The year that “Dave” Wright (as the yearbook calls him) graduated from Marion College, the much-smaller campus was deep in the throes of the 1970s.
In 1976-77, Marion College had about 800 students. It was the ‘70s, all right: Baldwin Food Center filled nearly to capacity one night with students eager to hear a concert by Honeytree, a “hippie” folk rock singer from Fort Wayne who had become one of the leaders of the countercultural Jesus Movement.
The Cold War was in full swing: on a visit to Poland, the Marion College Titans went down in history as the first basketball team to represent an evangelical Christian college behind the Iron Curtain. Star Wars came out that year, and for Wright, a missionary kid who grew up in the Philippines, it was the first film he ever watched in a theater.
Indiana U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, who had just been elected in November, spoke at Wright’s graduation in May, as he began a storied Senate career that would last until January 2013. McConn was the name of an auditorium, not a coffee shop, and students convened there regularly for chapel. Inhabitants of Bowman House called themselves the “Bowman Babes” (it was a women’s residence hall back then). And 1976 was an inauguration year, when Dr. Richard R. Luckey became the college’s fifth president.
Yearbooks from the 1970s reveal a young Dave Wright who threw himself into the vibrant spiritual atmosphere that set Marion College apart as an institution. With a double major in Christian Ministries and Biblical Literature, he served in the Student Ministerial Association and the Student Missionary Fellowship.
Thirty-six years and four presidents later, as he prepares to assume IWU’s top job, Dave Wright is now President-elect Dr. David Wesley Wright. On campus, hippies have given way to hipsters; the Bowman Babes have moved on, replaced by today’s Bowman brothers; and Christian rappers have replaced Honeytree as a major concert draw in IWU’s student center. But a deep commitment to the mission of the kingdom of God is one thing about the school, and about Wright, that has never changed.
“Those of us that remember Marion College back in the day, when it had 900 or 1000 students—the campus wasn’t anything like it is today,” Dr. Wright said last week at a campus event. “We would never have guessed that in this little corner of Indiana, God would create the largest private university in Indiana, and the largest Christian college or university of our kind in the country.”
As the Board of Trustees announced this morning, it has fallen to Wright, who has been University Provost since 2008, to lead this University at a formative moment in our nearly 100-year history.
Wright has quoted the proverb, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” For Wright, the blessings that God has showered upon Indiana Wesleyan University over the past few decades are an irrefutable call for the University community to look toward the future with hope.
“God doesn’t give us these blessings for our sake, does he?” Wright said. “Of course God wants us to be happy and be blessed, but he gives us these things to be used.”
An International Scholar and Minister
Like a true Marion College alumnus, David Wright’s career has seamlessly blended ministry and scholarship, and enabled him to serve both academia and the kingdom on a global scale. Wright stands at the forefront of a movement of thought leaders who seek to demonstrate to the world that the life of the mind and the mission of the church can benefit from one another.
Throughout his life, Wright and the global Wesleyan holiness movement have served and shaped one another. Wright’s parents, Wayne and Virginia Wright, were Wesleyan missionaries who spent two decades in the field. His mother served a long and distinguished career as a Bible College professor, pastor, and executive at Wesleyan World Headquarters. His father became General Director of World Missions for The Wesleyan Church, and as recently as 2012 wrote a devotional book distributed by Wesleyan Publishing House.
Marion College is also the place where Wright’s own family began. After graduating in 1977, he married Helen Joy Cox, a nursing major from his senior class. He and Helen have two daughters, Christin and Andrea, and three grandchildren.
David Wright is an ordained Wesleyan pastor who has served in two Wesleyan churches. He served for twelve years on the Local Board of Administration of his home church in Marion. In the 1990s, when he lived in Birmingham, England, Wright served in leadership positions in the Wesleyan Holiness Church of the British Isles. In the 1980s, he was Field Coordinator for the Wesleyan Church’s missionary efforts in Haiti.
Besides IWU, Wright has worked and taught Wesleyan religious and ministerial courses at the Wesleyan Bible Institute at Selby Oak Colleges in the United Kingdom, and at Intitut Theologique Wesleyen in Haiti—where he taught courses in French and Haitian Creole.
