The following is a transcript of farewell remarks delivered by Graham Walker in a convocation of faculty, staff and students at Patrick Henry College, Purcellville, Virginia, on December 1, 2014.
I thank the college leadership for allowing this opportunity for a few good-bye remarks, which is also an opportunity for giving thanks publicly to the Lord for our nearly nine years of being connected to Patrick Henry College. Naturally I find myself in this season both looking back and looking forward.
I look back with gratitude at the things that the PHC community achieved during my 8½ years as President.
When I first visited PHC in January of 2006, the small campus had a promising look, but the atmosphere seemed dire, as those of you who were here back then will remember all too vividly. Nearly half the faculty was up in arms and alienated from the administration. The students didn’t like to have to take sides. Some students said it felt like a civil war, or a divorce. There was adverse press coverage in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Christianity Today and elsewhere, insinuating that Patrick Henry was not a real college but was some kind of anti-intellectual militia camp whose purpose was to train right-wing political warriors. To make matters worse, when I arrived in 2006, the clock was ticking down on the time allowed to get federally-recognized accreditation—without which the state of Virginia would have soon moved to revoke our certification.
Lindy and I were convinced that these conditions were not signs to keep us away but rather were indicators that the Lord wanted us to come and help. I’ll never forget the prayer meeting that she and I convened in Nash early in that first fall term, inviting everyone to come and pray for the strength and future of the College.
The Lord heard those prayers. The civil war conditions of 2005-2006 came pretty quickly to a close. Many alumni from those days, visiting the campus in later years, have told me over and over again how much healthier the spirit of the school is from what they experienced back then.
Of course during that first year there were countless student and faculty forums and discussions in which I was asked over and over again to explain and defend decisions that had been made prior to my arrival. I did so. And due to the departure of many, we had the opportunity to refresh the ranks of the faculty: most of today’s faculty members were hired on my watch, and they are wonderful people. They are impressively credentialed, have published important works of scholarship, and have deep teaching experience prior to PHC. One faculty member gave up a tenured professorship and a department chairmanship at a state university to accept my invitation to join PHC. Every faculty member who came had other options, but came here instead because they were moved by the vision of faithfulness to Christ and intellectual integrity which they saw that PHC stood for.
At the same time, I had the privilege to recruit top-flight executive talent including Gene Edward Veith, Carl Schreiber and others, who were drawn here by the same vision.
One of the first priorities was, with the faculty, to create and enact a Governance Protocol. This document was needed to regularize governance in accordance with norms in higher education; it gave a clear constitutional framework for the various authority processes that must operate below the Board level.
We also completely refreshed student life leadership, practices, and philosophy. And we raised the college’s profile and reputation in the world of higher education in many other ways.
Nine months into my presidency we secured federally-recognized accreditation, for an initial five-year period, to which another ten-year period was added a couple of years ago. The college’s relationship with the state of Virginia is secure.
And of course, nowadays, anyone who has experienced PHC from the inside during the last eight years just laughs when they hear it derided as some kind of anti-intellectual militia camp. Everybody here has heard me talk about rejecting propaganda and embracing real education, my determination to avoid spin, to teach us all to be accountable to facts whatever they really turn out to be, without reference to the label “conservative”; and my determination that the faculty should make sure students are conversant with every bad and harmful idea in the history of Western Civilization—and of course, more importantly, conversant also with the wisdom flowing down to us from the Triune God via the inerrant text of holy scripture. And anyone who has sat under our faculty knows that they are intellectually complex, subtle thinkers not to be pigeonholed in the old anti-PHC stereotypes.
And of course the college community has achieved other, more tangible, things in these eight-and-a-half years.
I can still picture the south end of the PHC circle as a grassy field – a field which now features the beautiful 106,000 s.f. Barbara Hodel Center. When I first joined the college, the blueprints showed a building that was going to look like a very nice, very-high-end high school gym. Thankfully, before it was built, we arranged to have the exterior and the grand lobby redesigned by a classical architect. His work added $3M to the price tag! I’ll never forget the day that the architect and I made the presentation of the revised design to two of the major donors. They were so moved by the beauty of the plan that they committed funding for full completion. And so by their generosity and that of others, it was built…and Barbara herself, before she passed away, was here for that glorious dedication where she spoke from her wheelchair, though paralyzed from the neck down.
Student enrollment has grown gradually but steadily over these years. In this fall 2014 semester the college now serves more full-time degree-seeking students than ever. Such full-time students are the backbone not only of PHC’s ministry but also of its finances. And this steady growth has come despite the fact that our financial aid just can’t be as generous as all the other schools that vacuum up tax dollars and dish them out extravagantly in taxpayer-funded grants and loans. [Note to reader: this growth occurred despite relentlessly reducing the full-year discount rate from over 50% (where it stood when I arrived) down to 35% in 2013-2014 (the last year for which full data was available). The Board mandated this reduction in financial aid for reasons of fiscal responsibility, despite knowing it would constrain the rate of numerical growth.]
Since Executive Vice President Carl Schreiber came here at my invitation more than four years ago, we have trimmed millions of dollars out of the annual operating budget, making the college’s operations dramatically more lean and efficient.
When I arrived, the college carried a substantial financial liability in the form of payment obligations to investors who had funded construction of several of our dorms before I came. This obligation was fully liquidated about five years into my presidency. Other indebtedness then accumulated during the construction of the Hodel Center, but we put this obligation, too, on the road to extinction: thanks to some creative donors it will be fully paid off by June of 2015. So this coming summer—for the first time since the construction of those older dorms before I came—it will be possible to say authentically that the college is operating without any multi-year debt.
