Campus celebrates presidential selection
President-Elect John deSteiguer is preparing for his new post after a whirlwind week of interviews, meetings and—finally—celebration.
“[I’m] a little overwhelmed and excited,” deSteiguer said. “This is a great place. We love Oklahoma Christian University, and I’m thrilled to have this opportunity.”
Oklahoma Christian’s Presidential Search Committee announced deSteiguer, currently the senior vice president for advancement, as the university’s sixth president on Monday.
deSteiguer, who will assume his new duties in June, shared his feelings following the announcement.
“I’m a little bit burdened by how big the responsibility is, but there’s so many good people here,” deSteiguer said.
The final leg of the selection process began Wednesday, Feb. 1 and by Friday, deSteiguer and finalist Allison Garrett, vice president for academics, had completed four rounds of final interviews.
Garrett and deSteiguer had individual meetings with the university cabinet, composed of the school’s vice presidents and deans; a faith committee; a “town hall” made of 10 faculty, 10 staff, 10 alumni and a group of students; and the board of trustees.
“It was a packed three days,” deSteiguer said. “It was pretty intense ... simply because of the nature of the process. [But] these were great folks.”
The candidates interviewed separately, giving presentations and fielding questions.
“I am deeply honored and humbled by the board’s decision and confidence in me,” deSteiguer said in a Feb. 4 press release following the announcement.
deSteiguer graduated from Northeastern State University before earning his juris doctorate from Pepperdine University. During deSteiguer’s time in Oklahoma Christian’s Office of Advancement, the school experienced record levels of giving and underwent several campus improvement projects, including the $60 million Higher Learning, Higher Calling campaign and the $7.5 million effort responsible for the Noble Science Wing and Vose Hall upgrades.
“Dr. deSteiguer has a proven track-record in the area of development that is critical to our future success,” Chairman of the Board of Trustees Don Millican said in the press release. “This is an exciting day for all of us.”
deSteiguer said he will seek to employ the connections he hasmade to help Oklahoma Christian students establish themselves in the local community. Another effort deSteiguer emphasized concerns the campus community. According to deSteiguer, Oklahoma Christian can continue to develop its atmosphere of a second home for students.
“Home is a place where you learn, grow and connect, and … home prepares you to leave and go out into the world and make a living—make a life,” deSteiguer said.
In addition to his desire to promote the idea of Oklahoma Christian as home, deSteiguer shared two additional goals.
“My vision for the institution is really not that complicated: ... OC as home, OC grows and OC as mission,” deSteiguer said.
Oklahoma Christian currently has approximately 2,200 students. deSteiguer’s five-year plan includes growing to 3,000 students, including undergraduate, graduate and online students. deSteiguer also envisions continued financial growth for the school.
“Nine-and-a-half years ago, when President O’Neal began, our budget model really did not work,” deSteiguer said. “Our revenue was not strong enough to cover our expenses. Our debt was not amortized. ... And we even didn’t have money set aside in the budget to take care of maintenance issues. … He had to make some very difficult decisions [and] that’s a great legacy of his.”
deSteiguer plans to continue this legacy by raising endowment money and paying down the university’s long-term debt.
“In 10 years, if this measure is correct, the university will have revenue it will spend on programs, people and things … and that will be significant,” deSteiguer said.
Mission—deSteiguer’s third goal—extends beyond the typical conception.
“We provide great education, and our faculty are, I think, second to none in what they know and how they teach and how they care about the students,” deSteiguer said. “But if all we provide is a good education, then we’re missing the boat. So OC as mission is the idea that we are here to transform lives for Christian faith, scholarship and service.”
deSteiguer shared the idea that transformation should not be for students alone, but should be for everyone working at or connected with Oklahoma Christian. In addition, he stated one, more specific, goal.
“I hope that 80 percent of our undergraduates do mission work—long- or short-term—before ... or as they leave here,” deSteiguer said.
As he discussed his future goals, deSteiguer recognized O’Neal for his tenure as president.
“President O’Neal has done just really some remarkable things,” deSteiguer said. “Many of those dealt with the financial model. … Another [is] the president has put together what I think is the best board of trustees of any Christian university. ... A third legacy [is] President O’Neal has done wonderful things with the relationship with Rwanda. It is remarkable that a university president in the center of the U.S. would have a close relationship with the president of a nation.”
O’Neal acknowledged these events, as well as the completion of Lawson Commons and the recent musical production of “Beauty and the Beast,” as a few of the most exciting parts of the past 10 years. He recalls, however, moments that embodied Oklahoma Christian’s mission as the best of his term.
“The things I look back on with the greatest fondness are times when this campus was praying for people,” O’Neal said. “Times when I hear these stories of a faculty member or a student or a staff member who’s doing something that says this person is following Christ—those are the things that mean the most to me.”
O’Neal shared satisfaction at the completion of the search that began in 2010.
“I’m as happy as anyone that it’s done, and I’m very happy with the outcome,” O’Neal said. “What was so interesting here is these two finalists—either one of them would have done a fantastic job for this place and have the capacity to take Oklahoma Christian to the next level. … And I told the trustees that, [although] I stayed mostly out of the selection process.”
O’Neal said his distance from the process was purposeful.
“Frankly, what we need is someone who’s prepared to see a new vision from where we are now and articulate that vision for the community and then inspire the people to go there,” O’Neal said. “No doubt that Dr. deSteiguer is capable of doing that.”
O’Neal and deSteiguer are currently planning a change of command at the beginning of June.
“It’s going to be a very smooth transition,” deSteiguer said. “It’s going to be full of collaboration and cooperation. That’s how we each want it to be and how it ought to be.”
After retiring as president, O’Neal plans to stay involved with the university in some capacity and is currently exploring options for continuing to serve the school. For now, he will offer aid in one particular way.
“I hope everyone will be praying for Dr. deSteiguer and his family,” O’Neal said. “There’s no way that any one man has enough wisdom, strength or courage to do this job alone … and I know he will appreciate those prayers as he feels that on his shoulders. I will continue to pray for him, and I’m here to help him in any way that I can.”
deSteiguer and his wife, Darla, have two teenage children—Joe, 19, and Abby, 17—and attend Memorial Road Church of Christ.
“Darla and I are a real team,” deSteiguer said. “She is great. She’s beautiful, she’s smart, she’s spiritual and she’s wise. … And we know this is going to take a lot of time.”
As the deSteiguer family prepares for changes, deSteiguer noted his commitments to and relationships with God and his family will remain his first priority.
As he continues to plan, deSteiguer expressed his desire to serve the university well.
“I think if we seek wisdom from God, His providence is going to continue to blaze the way for this institution,” deSteiguer said.
Photo by: Jeremy Gan