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Office of the President

President Melson smiling while standing in front of globe water sculpture

Richard J. Melson, Ph.D., President

Read President's Updates

Richard J. Melson, Ph.D., was elected the 26th President of Southwest Baptist University by the Board of Trustees on Aug. 19, 2021, and began his service as President on Sept. 7, 2021. SBU celebrated his inauguration on March 2, 2022.

Dr. Melson brings more than 25 years of transformational leadership to SBU’s administrative team. He has a passion for equipping the next generation of servant leaders to impact the world for Christ.

He joins SBU from Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio, where he served as Vice President for Advancement and Associate Professor of Business Administration since July 2016. Accomplishments while at Cedarville University include:

  • Leading a $125 million comprehensive campaign, the most ambitious fundraising effort in Cedarville University's history
  • Securing the largest gift commitments in Cedarville University history, including a $12 million lead gift for a Welcome Center and Liberal Arts Building and a $10 million lead gift for a new Business Building
  • Raising more than $95 million, more than the previous 15 years of giving combined

He also served on the President’s Cabinet and enjoyed teaching leadership to Cedarville’s students in the School of Business Administration, speaking in chapel and mentoring students across campus.

Dr. Melson served as the Vice President for Advancement and External relations at Houghton College in Houghton, N.Y., from 2012-2016. Accomplishments at Houghton College include:

  • Providing leadership to the institution's $70 million campaign
  • Leading the college to experience the highest giving in college history
  • Raising more than $34.1 million in four years, more than the previous seven years of giving combined
  • Leading his team to raise more than $1.1 million in one day, with 1,737 donors giving during a One Day Giving Challenge, garnering national recognition
  • Serving as President and CEO of the Willard J. Houghton Foundation

Dr. Melson has served in senior leadership positions in business, healthcare, higher education and ministry, including serving on the pastoral staff with John Piper at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn., and at the Resurgence and Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash. He served previously as Director of Admissions and Student Recruitment with Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Matthew, Hannah, Tammy, Rick, Marisa and Jon MelsonHe earned his doctoral degree in leadership studies from Dallas Baptist University. Dr. Melson holds a master’s degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a bachelor of arts degree from Murray State University. He also has completed post-doctoral studies at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education in educational management and advancement leadership.

Dr. Melson is happily married to his high school sweetheart, Tammy, of 33 years. They have three children. Son and daughter-in-law, Jon and Marisa, live and work in Los Angeles, Calif. Daughter Hannah is a staff nurse at Children’s Mercy in Kansas City. Son Matthew is in high school and loves all things sports and science.

Dr. and Mrs. Melson enjoy opening their home, mentoring students, and attending athletics, theater and other events on campus. They enjoy spending time with their family, traveling, working out, reading, and outdoor recreation. They are passionate about equipping the next generation of servant leaders to impact the world for Christ and are called to serve in a Christ-centered, caring academic community.

Inauguration Recap

President's Updates

Christmas decorations and holiday sales seem to start earlier every year! As soon as Halloween is over, we are in a hurry to get to Christmas. For centuries, however, the church has prepared for the celebration of Christmas by slowing down. Rather than hurrying to a holiday, Advent is a season of waiting. Because, when we slow down, we see more. 

I always tend to hurry to the familiar narration of the birth of Jesus in Luke 2. This year, however, I have been struck by what comes before—the overlooked story of Zechariah and his son, John. Zechariah simply could not believe God’s promise that he and his wife, Elizabeth, both advanced in age, would have a son. In the angelic encounter recorded in Luke 1, Zechariah was literally struck dumb—unable to speak because of his unbelief. Only when Elizabeth gave birth to John was his tongue loosened. What he prophesied over his son in that moment is what struck me:

for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:76-79).

Zechariah’s prophetic word is the gospel in a nutshell. We are a people of darkness whom God, in his tender mercy, has given light in exchange for darkness and life in exchange for death. John was born to point to Jesus, Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, Savior, Lord, and King. As we await Christmas morning, let’s take up John’s call, and point others to the one who has come to deliver us from sin and death and to guide our feet into the way of peace. 

Merry Christmas! 

