Kicking Off the School Year in Conversation with President Brower

Photo courtesy of Jackye Peacock

When Point Loma Nazarene University President Bob Brower reminisces on his first year of college, he recalls, more than anything, apprehension. 

“I was a first-generation college student,” Brower said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know the language of a college. I didn’t know many people who actually went to college and so college for me was kind of more apprehension.”

California is ranked number one in the U.S. with 46.5% of first-generation college students making up the state’s undergraduate population, according to Forbes.

Whether stepping into a university setting for the first time or returning from the summer, there can be equal excitement and trepidation about the beginning of the school year. The Point caught up with Brower about his work over summer, the events that transpired at the end of last semester and his advice for this semester. 

The Point: What have you been working on this summer?

Bob Brower: A lot of my work this summer has been with the broader church work. I think I’ve been to 11 different district assemblies, jurisdictional meetings, general assembly, Nazarene youth conference and a large global Nazarene higher education conference. [At the global Nazarene higher education conference], 51 schools from around the world [were] gathered. 

I really enjoyed the Nazarene Youth Conference in Tampa, Florida. [There were] over 10,000 participants in the hockey arena there. It [focused] on overflowing in one’s life, living out God’s call and really knowing God’s call. I’ve been to those since like 1991, and I thought this was incredibly well done, [it was] very powerful personally and spiritually. 

Along with the other Nazarene schools, we had a university exhibit. So, I had a chance to work in that and meet sponsors and students from across North America. Quite a number of my former students who are now youth sponsors and pastors came by and it was fun to get to see them.

TP: What were some of the conversations that were happening? 

BB: In the education side, [there are] a lot of new college and university presidents. I think … 20 of the schools represented had new leaders. The last six years, [there’s been] a significant number of changes. 

Some of those schools have had multiple changes in leadership during the past six years. So I was getting reacquainted, looking [at] ways we can collaborate together in Nazarene higher education. 

TP: With the way the spring semester wrapped up, there were some pretty serious conversations happening on campus both among faculty and students, especially in the School of Theology and Christian Ministry. Do you have any updates on how the university is handling the vacancy of Dr. Maddix’s position as dean?

See for the full story regarding the dismissal of Mark Maddix, the previous dean of the School of Theology and Christian Ministry.

BB: The only thing that can be said is that it is a resolved issue. [Interim Dean of the School of Theology and Christian Ministry] Rebecca Laird is giving leadership to the School of Theology. We’re moving forward.

There was a new faculty member that was hired there, a faculty member that’s been in the process of finishing her doctoral work along the way. She’ll be here and started this year. She’ll be a wonderful addition. 

We will continue to try to do things [by trying to answer] ‘how do we have difficult conversations?’ I think [in] culture today, there almost seems to be no appetite to have the words ‘difficult’ and ‘conversation’ linked together. I’m convinced and committed to being able to do that. 

I think in a community in relationship, we have to be different and that difference requires hard work and somehow to be able to come to a position that says, ‘You and I can actually hold different positions and still be in relationship and all still be within the body of Christ.’ 

We see life differently. We experience life differently. The capacity to have respect and regard, love and care for another person with whom you disagree is, in our era of living, one of the most important things for us to learn and practice. The capacity to ask questions to gain understanding prior to conclusions is a lost art. 

Those are things we’ll continue to work on. This is not a perfect place. But, I think God calls us as believers and people of Christ to see each other as a child of God, created in God’s image and of value and worth at all times, even if it’s tough.

TP: What encouragement would you want to give to students who are still thinking about this or want to continue to have conversations [about the dismissal of Maddix]?

BB: I think that’s the key. Let’s have conversations. Ask questions. The worst question ever is the one not asked. 

Answers may never be easy but oftentimes in communication, we make assumptions about what a person believes oftentimes based on perceptions that are inaccurate or not complete or things that we think people mean by the words they use because those words we put our meaning into. 

