is no better time!

 

Lastly, may your heart and home be filled with the joy of Christmas and the excitement of another year of grace ahead of us!  Grace and peace to you!

 

Tom Ries

 

Athletic and Academic Success

The Concordia University Women’s Volleyball Team further burnished its already glistening legend this past weekend by capturing their 8th National Championship in the last ten years.  One local sportscaster described the feat as “beyond a dynasty” and certainly it is hard to believe the success these women have had on the court.  Head Coach Brady Starkey and Assistant Coach George Padjen  deserve giant accolades for leading this program to these rarified heights of accomplishment.  They, in turn, credit the players as “amazing, wonderful, talented, hard-working, dedicated, and just plain fun to be around.”  Once again in his post-tournament press conference this year Coach Starkey talked about the privilege he has to work with these student-athletes.  The Concordia community will celebrate the accomplishment of the 2016 Golden Bear Volleyball Team by hoisting the 8th Championship Banner during half-time of a Women’s Basketball game next semester.  I hope you can be there.

But competitive success is only one part of the legend of Golden Bear athletics.  More important, and equally compelling, is the record of academic success by CSP’s student athletes.  Just a few weeks ago, the National Collegiate Athletic Association awarded Concordia University the President’s Award for Academic Excellence, one of only 26 such awards given to NCAA Division-II colleges and universities.  The NCAA noted over the past four years a 92% academic success rate for Concordia’s student athletes.  Last year’s average grade point average among all student athletes was an impressive 3.31 out of 4.0,  with the women’s golf team leading the way at a collective 3.85 GPA.  By the way, women’s golf has had its share of athletes competing for conference, regional, and national championships as well.

If asked whether he would prefer athletic or academic success among its student athletes, this President of Concordia University St. Paul would answer “Yes!”  And fortunately at this university, we get to celebrate both.

Grace and peace to you.

President Tom Ries

A Timely Theme of the Year

 

Concordia’s University’s theme of the year – A More Excellent Way – could not be more timely in the wake of a divisive national election. Our theme is based on the Apostle Paul’s discussion of diversity within the body of Christ. He praises God for the diversity of gifts which exist in the body, but allows that diversity holds within it the potential for insensitive and even destructive words and actions.  Amid our differences, Paul urges “a more excellent way,” which is the way of love. He continues, “Love is patient, love is kind . . . it is not proud, arrogant, or rude . . . does not seek its own way . . . is not arrogant or boastful.  Love never ends.” The free expression of ideas, shared in respectful dialogue, is a cherished ideal at our university. We believe that this mutual sharing is at its best when enhanced by the Christ-like love of which the Apostle is speaking.

In recent days, the United States has seen strong differences of opinion emerging from our national election. Differences within a democracy are not only good, they are a necessary part of the democratic process. But differences of opinion, especially when not tempered by love, have the inherent potential to deteriorate into actions hurtful to others or destructive to property. Unfortunately, we have witnessed some of these behaviors in various parts of the country since the results of the election were realized.

Fortunately, on the Concordia campus we have witnessed no such hurtful or destructive behaviors. I am very aware that there are many differences of opinion among our faculty, students, and staff about matters of national interest. But so far they have been expressed in civil discourse and mutual respect and love.  I thank all of you for your exemplary conduct.  Our university’s treasured diversity, in race, creed, color, national origin, nationality, and gender presents wonderful opportunities for each of us to grow in understanding ourselves and the world around us.

Grace and peace.

Tom Ries

International U.

 

Concordia University Saint Paul is becoming an international university, with international students coming from around the world to study here and U. S. students traveling and studying abroad.

Students “coming here”

This fall, according to institutional researcher Beth Peter, a record 18 countries are represented on campus with 146 students who have international status. The countries include: Canada, Cambodia, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Germany, Ghana, India, Iran, Kenya, Liberia, Norway, Peru, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Yemen.

Six years ago we had just three international students from three countries in the student body. When we realized that CSP was in demand by international students, we invested heavily in qualified staff to manage our processes for serving non-U. S. student and equipping faculty and staff to meet their needs. Tiffanie Loeb Schneider, Colleen Cahill, Drew Boatman, and Katie Jabri are among our staff working with international students, and Tom Allen was instrumental in building our program.