Giving Thanks

On October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln set aside the last Thursday in November as “a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise.” While today we think of football and turkey and tables heavy with food, the official holiday of Thanksgiving was declared amid the brutal conflict of the Civil War. Writing on the President’s behalf, Secretary of State, William Seward noted how—despite the horror of the war and its lamentable causes—God “hath nevertheless remembered mercy.” God’s kindness, Seward wrote, “should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice.” So, every year since then we have paused as a people to give thanks to God. And we have much for which to give thanks!

And at the very top of my list is you. I thank God for the amazing faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends of SBU. As Paul notes in Philippians 1:3-5, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” I am continually encouraged by the dedication and sacrifice of the faculty and staff of this university. I wish I could share with you all the notes I receive from students, parents, alumni and donors who write to give thanks for the faithful faculty and staff who make SBU a Christ-centered, caring, academic community. I thank God for the leadership team with whom I get to serve, who labor in countless unseen ways to ensure that SBU will pursue that mission long into the future. I thank God for the privilege that all of us have, together, to go hard after Christ as a community. There is no place on earth I would rather be!

And I’m thankful for some other great things that have happened this fall: 


Construction Progress

Under the leadership of Director of Facilities, Robbie Bryant, we are moving steadily closer to the completion of construction at Leslie and Landen Halls—on time and under budget! I thank God for Robbie, his team, and the great partnership we have with Dewitt & Associates, our Springfield-based general contractor. Lord-willing, construction will conclude prior to the start of the spring semester!


Athletics Excellence

Despite having the toughest schedule in the GLVC, our Bearcat football team had an exceptional regular season, earning the most wins since 2016. Under the excellent leadership of coach Robert Clardy, SBU had seven Great Lakes Valley Conference Players of the week in the 2022 season. Coach Clardy also became the winningest Coach in SBU football history this season!

On top of that, both men’s and women’s cross-country teams have had exceptional seasons. Men’s Cross Country had their best GLVC Championship finish in 4th place, and the women fell just shy of their 2nd GLVC Championship, finishing in 2nd place. This season, the women’s team earned a national top 25 ranking and senior Alexis Barber earned the GLVC runner of the week award.

And if that were not impressive enough, the SBU volleyball team had its best season in 9 years, finishing with a 14–14 record, going .500 for the first time since 2013. Freshman Ella Rademaker had the most kills by a volleyball freshman since 2009.

But I’m not just thankful for these athletes, teams, and victories—I’m grateful to God for the culture of integrity and excellence that is being cultivated by our Athletics division. I am so thankful for Athletic Director, Clark Sheehy, and the amazing coaching staff, leadership team, and athletic trainers who drive our programs to compete in a way that is honoring to God.


New Partnership

While I could go on, there’s one more big thing that I am thankful for. After much discussion, prayer, evaluation, and preparation, this week we announced a multi-year strategic partnership with Dynamic Campus, a managed services organization with more than 20 years of experience in higher education IT services. Dynamic Campus shares our values and specializes in supporting private, Christian, mission-minded colleges and universities. This significant investment in information technology at SBU will help us adapt to changing technology, provide high quality services to our university, and expand the reach of our programs at home and around the world. I thank God for David Bolton, our Chief Technology Officer, and for the 42 years of energy and skill he has faithfully invested in SBU. I’m thankful for the amazing team of dedicated professionals who serve in our IT Services department. And I’m thankful for this new partnership with Dynamic Campus that will help SBU build on the excellent work of our IT team.

Dynamic Campus Partnership Full Story


While we face tensions and uncertainties as a nation and as a community, we too can confess that “God hath nevertheless remembered mercy.” As you gather with family and friends for this thanksgiving holiday, I hope you will join me in giving thanks and praise to the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:16).

October is always an exciting month for SBU. In the last several weeks we have celebrated Homecoming and hosted our fall Board of Trustees gathering—and there is much to report! But before I go any further, I am thrilled to share this: after four years of steady decline, this fall semester our traditional undergraduate enrollment on the Bolivar campus increased by 5.2%. While that growth may sound insignificant, many institutions like ours continued to experience a decline this year. Our 5.2% increase is evidence that parents and students continue to recognize SBU as a Christ-centered, high-quality, and affordable education.  


