“We’re now at about 3.300 students overall and our graduate school is now at about 900 students.”– HBU President Robert B. Sloan, Jr.
THE PILLARS: Do you remember the genesis of the Ten Pillars vision?
DR. SLOAN: I do. I had just come to HBU in 2006 and the first thing that I was privileged to do was to meet the staff and faculty here. I had small group meetings to learn about HBU and just get a feel for the culture. I would ask people, “okay what goes well? What do you do? What do you enjoy doing? Are there any issues or problems that we need to look at?” Because there are always things that bare improvement. And in the process of learning about HBU and learning the great history and tradition we have here I could also begin to hear their aspirations. And it was really out of those meetings that I knew that I was already getting the foundation points for what later came to be the Ten Pillars.
So fast forward a year and a half later, we started a formal process of building a vision document. We had “town hall meetings” around the campus and asked them one question: What would you like
HBU to look like in the year 2020? The idea was not to put a dollar limitation on it, but to dream whatever you want about programs, buildings, culture, academic programs, athletics, etc. It was
very exciting. We are a great Christian university in a great city, and that was the beginning point of the narrative because Christian universities tend to drift from their foundation, from their moorings of commitment to Christ and commitment to a scripture-informed Christianity. We don’t want to do that. We think you can be academically excellent and still be committed to Christ and to a faith that has honesty and integrity. A faith that’s willing to ask questions.
And here on campus we actually have ten pillars that came from the Galveston County Courthouse that was devastated by the 1900 storm of the century in Galveston. Those pillars remained standing. And when the courthouse was taken down, Dr. Stewart Morris and
his wife Joella bought those pillars and brought ten of them to our campus. Ten is the number of strength in scripture, and there’s the Ten Commandments, so our vision document is called the Ten Pillars.
THE PILLARS: So much has happened under your leadership. You have to feel a sense of real destiny to the steps that you’ve taken.
DR. SLOAN: I really do believe the Lord has blessed HBU throughout our history. You can’t explain a place like HBU without the hand of the Lord going back even before the University was legally incorporated in 1960.
THE PILLARS: In recent months you’ve had emphasis on finishing the
Ten Pillars, give us a snap shot of what that would entail.
SLOAN: Well here it is 2016 and we have only a few years left for the Ten Pillars vision. The question was “What do you want HBU to look like in the year 2020?” The goal here is to ask ourselves how can we finish strong in the implementation of the Ten Pillars vision. So a lot has been accomplished – our Honors College, for example. Starting an honors college and being in Division I NCAA athletics again – seeing the University grow in so many professional areas of education, nursing, business – those have just been huge growth areas for us. Seeing the University excel in the fine arts was one of the priorities of the Ten Pillars. Our School of Fine Arts is probably the finest private university School of Arts in America. I know that’s a bold statement, but I really believe that’s true. We just recently again won what’s called the Rising Eyes of Texas exhibition, where our art students were recognized. The MFA program and our Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts are gaining recognition, along with our Department of Music, which continues to grow and strengthen. It’s very exciting to see under the leadership that’s there. We have a new program in creative writing that is also a part of fine arts, as well as an outstanding program in Cinema and New Media Arts. The greatest strength of HBU is in the area of theology and biblical studies – and now we have Apologetics and Christian Philosophy. The University is very strong. A lot has been accomplished and we have exciting things lined up for us in the future. For example, on Hwy. 59 and Fondren we have that 25-acre corner of the campus, which we sometimes refer to as the Campus Edge project. It will be called The Pillars at HBU. It’s a shopping center. It’s a whole development that will draw great attention to the University with a retail section, a parking garage, an office building, a hotel and conference center, and a 5,000-seat arena. Brick is being put up on a beautiful retail section of that development right now. Our architectural look will be extended all the way to the front tier by the freeway. It’s very exciting.
THE PILLARS: You have now entered into the digital domain through robertbsloan.com and The Story of the Bible through partnership with LifeWay and its outreach on WORDsearch to nearly 400,000 churches, a precursor of a very direct and digital outreach of HBU. Can you encapsulate that?
SLOAN: I’ll try to. Dr. Johnston, you have been very instrumental in leading us in that area, but yes, the University now has a very exciting partnership with LifeWay. We have got Philippians, which is an online, certificate program, and I know Dr. Jeremiah Johnston, your son, has also done some wonderful things in this partnership with LifeWay and we’ll be seeing faculty getting involved with them also. This LifeWay opportunity will create certificates and non-credit certificates and other opportunities that can lead to credit hours for individuals who sign up. This will expand the visibility of the University and give our faculty members a platform to teach online. All that I’ve mentioned are answers to The Ten Pillars’ challenge for growth. We have grown where many private universities have not. We’re now at about 3,300 students overall and our graduate school is now at about 900 students. One of the next phases of our growth will be with the traditional undergraduate and graduate student, through the online experience. For example, we currently have a partnership with Educate, which is an online program for nurses. We now have an online competency-based program that will allow a registered nurse to get a bachelor’s degree in Nursing, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. So the RN to BSN that’s exclusively online. The College of Business and our College of Education are very dynamic in this area. Even in art, classes are can be taught online. The College of Education and Behavioral Sciences is going to start a whole emphasis on mental health and Christian psychology, which we think is going to explode because of the excellence of the people that we have involved. Of course we won’t abandon our traditional campus. We are very strong in the philosophy area, biblical languages, and in the classical languages, and now we also have a whole new area that we call the Center for Law and Liberty where we will teach the founding principles of American democracy and the American practices of government. Things like freedom and free markets, these are very important. We think human freedom is a gift of God and it ought to have the opportunity to flourish.
THE PILLARS: We look forward to your Story of the Bible and just one final question, did you ever think you could step into an HBU studio and teach the Bible, the Book of Philippians and it be marketed digitally to 400,000 pastors?
SLOAN: It’s amazing. No, but right here on campus we have this gorgeous studio with cutting-edge technology and cameras. We have the ability to shoot and produce our professors’ content every day and capture this content and make it available to 400,000 church members, pastors, and staff members who can study the Book of Philippians or the Story of the Bible. It is wonderful. We’re glad to have the opportunity to harness the things that God gives us to be able to expand our mission, to share the gospel, to teach and to allow the expertise. I want people to see the growth that’s going take place at HBU through the online opportunities for for-credit and not-for-credit growth, very exciting.