It was almost 25 years ago that an excited first-time University President Dr. John Bowling began his first day leading the staff, faculty and students of Olivet Nazarene University, and officially, Bowling will enjoy another five years.
Bowling enjoyed the early years as president and the sense of challenge. Amidst the adventure and learning curve of his new position, he did not anticipate the longevity ahead.
Following the announcement of the unanimous vote by the Board of Trustees for Bowling’s five-year extension as the university’s president, he had a strong emotional response. Having the support of the board was affirming for him, but it says more about the board as a unified group, Bowling said.
This recent review marks the fifth time Bowling’s performance has been evaluated in-depth by the board and renewal of his contract as president. Bowling will begin his new contract next fall.
“It’s been energizing and very rewarding to see the growth of the university,” Bowling said of his 25-year tenure. Such growth includes the expansion of the campus, which is three times larger than when Bowling first started, as well as three times as many academic programs, according to Bowling’s assistant, Marjorie Vinson. The first face in sight upon entering Bowling’s office, Vinson attributes like Olivet’s “beautiful” campus and unity amongst faculty and staff to Bowling’s ethic of excellence. “Working for him brings you to a level of excellence that you didn’t know you could achieve,” Vinson said.
Most rewarding for Bowling is seeing the impact of Olivet on students. He has seen several students begin and end their collegiate journeys. For him, it’s fun to see how students change over the years and to observe the personality of each class, Bowling said.
During Homecoming weekend, he attended class reunions and heard alumni testimonies, again seeing Olivet’s impact.
Bowling’s primary motivation is the knowledge that his work has a long impact on the lives of students, he said. Though everyone’s work has value, not everyone has the chance to see the impact of their work.
Bowling said that he also knows that being the university’s president is a huge responsibility and much is at stake. For example, if the hours for a program are changed, it impacts the lives of students. He doesn’t think of students as mass produced products, but lives impacted by his decisions. In senior leadership, he’s learned how things are interrelated and that every decision has a downside, he said.
For Bowling, being the university president is much more than another day’s work. He thinks of it as a way of life.
“I love Olivet. I wouldn’t want to do this job at another school,” Bowling said. He has had opportunities to do other things and could be the president of any school, but said he would not take other opportunities.
The surprise of how quickly his years as president have gone by lets Bowling know how fast the next five will go, he said. However, the goals for the next five years are already in place and have a name: “Vision 2022.”
Bowling will help the university complete that plan, raise funds, keep the mission clear and move forward. He knows the difference between management (doing things right) and leadership (doing the right thing), he said. “My role has to think, ‘what do we need to do today that will show up five years from now?’” he said.
According to Vinson, Bowling has said that you can’t go to school and learn all you need to know to be president; you learn it “on the job.” After 25 years, Bowling would know.
–Jada Fisher, staff writer