Homecoming Excitement

As always, SBU’s week-long Homecoming festivities did not disappoint! Students competed in a number of events throughout the week: mud-tug, spirit chapel, bed races, and float building. Homecoming attendance was at an all-time high, with more than 1,000 guests celebrating together at the Bearcat Bash, the Bearcat Football team’s 44–21 win against William–Jewell, and the Gable Price and Friends homecoming concert. It was a blast to see so many alumni, family, and friends in attendance this year! 


Fall Board of Trustees Meeting

In my August letter, I mentioned two initiatives we are working on this year: uniting SBU around a single confessional statement and addressing important matters in SBU’s governance and accreditation. Last week, the Board of Trustees acted on this shared commitment by passing a series of motions to align and clarify our institutional policies, centered on the Baptist Faith and Message, 2000. Additionally, the Board reviewed a draft Compact for Shared Governance developed by representatives from the administration, staff, faculty, students, and alumni. These important Board actions deepen our Christ-centered culture and help address the concerns raised by the Higher Learning Commission. I am grateful for the sacrificial service of our Board of Trustees and the exemplary leadership of our Board Chairman, Dr. Eddie Bumpers. You can read more about the Board Meeting, by following the link below.

Fall Board of Trustees Meeting Full Story


Partnerships—New and Old

This month, we also announced two exciting strategic partnerships. Southwest Baptist University is joining the Beyond Angel Network, a national Christian university ecosystem that provides student entrepreneurs early-stage capital, a network of industry relationships, and expertise to start disruptive technology companies. Our hope is that this partnership will result in new opportunities for SBU students to be Christ-centered world-changers in the marketplace. Additionally, SBU is entering into a strategic partnership with CampusEdu, an innovative global platform for online learning. We are thrilled about how this partnership will allow us to reach new students around the world with SBU’s excellent programs and faculty through an enhanced online experience.  

Beyond Angel Network Full Story

CampusEdu Partnership Full Story


Finally, I am very encouraged by the way our SBU community is pursuing deeper relationships with our oldest partner, the churches that make up the Missouri Baptist Convention. A few weeks ago, at the invitation of SBU’s faculty leadership, the Missouri Baptist Convention’s outgoing president, Mr. Jon Nelson, and the Convention’s Executive Director, Dr. John Yates, joined us on campus for chapel and productive dialogue with faculty and staff. At this week’s Annual Meeting, the Nominating Committee recommended, and convention messengers approved an excellent slate of new trustees for SBU’s Board of Trustees. We are incredibly grateful for the commitment of MBC churches to our mission and the support of MBC leadership.

It has been an exciting month for SBU—the first few weeks of classes, an excellent Fall Bible Conference, the joy of weekly corporate worship in chapel, the stellar performance of our athletic teams, and fun events like the Barnyard Bash and Spy Week. It is a great day to be a Bearcat!

I’m writing from Scottsdale, Arizona this morning where Dr. Griffith and I have been attending a conference on Legal and Public Policy conference hosted by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). As I mentioned in last month’s letter, one of our initiatives for the year is strengthening SBU for the future—and part of that strengthening comes in preparing us to better navigate the cultural and political challenges faced by institutions committed to historic, biblical orthodoxy. CCCU is a great partner in helping ensure that we endure as a Christ-centered caring, academic community.

Thanks to the great work of our Senior Leadership Team (SLT), we are also making steady progress in clarifying SBU’s system of shared governance. The SLT is made up of our Cabinet, the current President and President-elect of the Faculty Senate and Staff Council, leaders from Student Life, Student Success, IT services, and Institutional Effectiveness offices, as well as our campus Chaplain. I am profoundly grateful to work with so many amazing, skilled, servant-hearted leaders who love the mission God has called us to at SBU. Over the next few months, the SLT will be working with the staff council, faculty senate, the student association, and other groups to craft a document that outlines how we work together to fulfill our great mission. Not only will this document provide guidance for how we work together, it will be an important part of assuring our accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

While it is 100 degrees here in Arizona, the cooler weather at home signals that fall is on its way and that means SBU’s homecoming is right around the corner! 


