WPU Leader Named Pioneering President by Council for Independent Colleges

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Colleges & Universities, Western

By Jennifer Boehmer

Dr. Brian L. Johnson, president of Warner Pacific University (WPU), has been named a “Pioneering President” by the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC). The honor acknowledges higher education leaders who have, or are in the midst of, heralding significant changes within their institutions. It also taps these leaders to convene with other chosen Pioneering Presidents and board chairs in a national summit taking place this August in Washington, D.C. Supported through a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation, the aim of the summit is to establish a think lab and roadmap for future groundbreaking leaders when faced with similar challenges.

President Johnson was chosen because of three distinctives that characterize his time of pioneering leadership at WPU:

First, the award honors his leadership of WPU’s unique role as both a Christ-centered university and as a federally designated Minority Serving Institution—a particular missional combination that represents less than 1 percent of private universities in the United States. The institution is nearing a 100-year affiliation with the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), and welcomes students of all backgrounds to pursue academic majors and personal callings. With enrollment comprised of more than 65-percent people of color, the university is the only university in Oregon to have earned both “Hispanic Serving” and “Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving” designations by the US Department of Education.

Second, Dr. Johnson was recognized for his efforts to regain strategic footing for the university after it suffered enrollment and resource losses exacerbated by the pandemic. When Dr. Johnson began his tenure at WPU, the university was at risk of falling out of compliance with its accrediting body. Dr. Johnson successfully brought the university back into compliance through a new enrollment management plan and earned the university its first (and Oregon’s only) Title V federal grant in the amount of $3 million to strengthen student services.

Finally, the CIC acknowledged Dr. Johnson’s personal journey as exemplary of a pioneer: as the first African American president in WPU’s history, Dr. Johnson’s personal lived experience includes overcoming the odds to become a first-generation student-turned-academic-scholar, and the first Andrew W. Mellon post-doctoral fellow to become an HBCU president (Dr. Johnson was formally president of Tuskegee University in Alabama).

“I’m so humbled and honored to receive this recognition,” said Dr. Johnson. “Though the word pioneer evokes a lone forerunner, the truth is that effecting change requires gathering together the belief and hard-working hands of many. I’m so delighted to do what I can to share my personal experiences as a president, and as a scholar, so that future change-makers may have a better map for gathering support and cresting their mountains.”

WPU board chair Mike Moreland will join President Johnson at the summit this summer. Together they will participate in identifying and codifying practices that will serve as a framework for nurturing community and success for future pioneering presidents. Their findings will be shared broadly with the higher education community.

Warner Pacific University’s clarity of purpose as a Christ-centered university is at the heart of our enduring strength. For nearly ninety years, the university has educated world-ready graduates—people of character, credentials and competence— with a liberal-arts, urban experience from our home campus in southeastern Portland, on the hillside of Mt. Tabor Park. As the only federally designated Minority Serving and Hispanic Serving Institution in Oregon, we believe every student deserves an opportunity to earn high-quality degree that offers a clear path to civic engagement, spiritual enrichment, economic security, and success. WPU offers associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, in more than thirty-five majors, and offers residential, traditional programs, as well as post-graduate and online instruction. WPU Knights Athletics include championship soccer, as well as basketball, softball, volleyball and e-sports.

Jennifer Boehmer is the chief of staff of Warner Pacific University. She can be reached at jboehmer@warnerpacific.edu.

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