Elise Arsenault | Reporter
Why Faith and Learning Cannot be Separated
At the beginning of January, ten prospective students traveled impressive distances to visit Redeemer’s campus. My dorm was to host three girls from British Columbia for three nights, and boy were we ever eager to meet them. We’d had visitors before of course, but not from so far a distance, or for so long a visit.
When Emma, Olivia and Megs arrived, we tried to be mindful of their jet-lag, their entry into a totally new environment, and the way our smiles grew creepily chipper if prolonged. After dorm dinner questions, province comparisons, and that evening’s Hot Spot, however, our exchanges grew genuine.
I knew they would soon swell with questions about dorm life, academics, clubs, and guy-to-girl-ratios. I knew that I could respond with personal insight, sincere interest, and a joke or two about Dutch roots and marriage proposals. What I couldn’t have anticipated, however, was the pride with which I would talk about my school. A giddiness crept into my spirit when I cracked open my journal, turned to entries from my first year, and read bits of my experience — starting with a mud pit brawl.
It affirmed to me that I’d grown proud of the many moving parts that make up our school, our vision, and our impact.
Vice President, Marketing and Enrolment Head and History Professor, Dr. David Zietsma also delights in these things. When I met with him earlier this month to discuss the school’s current challenges and future goals, his insight offered much for the RUC body to contemplate, and celebrate.
“My own personal belief,” says Dr. Zietsma, “is that faith and learning can’t be separated.
“The mind is created by God, for God. You can’t say ‘learning happens over here, and faith happens over there,’ because they are so intertwined, and I believe Redeemer’s whole Leadership Team shares in this thinking.”
Then, Dr. Zietsma outlined Redeemer’s latest strategic plan to uphold Christ-centred learning. This initiative seeks to (a) ensure excellence in academic programs, (b) engage Redeemer with external audiences, and (c) ensure the school’s financial sustainability. These parts form a strong, three cord bond — namely — the 2020 Vision. While this article will outline the main goals of each part, a more extensive look at the Strategic Plan can be found in the last issue of Tangents Magazine.
This mission is, in part, a response to challenges effecting Universities across the nation. “We’re in the middle of a significant demographic decline,” Dr. Zietsma explains, “the population of university-aged people drops about 1.5-2% a year, each year.” Moreover, the remainder of the target population is rethinking the purpose of further education. “The cultural view of post-secondary education is becoming more utilitarian — simply about training people for their jobs. It’s not about God’s world, discipleship, or calling. It’s far more specific, and still narrowing in focus.”
Another factor to consider is a change in views of Christian education. “Traditional feeder schools are changing,” says Dr. Zietsma. “Sometimes they may seek to offset enrolment decline through opening enrolment up(?), and therefore fewer of their students might be interested in Christian post-secondary education.” On top of that, he explains: “Our culture is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with Christian organizations. This makes accreditation more difficult for us — just look at Trinity Western’s problem with their proposed School of Law.
“As a result, if we want a Bachelor of Social Work, Commerce, or Business Administration, or a Master of Education, it’s more difficult to get. People doubt that it is possible to teach these disciplines from an integrated Christian perspective.”
While these realities do present difficulties, Redeemer’s 2020 Strategic Plan will aim to enhance and sustain what is indispensable.
The first area is aptly focused on academics, and making practical changes to keep programs excellent and relevant. Our revamped Core curriculum marks one of these changes, set to launch this fall. It is made up of 10 interdisciplinary courses designed over nearly two years of research and planning.
The Centre for Christian Scholarship, too, is key to enhancing Redeemer’s academic programs. Faculty are more able to conduct meaningful research and join conversations with other educators, while remaining “unapologetically academic in method, deeply Christian in outlook, and firmly rooted in faith in common life.”
“This is also a benefit for our students,” explains Dr. Zietsma, “since faculty are engaged in research and respected in culture and communities.” Moreover, this presents funding opportunities for faculty to include students in their own work.
The Centre for Experiential Learning and Careers is designed to help students “find their callings more effectively, and mesh the gifts they have through co-op opportunities and internships in every program.”
Redeemer’s Media and Communication Studies Program has already been launched this school year (with a stellar promo video on the interweb), and an intensified Ministry Program is in the works. Dr. Zietsma explains: “Ministry used to be highly reserved for people who went to Seminary to preach off a pulpit, but plenty has changed in the last 10-20 years.”
“Churches have paid positions for Worship Pastors and Small Group Leaders who aren’t necessarily Seminary graduates. Where are they being trained? Shouldn’t Redeemer be a place to discover ‘Drama and Ministry?’ Or ‘Music and Ministry?’”
I think yes.
The plan’s second strand is to “increase our public profile.” This means more intentional use of media, a degree of rebranding, and improving relations with alumni, parents, churches, non-profit organizations, and think tanks.
“Think of organizations like the Canadian Bible Society, World Vision, Cardus, and International Justice Mission,” urges Dr. Zietsma. “We want to be a place where those organizations come to hire their marketers, their graphic designers, their writers, their accountants… their whatever!
“We want them to recognize that the Redeemer Liberal Arts and Sciences grad is a student with deep faith, and a desire to serve God with their education. So we’d like to improve our relations with those groups.”
The final component centres itself on financial sustainability. The first priority is to eliminate budget deficit, by paying back loans originally meant to balance revenue and expenditures. Redeemer’s debt has been reduced by about 9 million dollars over the past four years. Continuing at this rate means reducing interest payments and having a more efficient operating budget, which keeps tuition lower in the hopes of making it more affordable for students.
These three pillars — academic excellence, external relations, and financial sustainability — are not new to Redeemer and its leadership team. The 2020 Strategic Plan is simply a means of zoning in on each one with discernment, intention, and anticipation. They are meant to uphold the good we already have going for us, and tell more people about it.
“As our President, Dr. Krygsman, has said, ‘Our world needs deep Christian hope and wisdom,’” says Dr. Zietsma, “and that is what our graduates offer.
“Graduates who bring Christ-like leadership in politics and economics, reflect love in social justice, are committed to their families, churches and neighbourhoods, teach the next generation of students, and disciple their own children… We want to equip them to continue their transformative impact on the world.
“That’s our vision. That’s the 2020 Vision.
And that’s a vision I’ll gladly relay to my new bright-eyed, British Columbian friends, so that they — and anyone else curious about what makes Redeemer unique — might understand the real and divine tie between faith and learning. The importance of growing in wisdom and knowledge, and the “renewal our minds” through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Redeemer is not perfect, but we do get some things right. My hope is that we’d each find things to be giddy about and things to be prayerful about. When we run after God’s heart for our school, He will provide all the discernment, innovativeness and resources we need. Let us, then, be a body that fervently asks for these things, that we might do Him proud, and move forward with ears to hear and eyes to see.