Homecoming

The celebration of homecoming is the high point of our fall semester. Our faculty, staff, and students love to welcome the wider SBU family to campus and to celebrate the reunion of so many deep friendships. Every year, we are amazed to hear where our alumni are serving and encouraged to hear how their time at SBU equipped them for the calling God has placed on their lives. The stories share a common theme – the meaningful relationships with faculty, staff, and fellow students and the transformational impact of SBU’s Christ-centered, caring academic community. What a privilege to be a Bearcat!

The SBU family welcomes you back to campus on Friday, October 7 - Saturday, October 8 for Homecoming 2022. Join us as we enjoy one another and rejoice in God’s faithfulness to SBU. Even if you are not an SBU alumnus, you are still a part of the extended Bearcat family! Please make plans to attend! This year’s Bearcat Bash will include the famous Pineapple Whip, Hurts Donuts, acai bowls, and more!

Our Homecoming Committee has been working hard to prepare a great weekend for the SBU community. Here are a few of the many events scheduled for the weekend:

Friday, October 7

  • 11:30 a.m. – 50-Year Club Luncheon
  • 1:30 p.m. - Bearcat Men's Soccer Game
  • 4 p.m. – Student Bed Races
  • 4 p.m. - Bearcat Women's Soccer Game
  • 5 p.m. – Reunion Class Social
  • 6 p.m. – Alumni Banquet
  • 7:30 p.m. – Men's and Women's Alumni Basketball Game
     

Saturday, October 8

  • 8:30 a.m. – Alumni Breakfast
  • 10 a.m. – Homecoming Parade
  • 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. - Bearcat Bash
  • 1 p.m. – Bearcat Football Game
     

Each event is family-friendly and many include childcare! Follow this link to see the full Homecoming schedule. Pre-registration closes on October 2, so register today!


JobfitMatters

We have contracted JobfitMatters (JFM) to help us conduct a nationwide search for our next Provost, Vice President for Advancement, Vice President for Student Development, and Vice President for Enrollment. JobfitMatters is an executive recruiting firm with nationally-recognized expertise in recruiting top executives and cabinet-level leaders for Christian higher education. Since 1995, they have led over 300 executive searches and we are eager to have their help in finding leaders who are the right fit for our community. The opportunity profiles were completed earlier this month and we would love to have your help in promoting them far and wide.

Please share these postings and video on social media and encourage qualified candidates in your network to apply. Let them know that it is a great day to be a Bearcat!

Jobfit Matters

University Provost and VP Searches Video


Finally, as we dive into the day (and the heart of the semester), would you pause and pray with me for God’s help? We have much to give thanks for. And, in the midst of our rejoicing, our campus is also healing from loss. We have experienced disappointments and departures and deaths this month. We have many needs. If it were left up to us, we would be lost. But we serve One who not only knows our sorrows, but who loves to bear us up under them. Because He lives to intercede for us (Rom. 8:34), we can have strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.

Thanks to the great work of our Senior Leadership Team (SLT), we are also making steady progress in clarifying SBU’s system of shared governance. The SLT is made up of our Cabinet, the current President and President-elect of the Faculty Senate and Staff Council, leaders from Student Life, Student Success, IT services, and Institutional Effectiveness offices, as well as our campus Chaplain. I am profoundly grateful to work with so many amazing, skilled, servant-hearted leaders who love the mission God has called us to at SBU. Over the next few months, the SLT will be working with the staff council, faculty senate, the student association, and other groups to craft a document that outlines how we work together to fulfill our great mission. Not only will this document provide guidance for how we work together, it will be an important part of assuring our accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

While it is 100 degrees here in Arizona, the cooler weather at home signals that fall is on its way and that means SBU’s homecoming is right around the corner!

The 2022–2023 academic year is off to a roaring start and I am excited about what God has in store for us at SBU! There are a lot of new things to highlight this month—new students, new faculty, new staff, new programs, new meal options, newly renovated spaces, new vision for chapel and discipleship—so many things to celebrate! God has been kind to us.

In coming newsletters we’ll mention more about these great new things, but I want to focus this newsletter on our vision for this year.