Conversation is the best way we have to do it but it’s not perfect and it ultimately comes down to how we live with, relate to and try to understand one another. That’s tough in relationships. My dream and desire would be that somehow we would do better at that out of our commitment in Christ to be the people of God. 

TP: How have you prepared for what’s ahead this semester?

BB: First off, I’ve been praying a lot about the beginning of this new year. That’s my pattern normally, throughout the summer, is really trying to get a sense of how I need to prepare personally and spiritually. 

Trying to do some reading both in scripture and other places, looking to the future, this year’s been different in that this is our 50th anniversary, if you will, of the university moving from Pasadena to Point Loma. So, I’ve been speaking a lot and really thinking about that 50 years when Pasadena College became Point Loma College and this group of people moved 120 miles and started. 

The campus was in really tough shape. I’ve just been reminded of the incredible dedication that it took for people to uproot their lives, their homes, their families and to start again. They did that not knowing if it would succeed. 

One of the things I’ve been saying is, I’m convinced, with the ability to look backward, if the move had not occurred, I don’t think Pasadena Cwould have survived. Such a small place couldn’t grow [and] couldn’t really develop the resources and facilities that were needed. I’m, more than ever, reflecting upon God’s leadership on Dr. Brown to speak to him that this was the right thing to do. 

My only regret is that Dr. Brown isn’t alive today to look at what his dream and the leadership of God meant in his life for this place. It’s not only that it’s larger but we’re in multiple campuses. One of my prayers has been about how in that context of today we can stay together and unified in our purpose. Keep, what’s described as the “Point Loma Way” — the relationships and the care for each other — that’s what I believe is the real heart of the university. I think that happens among faculty and staff, with students, within students and it makes this place a different place than many places I’ve been. 

TP: What is a fond memory of your college days?

BB: My freshman year I think I was excited to go. But, it was a new experience. My family hadn’t had anyone go through college. My mother had started and became ill and had to drop out in that first part of her college life. 

I had a great first year experience knowing people and getting settled. [I] had a pretty good first quarter [and] had a not so good second quarter and basically had to step back and figure out how to study, how to take notes, how to discipline my time. 

My roommate at the time was over-the-top organized. That’s where I went to learn. I developed that and turned a really good corner. I went home freshman summer and worked construction in the very hot, humid Florida sun. I was really ready to come back. 

Sophomore year, for me, was just an opening up. I became involved in student government [and] lots of additional activities. Classes were beginning to thrive and make more sense. I started down the route of a history major, and in the journey of [my] sophomore year, figured out that I really wanted to change. But, what I learned in my sophomore year from a professor that I value who was at that time my history prof, [he] taught me how to really write and think in ways that I hadn’t before. That led me eventually into a different major. That work was so important. I have really fond memories of all of my college days, but sophomore year was highly anticipated and was a real pivotal year in really feeling settled as a college student. 

TP: You mentioned apprehension going into your freshman year, which I’m sure a lot of students are feeling right now. What would you say is the most challenging part for you getting back into this fall semester? What is the most rewarding part?

BB: Obviously, one of the challenges at the start of every year is so many people are brand new. [For] about a third of our undergraduate students, this is their first time with Point Loma. 

We’re once again starting all over because there are so many relationships to form and so many ways to help bring in new individuals and there are lots of new faculty and staff too. 

The new crowd doesn’t know anything much about our past or history, or who we are and how this thing works. So, it’s an invitation for us who have been around to help bring people into a sense of purpose and belonging, an introduction. 

One of the things I love about the beginning of the year is it’s so full of this mix of hope, excitement, anticipation and some just outright anxiety and fear. And all of that is okay. It’s part of this normal process of change. 

I typically begin to see a kind of settling in somewhere around the sixth or seventh week. It feels like there’s a bit of rhythm that develops. One of the scariest times I think is walking in, the first time or the first 30 times, to the Caf. Where do I sit? Who do I talk to? That’s a tough one. I experience that sometimes because it looks like everybody is already engaged. And most of the time there’s room for others. 

