Mark Brister To Retire From OBU Presidency
October 12, 2007
Oklahoma Baptist University’s board of trustees accepted the retirement of OBU President Mark A. Brister Friday during a special meeting on the university’s campus in Shawnee.
Dr. Brister announced his plans to retire effective Nov. 10, 2007, at the conclusion of OBU’s annual Homecoming. He made the announcement in a called meeting of the 33-member board. He has led the Christian liberal arts institution since Sept. 1, 1998.
"The time has come for me and my wife, Rhonda, to move to the next phase of our careers and lives,” said Dr. Brister. “The last nine years have been among the most satisfying and enjoyable, and so it is with mixed feelings that we make this announcement.”
|President Brister addressed a university-wide meeting Friday in Raley Chapel, announcing plans to retire from the presidency in November. He received a standing ovation from students, faculty and staff.|
Brister was named OBU’s 14th president in April 1998 and assumed the presidency the following fall semester. His nine-year tenure is the third-longest in the university’s 97-year history. He told the trustees he planned to leave the post at the conclusion of OBU’s annual Homecoming celebration on the campus.
“I’m enormously proud of the quality of education that OBU provides its students,” said Brister. “There is growing recognition nationally and internationally for the value of the liberal arts education found at Christian colleges. Our consistently strong showing in the U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review annual rankings has bolstered OBU’s reputation as a leader in providing that kind of educational experience. That reputation is due to the efforts of so many dedicated, committed people on our campus.
“While we will miss the energy and excitement of campus life, we are looking forward to new opportunities and challenges,” said Brister. “I plan to return to my first passion for writing, preaching, teaching and public speaking. Rhonda is looking forward to utilizing her expertise and interests in child development.”
“We are grateful for the love and support of so many students, faculty and friends of OBU,” said Brister. “We look forward to the future.”
“We will miss Dr. Brister,” said Jim Howell, chairman of OBU’s board of trustees. “His unbridled enthusiasm for education and for this university made him a wonderful ambassador for OBU. He has led OBU in significant endowment, land, and building project growth. We are grateful for his vision and leadership. He will be missed, and we wish him and Rhonda the very best in the future.”
Howell, an attorney from Midwest City, said the university is poised for continued success thanks to groundwork laid by Brister.
“OBU is enjoying great days, and even brighter days are ahead. Thanks to prudent fiscal management, Dr. Brister is retiring from this post with our institution’s long-term debt at a low level. We are about to move into a new wellness facility, we have a growing graduate program, and we have undertaken significant new initiatives in student recruitment that have already resulted in extremely positive steps for the institution,” said Howell, a 1956 OBU graduate. “I see these as signs of effective leadership and we are thankful to Dr. Brister for investing more than nine years as our president.”
During the trustee meeting, board members also elected John W. Parrish to serve as the university’s interim president, effective Nov. 11, 2007. Parrish, OBU’s executive vice president emeritus, retired from the university’s administration in November 2002, after serving more than 38 years at OBU. He was executive vice president and chief financial officer from 1995 until his retirement.
“I am honored by the OBU board of trustees’ request that I serve as the university’s interim president during this transition period,” said Parrish. “I look forward to working in partnership with OBU’s excellent faculty and staff in the important days ahead.”
One of Brister’s last official actions as OBU president will be participating in the dedication of the university’s new recreation and wellness center. He spearheaded the $10 million capital project – the largest in OBU’s history – as an effort to provide adequate fitness and wellness facilities for the campus community. The two-story structure on University Street is slated for completion in late November, with dedication on November 9. In addition to the wellness facility, the university is completing projects in the $4.78 million Winning Spirit Campaign, including additions and renovations to OBU’s Noble Complex for Athletics, and construction of new intramural fields, a track complex and a baseball/softball complex.
President Brister, right, is greeted by James Howell, chairman of OBU's board of trustees, following Dr. Brister's announcement to OBU faculty, students and staff that he is retiring from the presidency. Howell, a Midwest City attorney, also addressed the university-wide audience Friday afternoon, saying "Dr. Brister has taken OBU to the next level. I'll never forget it. I'll always appreciate it."