And speaking of dorms, we finally completed the rezoning process during my years. All the college’s parcels of land in the Town of Purcellville are now finally zoned “Institutional,” enabling expeditious development of new dorms and other facilities.
And donors have generously joined us in all these accomplishments. The number of donors to the college has grown dramatically: the active donor base has more than quadrupled compared to what it was during my first year here.
Some of them have given to our endowment. The PHC endowment was at zero when I arrived and will reach the one million dollar mark in a couple of months when certain gifts are fulfilled—still not a lot as college endowments go, but a great start for a small new institution.
Overall, during the first eight years of my presidency, the college received over $70M in total donations, divided roughly in half between operations and capital purposes.
And let me state the obvious about all the accomplishments I’ve noted: they weren’t mine but rather the accomplishments of a dedicated and sacrificial team of wonderful people.
But that’s looking back. Now it’s time to look forward—first as to the college and then for myself.
I’ll be praying for the search committee and for the outside presidential search firm as they seek the next CEO for the college. I invite you, too, to pray for the Lord to guide their steps and to guide that person and the Board into the future.
Higher education is a complex business. Management techniques that work in other industries are not always directly transferable to a collegiate institution. It’s not necessary for a college to reinvent the wheel—to repeat the steps of trial and error that those experienced in higher education administration have already undertaken in order to identify best practices. And of course not only is higher education complex, but PHC has bravely chosen to follow an extraordinarily challenging path: this college refuses the government monies that 99% of other college depend upon.
As the college moves into the future, of course I hope that it keeps on the right course in practical and financial matters. But even more I pray that PHC holds to the right course in the life of the mind. Intellectual acuity is not separable from theological acuity or spiritual integrity. To put this more plainly, true wisdom emerges only in a mind that is anchored in the text of scripture and enlivened by the living presence of Jesus through his Holy Spirit.
If we cleave to him, he will not only “make our paths straight” in the vocational sense but he will also, more importantly, preserve our rationality. Without him, the mind loses its grip first on spiritual things, then on objective facts. This is the tragedy overtaking most of higher learning in our land, where the highest minds no longer believe that the human mind can grasp reality, where the seemingly hyper-rational people tell us that ultimately everything is spin. They need to see people who are living embodiments of the truth of Psalm 111:10: “A good understanding have all those who follow his commandments; his praise endures forever.” In Christ and with Christ, through whom all things were made, we can “get wisdom, get understanding” as we are urged in Proverbs 4:5. For in Jesus are hidden “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).
Please remember what I told you many times: The highest purpose of the mind is to protect the soul—your own and that of others entrusted to your care. And looking out over this congregation, I foresee that over the decades ahead many souls will be entrusted to you all by a faithful God.
Now looking forward for myself—
Please pray for the Lord to open just the right door for me. I am being considered for a variety of leadership positions both in the U.S. and elsewhere. The uncertainty is hard on me, and on my wife and daughters. They have been incredibly stalwart in this whole process and I love and admire all three of them very greatly.
Of course I’ll let you know when something is settled, job-wise.
In the meantime, I am pleased to report that I have recently been appointed as Senior Research Scholar at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J. Specifically, I’ll be attached to the Institute’s William E. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution. The Witherspoon Institute was co-founded by Robert George of Princeton University, who has been a friend of mine for over 25 years. This part-time affiliation is not a full-time job and we won’t be moving back to Princeton again, but it does provide me a platform for publication and for finding a new full-time job. The announcement of my appointment will appear on their website sometime this week.
As I conclude, I wish I could find a way to thank adequately all the individuals who have made my years as President, and Lindy’s years with me, so very rich: faculty members, and staff members, and so many, many students who embraced us warmly. Words fail me.
I especially appreciate the many people who have expressed confidence in me in this trying period of the last month or so since my announcement. Your words have been a wonderful antidote to some false and malicious things published on the Internet. And we appreciate all those who have assured us of their continued relationship with us. We will miss you all.
My wife Lindy will miss, more than she can say, the multitude of interactions that she was able to enjoy with so many of you, especially students. She has undertaken one-on-one mentoring with a host of women students over the years, and she and I together have provided pre-marriage discipleship for many student couples. (This discipleship mentoring, by the way, can continue—just under different auspices!)
And of course Lindy has opened our home to college guests over and over again. It takes some doing to be nearly always on the ready to receive a visitor at one’s home; she will tell you that continuous hospitality has been a learning process for her since it was not how she grew up. I think you will have recognized the warm and genuine interest that Lindy has had in all of you over these years.
In this vein, I understand that some of you are looking forward to meeting our two Corgis when Lindy brings them to campus later this week. She’s bringing them to provide a “stress relief” opportunity for students on one of the reading day afternoons. Watch for her announcement of the Corgi details!
And finally, we will never, never ever forget Bow Tie Day. I will never forget it especially since Christine’s photograph was featured at the top of the WORLD Magazine article published about my resignation. And you know what? The photo above the article conveyed the truth about my role at Patrick Henry College much more accurately than the story printed below it.
Thank you bow tie lovers…and those who have given love to me… and given love to my wife and daughters…all of you who are true lovers of Jesus.
“Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom; let not the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in the Lord.” [Jer. 9:23; I Corinthians 1:31]
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” [Luke 12:32]
God bless you.
Copyright © 2015 by Graham Walker