We Are Cairn University

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Todd J. Williams, Ph.D.[dropcap3]I[/dropcap3]t has not taken long for me to begin amassing a few new collections recently. Over the past couple of months I have had colleagues, friends, and fellow alumni sending me photos of cairns and actual stones from all over the world. Each one tells a story and is now part of a larger story regarding the transition to Cairn University. I have also begun a collection of notes and letters regarding the new name. They represent opinions and perspectives, as well as insights into the potential benefits and liabilities of the name change, that are as varied and individual as the stones and cairn photos people have been sharing with me. In the weeks and months since the name change was finalized and the inaugural edition of the magazine was mailed we have been busy preparing the campus, launching a new marketing campaign, and communicating to our various constituencies and communities. I have also been traveling, speaking to individuals and groups, doing radio interviews, and visiting with people who want to know more about this significant and historic change at the University. And so, I have also been collecting anecdotes from my interactions that continue to affirm the wisdom and necessity of the Board’s decision in May, as well as the opportunities it is already creating.

The first photos I received were from my son who served all summer at a Christian camp in Colorado. During his adventures in the San Juan Mountains he encountered dozens of cairns, small and large, new and old. Most of them were built to mark the way to a vista or a summit. Some were markers that memorialized something someone wanted remembered. He wrote that on one particular hike the weather had closed in, drastically limiting visibility. Being above the tree-line in a virtually barren wilderness with no points of reference, the summit would not have been attainable for him and his climbing partner if not for those stone markers. They climbed through the fog and clouds to that summit by travelling from cairn to cairn. When they reached one, they began looking for the next, and so on. It was a challenging hike and a memorable peak.

There were also photos from friends and alumni on vacation. From Maine to Oregon, from Minnesota to Florida, people were coming upon cairns and wanted to capture them in photos and share them. I also received photos of cairns from around the world: Germany, China, the Philippines, Scotland, Kenya, and Israel. Nearly all the photos were sent with comments. As it usually goes, people are noticing them more now that they are becoming familiar with the term as a result of the name change. Others who were already familiar with the term are wanting to share the connections between their cairns and us. In all of the photos there are great themes that people are noticing. And then there are the photos of the cairns people are building while travelling or adding to their yards and gardens at home. The individuality and creativity demonstrated in each cairn is striking. The materials are always stone but some are built with smooth river stone, some jagged pieces of mountain rock, others shale or sandstone; some with no two stones alike, others built from uniformed shapes. They are all different, representing different stories and standing in different locations, yet serving the same purpose. This metaphor is not lost on us. People are making profound connections.

Stones are showing up in faculty and staff offices as well. These are being exchanged and shared as physical reminders of the significance of this name and its connection to our desire as an institution to bear witness to the great faithfulness of God and point the way to Christ and His Word. The actual stones I am now gathering are as varied as the photos, all manner of sizes and shapes from all over the world. The drawer I have designated for this collection in my office is slowly beginning to fill up. The stones come with personal descriptions about where they came from or how they were acquired. I am fast becoming somewhat of an expert on geographic geology. These stones, like the photos, are accompanied by stories because cairns evoke interaction. They just do. When you encounter one, you want to know why it’s there and the purpose it serves. I believe this is what is in view in Joshua chapter four, the passage that best illustrates our thinking behind choosing this name. God commanded Joshua to place that cairn at Gilgal so that passers-by would encounter it, inquire after it, and find an answer that testifies to the power and goodness of Almighty God.

The anecdotes I have been collecting regarding the new name are as varied and diverse as the other physical collections. While I know not everyone is enthusiastically embracing it, the reality is this: “We Are Cairn University.” For months, at every turn, I have found people to be engaging, supportive, and optimistic about the future. At our annual dinner for major donors in July, the response was very positive as people heard again our unwavering commitment to our mission of educating students to serve Christ and as they heard me explain that for us the concept of cairns is profoundly biblical and fits us well. Dawn and I visited with many parents of middle and high school students over the summer who were excited to hear the Cairn vision and distinctives, who were eager to learn about our expanding opportunities for students in new degrees and programs, and also supportive of the name change and its ability to better communicate all that we do. At our annual Golf Classic in August, I had a chance to share a bit about the process undertaken by the Board of Trustees and how that group prayerfully and thoughtfully coalesced around the new name in a way that was powerfully unifying and decisive. The kind of forward thinking leadership displayed by the Board is speaking volumes.

For the past few months I have also been talking with Christian leaders ranging from pastors to missionaries to scholars and artists and authors. The overwhelming reaction to the new name and the process of arriving at it has been very encouraging. It is clear to so many that we have chosen well and are positioning the school for the future while holding fast and firmly to the things that matter most.

For the past few months I have also been talking with Christian leaders ranging from pastors to missionaries to scholars and artists and authors. The overwhelming reaction to the new name and the process of arriving at it has been very encouraging. It is clear to so many that we have chosen well and are positioning the school for the future while holding fast and firmly to the things that matter most. The ties between the new name and our mission, school verse and tag line is evident to many of these leaders. And there are still some who are being persuaded. In a recent conversation prior to a radio interview, I was questioned about the necessity of the name change by an individual who was, at the very least, skeptical. I heard clearly her concerns about what the change might mean for the University. I responded by asking what she thought was taking place at the school presently and relayed to her a few of the highlights such as the hundred-acre campus, the hundreds of students living in dormitories, NCAA Division III athletics, performing and visual arts presence, over fifty academic programs including graduate degrees like the M.B.A. She was silent for a moment and then responded that she had thought we were a two year ministry school. She then proceeded to advise me that we should change our name. Of course, this was the purpose of the interview. We are already experiencing the benefits of the new name and encountering new opportunities as a result of it.

There will be more to share in the coming editions of the magazine this year. This issue is intended to share some of what has transpired in the months since the announcement and to give you a look at our new look. I also hope you get a sense of the excitement here as we begin our first year under the new name. The energy among the students is palpable. Let me invite you to come by and see for yourself. Visit the web often, or better yet, attend Homecoming, the Agora Conference, an athletic event, or a concert this year.

[framed_box]Todd J. Williams, Ph.D., has been the President of Cairn University since January 2008. He served as faculty and an administrator from 1996 to 2001, and then returned as Provost in 2005. He can be reached by emailing president@cairn.edu.