Those excitements of start[ing] up and just the realities [that] this can be kind of tough: first time away from home for many people, first time with roommates for many people. 

For me, those are moments of excitement, opportunity and some awareness of how we need to be attentive to the needs and care for all of us – new and returning.

TP: We have Welcome Week happening for the first time this year. What are you looking forward to about this new PLNU tradition? 

BB: I think we’ve done new student orientation extraordinarily well. I think this is the next step and the next generation of providing a way for new students to get grounded and establish relationships. 

I was talking to an incoming new student today and he said, ‘It’s really going to help just to be able to build familiarity and have the time to know where my classes are, be involved in some events, get to know other people and begin to form relationships before we hit classes and everything is crazy busy.’ I’ve looked at the schedule. I’m looking forward to being involved in a number of areas and experiencing that. 

I think it’s going to be a good start. It’s different. We’ll do it and as we always do we’ll reevaluate at the end. But I’m very encouraged. 

TP: You always find a way to make an awesome entrance to the birthday bash. What does this big birthday bash mean to you? What are your recommendations for things to check out or activities to jump into?

BB: The name is crazy and I’m really glad to lend my birthday time to this. But for me, this is really the opportunity for new and returning students to be together for, really, the first time around a big event. 

And for me, the fun is watching interactions with students. There are numbers of students that I met that I was able to have really good conversations and relationships with over the whole time. 

The energy that ASB puts in is a tribute to them for seeing a big vision of bringing all of the community together. They just do a great job. I love the Ferris wheel and all the other games. Those are all fun. 

But for me, the best thing Linda [Brower’s wife] and I like to do is to move through the groups of students and talk and catch up either a little bit on what’s been going on with the summers for returning students or get introduced to new students. It reflects the kind of welcoming community that [PLNU] students really are and that our community tries to be. It’s fun. I always enjoy just the good time together. 

TP: What encouragement and advice do you have for both new and returning students as we’re heading into this year?

BB: When I was a freshman, my new student experience essentially was I ran into a sophomore and we sat down and talked. Along the way, I think I asked the question, ‘So Tom, what advice do you have for me?’ This was his advice and I’ve thought a lot about it over the years. He said to me, ‘Well, you get out of college what you put into it.’

 And he didn’t go into a lot of in-depth stuff but what I’ve experienced over my own life [is] you really have to invest and engage yourself. Enter in. Participate. Ask questions. Seek help. Find places for information. 

Whether it’s volunteering or working or honing various responsibilities, when we invest and give of ourselves, I think the returns are rich in so many ways. I’m not sure I ever wrote that phrase down from the mighty sophomore, but it stuck in my head and it was one of the ways I really did enter in. 

TP: For some students, this might be their first experience in a Christian community and Christian setting, what encouragement would you give to them as they’re maybe going to chapel for the first time?

BB: The reason we exist as a university is to be a vital, Christian, learning community and we’re distinctive in that way. We intend to be that kind of Christian community. 

There are lots of other just higher education communities, but the distinctive thing about this is we do gather together with being part of the purposeful body of believers. 

My prayer is always that individuals within our community, if they don’t know Christ, will have an opportunity to come to know Christ [and] understand the purpose of God across time — that God in sending Jesus his son intended for us to be able to have the restorative relationship with God. Our sins could be forgiven by the sacrifice Christ made with his life so we could be in relationship with the God of all ages. 

I’ve thought a lot about what it means to be introduced to something that, as you say, someone may not have known or may have grown up and not really understood that God’s intention for us is to be in a relationship. 

I’ve asked myself a thousand, maybe a million times, why would God want to be in a relationship with me? I bring nothing to it. And yet the fact that I bring nothing to it is why God wants a relationship because I am created in his image to be in relationship and to experience God and God’s love through that. I desire that all of us know that.