Q&A With Retiring University President Bob Brower

Courtesy of Jackye Peacock.

After nearly 27 years of serving as President of Point Loma Nazarene University, Bob Brower notified all PLNU students, faculty and staff via email that he will be retiring in the summer of 2024. 

The announcement came on Thursday, Nov. 16, almost marking the 26th anniversary of when Brower met with the Board of Trustees to accept the presidency of PLNU.

“During all of those years I have felt the clear calling of God to be at PLNU, and I am so grateful,” Brower wrote. “The most joyful part of my work is being able to know students, to witness your growth and progress, and to grant your degrees from PLNU.”

Following Brower’s retirement announcement, PLNU Board of Trustees Chair Doug Pierce emailed the PLNU community, stating that “the Board of Trustees will collaborate with Dr. Brower to develop a transition plan.”

Pierce’s email also stated that the board will guide the search process for a successor at the appropriate time.

“In the meantime, please express your appreciation to the Browers,” Pierce wrote. “I invite you to join with the Board of Trustees in prayer for their family and the University in the days ahead.”

Brower — who has held the longest tenure of all PLNU presidents — interviewed with The Point via email about his beginnings at the university, plans for retirement and the impact the community has made on his life.

The Point: Looking back over your nearly 27 years at PLNU, what are some of the most significant changes or accomplishments you’re most proud of during your time as President?

Bob Brower: I’m pleased that the university has always been looking forward to anticipate change, adapt to emerging needs, create new strategies, grow enrollment and facilities, extend our educational opportunities with new campuses and programs, and create a vital Christian community for excellent education and personal development.

When I came, I was told there was nothing left to build on campus, and I smile a little now as I think about the changes that have occurred. We’ve expanded the university by adding the Bond Academic Center, two parking structures, the Athletic Training Center, Draper Hall, Nease 7 & 8, the Fermanian School of Business with 2 expansions, Smee Hall, Sator Hall, Latter Hall, and the Prescott Prayer Chapel, as well as the Mission Valley, Bakersfield, Liberty Station and Balboa campuses. These changes came because PLNU was adapting to meet needs and serve students, and that gives me joy and satisfaction.

Enrollment more than doubled, as we figured out how to operate successfully within the city-imposed enrollment cap on the Point Loma campus. Since then, PLNU’s educational reputation has grown, and our partnerships throughout the San Diego region have helped to connect students with opportunities.

TP: What do you remember about your first year on campus?

BB: I arrived full-time in January 1998, and since there had been a six-month vacancy in the office, I remember mountains of paperwork to process (yes this was pre-electronic), decisions to make, relationships to begin, culture and practices to understand, names and faces to try to remember and students, faculty, staff, alumni and constituents to begin to meet. Most days I worked from early morning until almost midnight. Linda and my family had not yet moved, and work was never-ending, so it felt like the right thing to do.

Another thing I remember and enjoyed was being invited to so many events where I met students, faculty, staff, and friends of the college. I quickly fell in love with the people of Point Loma, and that remains true today.

In that first semester, the Board of Trustees was in the final phase of discussing whether or not to move from college to university status, and they were awaiting my input. The discussions were good, with diverse opinions and the consideration of input gathered over a number of years. The decision was finally made, and the answer was YES. So in May of 1998, at the conclusion of my first Commencement Convocation, we became PLNU. This was another step in building a strong future. 

TP: Every leader faces challenges. What were some of the most significant challenges you encountered during your tenure, and how did you navigate them?

BB: Challenges are so much a part of the ongoing work that it’s hard to separate the regular times from the challenging ones as they often blend together. Some of the more significant ones that stand out are:

  • Reaching the enrollment cap in 1999
  • Y2K – the unknown of moving into the 2000s
  • The 2008 Global Financial Crisis and the multi-year recovery
  • Expanding to new campus sites and adding graduate programs in 1999, 2014, and 2020
  • The academic and operational prioritization study and actions
  • Beginning and expanding Adult Programs starting in 2015
  • The Covid pandemic – 2020 to 2022
  • And the many others that filled the days across the years

Navigating challenging times well has always required the thinking, work, and engagement of many people. PLNU is blessed with gifted, committed people, and together we have faced and met challenges in order to keep the university strong. I’m grateful for the work and investments of so many faculty, staff, and students across the years.

TP: In what ways have students influenced your decisions or the direction of PLNU, and how important do you believe the student perspective is for the university’s future?

BB: As a student, I was deeply influenced by my Christian higher education experience, particularly the relationships with and examples of faculty and staff members. I felt a calling into higher education, and from the beginning, teaching and developing students has always been at the front of my mind.