We also dedicated space to international student programming, and because of expanding enrollments the offices serving international students were moved this summer to the building at 1371 Marshall Avenue. Our international student population enriches our classrooms and campus life.  I have personally enjoyed getting to know a number of them quite well, and I know that our faculty have built even deeper relationships with international students that sometimes extend even beyond graduation.

Students “going there”

At the same time that we are welcoming students from around the world to our university, we are also sending increasing numbers of undergraduate and graduate students to travel and study abroad. Kate Larson and Kelly Matthias from our C.A.L.L. Center (Community, Action, Leadership, and Learning Center) report that in 2015-16 CSP study abroad students participated in programs in 17 countries. 61% of students who attended an initial advising meeting decided to study abroad for a semester. 40% of the students who studied abroad were graduate students. New direct enroll programs in Italy and Australia were added to existing opportunities already in place in China, South Korea, and Cambridge, England, and partnerships are being explored in Ireland and Ecuador.

 

brandenburggate_201301_csptour_ranatamayerhoferStudents with Prof. Renata Mayrhofer at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

Students traveling outside the U. S. have gone to study abroad for a semester, or for a week, or two, or three, as part of a choir or other fine arts tour, on service trips and mission trips, to work on an archaeological dig, and for numerous other reasons. Students who study abroad show strong growth in the following outcome areas: Sense of independence and self-reliance, ability to navigate situations of uncertainty, and sense of confidence in a new or different situation or when meeting new people. In addition, study abroad is linked to stronger persistence to graduation.

Other Travel

In addition to student participation, Concordia alumni and friends have traveled abroad through Concordia-sponsored trips most recently to New Zealand, Israel, Turkey and Greece, and Germany. An upcoming trip in May 2017 to Norway will be hosted by Professor Eric Dregni, expert extraordinaire in Norwegian culture and author of such engaging books as Vikings in the Attic: In Search of Nordic America and In Cod We Trust: Living the Norwegian Dream. Eric’s easy style and strong international experience are sure to make this a fabulous trip.

There you have it.  Concordia University St. Paul . . . International U.!

Tom Ries

 

CSP Recognized for Outstanding Quality

quality1

In her report last week to the Board of Regents, Vice-President for Academic Affairs Dr. Marilyn Reineck noted that this fall Concordia University St. Paul received a number of unsolicited recognitions for the quality of academic programs.

SportsManagementDegreeHub.com ranked our BA in Exercise Science as the #1 online kinesiology bachelor’s degree in the United States.

Washington Monthly ranked Concordia University St. Paul as #4 in the nation in the 2016 Best Colleges for Adult Learners category.

Bestcolleges.com ranks CSP’s masters degree in criminal justice as # 5 in the United States.

Thebestschools.org ranks Concordia St. Paul in the top 50 for best online colleges in the U. S.  (Incidentally, number 1 in that ranking was a little school called Penn State University.)

I’m sure there will be more of these types of recognitions to come.  They reinforce what people say to me wherever I go.  “It’s amazing to see what is going on over at Concordia” is the most frequent comment.  Often it is fueled by the publicity we have received through our affordability initiatives.  For example, I walked past Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison on the street in Washington D. C. several weeks ago and, once he had recognized me, he said:  “You’re doing a great job keeping tuition low over there!”  Our value proposition is clearly in the minds of consumers and decision-makers.

Recently, a friend of mine, who is not a CSP grad, said to me (again unsolicited), “Mary [his wife] and I think Concordia St. Paul is the best college in the state.”  Naturally I thanked him for his comment.  When I asked him to tell me why they thought so, he said:  “Because you are doing what colleges should be doing in the 21st century . . . making academic programs relevant, paying attention to affordability, and helping kids successfully complete.”  I thought perhaps he had been sneaking a peak at our strategic plan!  Instead, though following Concordia from a distance, he has formed these perspectives.  He is not alone.  And I couldn’t agree with him more.

Thanks for all you are doing to help CSP achieve the recognition we deserve and the student success we desire.

Grace and peace!

Tom Ries