Earlier this year, OBU launched an MBA degree program based in Oklahoma City. The graduate program is the first to be implemented in OBU’s International Graduate School. The program has 24 students currently enrolled, and university officials say the program is growing. Accreditation is pending for a new master of science degree program in nursing.
During Brister’s tenure, OBU has experienced record annual support. The university’s endowment, which was approximately $60 million in the summer of 1998, is more than 50 percent larger today, standing at $93.7 million. The university received a record $7.15 million in gifts during the 2003-04 fiscal year. A total of $6.74 million was received in the 2006-07 year, making it the second-highest total in OBU’s history. The annual totals do not include around $2.8 million the university receives through the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s Cooperative Program support. The university has operated with a balanced budget throughout Brister’s tenure. The 2007-08 fiscal year budget is $35.4 million, up from $26 million in the 1998-99 year.
The university’s headcount enrollment for the fall 2007 semester is 1,607, up one from the fall 2006 headcount of 1,606. While OBU has demonstrated strong fiscal health, university leaders have sought greater success in an increasingly competitive student recruitment environment, said Howell. He cited aggressive steps OBU took this summer to begin recruiting from a broader pool of prospective students.
“We are confident of our product, and the success of our graduates continues to validate the kind of education we offer,” said the board chairman. “OBU is a vibrant community and we anticipate that our strategic work, initiated by Dr. Brister, will lead to renewed enrollment growth in coming years.”
Brister moved to OBU after 26 years of pastoral and church staff positions, and service in denominational leadership posts. He said he looks forward to expanded writing and speaking engagements as he transitions from the presidency. Reared in Fort Worth, Texas, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Baylor University and a master’s degree and a Ph.D. degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His wife, Rhonda, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas Christian University. They have two adult sons, Barrett and Austin.
Additional highlights from Brister’s tenure at OBU include:
-- OBU acquired 64 acres on the north side of the campus in the spring of 1999, expanding the campus to 189 acres.
-- OBU has been listed in the regional “top-10” in the U.S. News & World Report rankings of “America’s Best Colleges” for 16 straight years, climbing as high as #2 in the region. OBU is ranked third among baccalaureate colleges in the West in the 2008 rankings.
-- OBU currently is the highest ranked private baccalaureate college in the western region in the 2008 U.S. News & World Report listing of “Great Schools. Great Prices.”
-- OBU was named one of “America’s Best Value Colleges” in both the 2007 and 2008 annual rankings by The Princeton Review.
-- OBU has been named a “Best in the West” institution by The Princeton Review in the 2007 and 2008 listings.
-- OBU established the Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach in the spring of 2005, to coordinate and expand missions education and international projects.
-- In September 2006, OBU adopted the “Kai” people group as part of the Finishing The Task global evangelism effort.
-- OBU’s School of Nursing has achieved a record enrollment in the past three years.
-- OBU has maintained a strong pre-medicine program, with acceptance rate to medical school in excess of 90 percent per year.
-- Capital improvements since 1998 include significant renovation of the Art Building in 2000, Craig-Dorland Theatre in 2002, and a multi-year renovation of John Wesley Raley Chapel, completed in 2001.
-- The university has completed successful accreditation processes with National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and National League of Nursing in the past three years.
-- OBU has had one of the top four-year graduation rates in the state of Oklahoma according to recent statewide reports.
-- Athletically, OBU has finished in the top five in the NAIA annual Directors’ Cup ranking of overall athletic programs for the past two years.
-- OBU won the 2005 and 2007 NAIA Women’s Indoor Track and Field National Championship and the 2007 NAIA Men’s Outdoor Track and Field National Championship. These are three of the five NAIA national championships in OBU’s 97-year history.
-- When he moved to OBU, Brister started working with Oklahoma Independent Colleges and Universities officials and state legislators to support a Tuition Equalization Grant for deserving Oklahoma students, helping Oklahoma join 34 other states with existing TEG programs. That program is now funded and operational.
-- OBU created an innovative 529 Plan matching donation program in 2002 to encourage alums to save for their child’s college education.