Wesleyan thought is a major influence on Wright’s own mind and heart. “One of the greatest lessons John Wesley’s movement taught the world is that before we ask what we are called to do, we must first ask who we are called to be,” Wright wrote in 2012, in his collaborative book How God Makes The World A Better Place. “Before we act we must come to terms with who we are.”
Wright’s work in ministry has been a perfect complement to his work in the academy. Reflecting his dual passions, Wright’s academic career has largely focused on two areas: higher education policy and administration, and Biblical studies and Christian ministries. He has spent considerable time studying the points where those two fields intersect.
Wright earned an M.A. in Biblical Studies from George Fox University in 1980, and a Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation from the University of Kentucky in 1990. His dissertation focused on “the conflict between sacred and secular constructions of knowledge as played out in the theological education provided by a religious community.”
He has written papers and given presentations for numerous journals and conferences, drawing on his own experience with a wide range of topics relating to Christ-centered higher education. He’s earned the respect of fellow academics throughout the U.S. and around the world.
“America does not want college to go away,” Wright wrote recently. “America wants college to be clearly valuable, relevant to today’s world, and reasonably affordable.”
“A Radical Intelligence”
Dr. Wright has worked at IWU in one capacity or another since 1994, except for a three-year sojourn at Azusa Pacific University in the mid-2000s. His has been one of the key minds that continually prods IWU forward from innovation to innovation.
“David Wright has a radical intelligence cloaked in stately humility,” declared one person involved with the process that eventually settled upon Wright as University Provost. Wright’s “radical intelligence” has continually kept IWU aware, and able to take advantage, of the latest and most important opportunities for any school seeking to serve its students in the best way possible.
Wright led the task force that proposed and implemented IWU’s first online education plan in the mid-1990s, enabling IWU to leap far ahead of other universities in embracing the future of higher learning. He wrote and piloted the very first online course, and designed a framework to create fully- fledged online degree programs.
Wright has served the University as an Associate Dean, a Dean, a Vice President, an Associate Professor, and most recently, as the first Provost in IWU’s history. As an administrator, he has worked in depth with every principal academic unit at IWU. He was present at the birth of Wesley Seminary at IWU, and he guided the creation of what is now the largest nursing school in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.
As a scholar, he has made IWU indispensable to those working at the intersection of faith, academia and the public square. In 2009, Dr. Wright founded a unique series of events called National Conversations: A Series of Civil Dialogs About Society’s Wellbeing, which brings together some of the world’s most vibrant intellects to discuss critical issues in the 21st century world, and then involves everyday people in that same conversation through both online and traditional media.
“Out of these conversations universities, including our own, can identify important topics for in-depth research, teaching, and consulting through which we can offer informed responses to society’s needs,” Dr. Wright said.
As an educator, he has taught classes ranging from “Cultural Anthropology” to “Themes in Biblical Literature” to “Computers in Education.” He makes personal contact with students and faculty throughout the IWU community, answering their questions and responding to both their praise and their concerns.
He stepped away from IWU to head Azusa Pacific’s School of Theology in 2005. In 2008, feeling he had left behind an “unfinished conversation with IWU,” he returned to assume the newly created office of University Provost.
“Dr. Wright is just who we have been looking for and just who we need,” wrote one person involved in the Provost search process. “He displays a faith that determines the fabric of his life choices and motivates his work,” observed another.
During his years as the Provost, Wright worked very closely with IWU’s eighth president, Dr. Henry Smith.
“It’s been a privilege to work for him,” Wright said. “I’m very thankful that he gave me the opportunity to be Provost here. It’s a great institution, and it’s real privilege to serve. I believe that we’ve been able to have a very productive partnership, and I’m very thankful for everything he’s done.”
As David Wright prepares to assume the office of the Presidency, he finds himself surrounded by a truly great cloud of witnesses: a distinguished body of kingdom-builders, great and small, who have gone ahead of him to forge a strong, Christ-centered academic community. He has memories stretching back to the days of Marion College and solid friendships with many of IWU’s brightest lights. He has a keen awareness of the academic universe beyond IWU, and the acumen to distinguish passing fads from burgeoning trends.
But for President-elect Dr. David Wright, all of that takes a backseat to the most important guiding star for any leader.
“In positions of great responsibility,” Wright once wrote, “there is no safe place to stand except in the certainty of one’s God-directed conscience.”
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“A Truly Great Christian University”: VIDEO: Watch David Wright’s first speech as President-elect of IWU