Strength for Today, Bright Hope for Tomorrow

In the summer of 587 BC, Jerusalem was overtaken by the Babylonian army. The holy city, home to God’s king and to the temple where God’s earthly presence rested, lay in utter ruins. The prophet Jeremiah looked out over the destruction and reflected on the pain and confusion of God’s people. While the defeat seemed in the moment like God’s abandonment of his people, Jeremiah looked back with confidence to God’s promises:

“But this I call to mind and, therefore, I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end, great is your faithfulness” (Lamentation 3:23).

Jeremiah is calling to mind what God had said of himself in Exodus 34:6. On Mt. Sinai, God passed before Moses, and declared his name, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” In a time of unparalleled difficulty, Jeremiah looked back to God’s self-revelation for strength for the present and hope for the future.

Many of us are familiar with the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” a reflection Lamentations 3:21–23. This stanza has particularly struck me this summer:

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside

Great is Thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me

The last several years have been challenging for our campus community. I believe that the Lord intends to mend the brokenness and strengthen us for the mission to which he has called us. Mended brokenness is a powerful way in which God shows his mercy, kindness, and faithfulness. And that mending comes about when we look to him for strength for today and hope for tomorrow.


Four Initiatives for 2022–2023

And that’s what we are committed to doing this year. Here are four initiatives we are committed to in the 2022–2023 academic year:

  1. Create a Christ-Centered Culture United Around the Baptist Faith and Message, 2000 (BFM2000): For over one hundred years, Southwest Baptist University has been a confessional institution. Our university charter emphasizes our robust commitment to historic, orthodox Christianity in the Baptist tradition. The BFM2000 is the concise summary of that doctrinal commitment. Rather than ignoring or minimizing this theological foundation, we want to press into it, together—deepening our understanding and the kind of alignment that shared convictions bring about. We’re committed to making these important convictions clear in every stage of our hiring process for faculty, staff, and administration. And we’re aiming to show the beauty of biblical fidelity and personal holiness through chapel and new discipleship initiatives.
  2. Strengthen SBU and Assure HLC Accreditation: SBU was placed on probation by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), our regional accreditor, in 2021. Through the excellent work of our faculty and staff, we are already well on our way to addressing the concerns raised by the HLC. We have also contracted a HLC specialist who is working with our university team and HLC liaison to ensure that our assurance argument will satisfy the HLC’s visitation team. The chairman of SBU’s Board of Trustees, Dr. Eddie Bumpers, and I are working closely with our board members to clarify board responsibilities and provide a more meaningful and forward-looking experience for the great group of men and women who give of their time to serve our university. Additionally, a group of faculty, staff, and administration are collaborating on a document that will clarify SBU’s form of shared governance. We are also engaging a service offered by the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) to review all of our institutional policies. Each of these steps will strengthen our university and prepare it well for a bright future.
  3. Develop a Strategic Plan for Institutional Flourishing and Sustainability: A third focus for the 2022–2023 Academic year is planning for the future. With the rapid pace of change, it is easy to fall into the rut of simply reacting to things around us. Our last strategic plan was developed prior to the massive disruptions of COVID. After much discussion, we have decided to start a new, comprehensive planning process that will result in a new strategic plan. This plan will include master planning for academic programming, athletics, enrollment, and campus improvements. We believe that the best days of SBU are ahead and we are eager to work together to plan for an exciting, innovative, and flourishing future—God helping us. 
  4. Communicate Boldly: Finally, we are doubling down on our commitment to clear and collaborative communication. I’ve put together a new senior leadership team that includes representatives from faculty senate, staff council, athletics, student life, student activities and our campus pastor in addition to our executive cabinet. We will be working together to make sure that every area of our university understands where we are going and how we are getting there. Additionally, I will be regularly attending various leadership meetings across the university to report on progress and to be available for feedback and questions. We’re also planning to send out this monthly newsletter as well as developing new multi-channel communications.

As we move into the new year, together, let’s ask for God’s blessing on SBU. We have been given a great mission. May God equip us even more to be a Christ-centered, caring, academic community preparing students to change the world for the glory of Jesus Christ.

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