Over the years I learned much through my relationship with students, but I’ve also sought the counsel and advice of many others regarding student needs and priorities. Readings, conferences, expert sources, and paying attention to all that is going on within the university and the broader culture have helped to inform me and many others throughout the university as we seek to prepare students for their futures.

TP: Whether it be role models, your faith or loved ones, where have you looked to find sources of support during your presidency?

BB: There are so many influences in my life that have contributed to me and to this work at PLNU. Linda is an excellent teacher and professional in her own work and she is very influential in my life and in the work we do together for PLNU. Her thoughts and perspectives are important because she often experiences things differently from me, and I learn from that.  

Her love for Loma is deep, and she has actively contributed her energies to building relationships with those within the PLNU community and with many external constituents, even though that’s not her formal job. I’m grateful for all she does on behalf of PLNU.

Although there are many times in this work that there’s no one to candidly talk with because of the issues involved, I’m blessed to have always worked with wonderful colleagues who have great expertise that they bring to the work. Working with others always makes the work enjoyable and rewarding for me.

At the core of my work is my sense of calling and the consistent presence of God in my life.  As deeply as I feel responsible for my work and PLNU, I know deep in my heart that God is present and active within me and in PLNU. I experienced that during my interview more than 26 years ago and it holds true to this day.

TP: How has serving as President of PLNU influenced or shaped you personally, professionally and spiritually?

BB: Personally, I love this work and I love PLNU and what we do in and for students. This is rewarding work! It’s also fully engaging for me, personally and professionally. A top strength in my Gallup set is ‘responsibility’ and when that strength encounters the scope of institutional responsibilities in my assignment from the Trustees, my response is full and complete engagement all the time.   

Professionally, this work is always challenging and I’m always learning. I love that about my job. I encounter gifted, brilliant, wise people frequently and I’m enriched in those exchanges and relationships. This is great work for a person who loves to learn, who is motivated by opportunities to analyze options and possibilities, and who constantly encounters new ideas.

Spiritually, this work has required trust and faith in God in ways I had never experienced before, especially when things were challenging and clear answers just weren’t there. I’ve had many opportunities for worship and deep spiritual reflection in this work. I’m thankful for the hundreds, probably thousands, of chapels and special events that have deepened my faith and walk with God. I’m grateful for these times and how I am shaped by them.

TP: As you prepare to retire, what legacy or impact do you hope to leave behind at PLNU, and what would you like to see continued or further developed by your successor?

BB: In this kind of role and work, legacy and impact are factors that others will define, perhaps at some point in the future. For me, the relationships at Loma are important, especially relationships with students. I’m so fortunate to have been able to know students, watch them develop and graduate, hear life updates from many, and encounter them as they move in and through their life’s work. It’s also been fun in the past several years to have students here who are the children of students I knew from years ago. I guess that’s a bonus of being here for a long time.

I hope that Loma will continue to be a faithful Christian learning community that brings together the best in academic preparation with the deepest of faith in Christ. As we continue to pursue excellence in all that is done, I hope the strong sense of community through relationships will be a mark of PLNU.

TP: What will retirement look like for you?

BB: Our decision about retirement is rather recent, so Linda and I still have some planning to do as we work out the details. We plan to stay in San Diego and we hope to find ways to support and promote PLNU and the important mission of the university.

Initially, we want to do some international travel as we make the transition from full-time employment to building a foundation for the next part of our lives. I hope to continue the opportunities I’ve enjoyed by mentoring leaders in higher education both domestically and internationally. We also plan to have more flexibility to be with family.

TP: As you prepare to step down, is there anything else you’d like to share with the PLNU community, especially the students who have been a fundamental part of your tenure?

BB: I know mid-summer 2024 will come quickly and there will be many transitions and emotions between now and then, so I plan to soak in all of these experiences. I guess after nearly 27 years it’ll be about time for me to graduate! 

For me, I hope students, current and past, will know how grateful I am that you are a part of PLNU and that I’ve had the privilege, in some small way, to share in your life and journey through Point Loma. Somewhere along the way, almost 20 years ago, you named me Bobby B, and that special student relationship has filled my life with lots of laughter, thousands of wonderful conversations, and so many opportunities to know so many of you personally. Thank you!!

I am grateful that God led us to Point Loma, and I will always be thankful to the students, faculty, staff, and community of PLNU for the opportunity to share life, work, and service together across the years. I’m looking forward to life together in the months ahead, and I remain confident in the future success and mission of Point Loma Nazarene University.