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Carpenter to Step Down in Summer 2006
May 2, 2005

When Calvin College provost Joel Carpenter decided not to seek another term as the college's chief academic officer (or as he terms it with a wry smile, the college's "chief accountability officer") he announced his decision at the May meeting of the Faculty Senate.

His reason for doing so is telling.

"When I was hired as provost," he recalls, "I remember saying that I was grateful that the job came with tenure in the history department. And I'll never forget that (professor of English emeritus) Ed Ericson said there was a reason for that. He told me: 'Here, sir, you serve at the pleasure of the faculty.' I loved that. So, when it came time to announce that I was moving on, I wanted to make my first official announcement of that to the faculty."

In making his May 2 announcement Carpenter blended humor and humility and wit and wisdom, hallmarks of his tenure, as he outlined both what the past had meant to him and what the future held for him.

He began his remarks by stating simply that: "You probably are aware that the provost at Calvin serves five-year, renewable terms. I am now completing year four of a second, five-year term, and the college needs to know whether I will seek a third term or give notice of other intentions so that a search can begin. My colleagues, I have decided to give notice. I will serve out one more year while the college mounts a search."

Then he gave, in Dave Letterman style, his reasons for moving on. Among the first ones: "One North Central accreditation review is enough" (a reference to the recent, exhaustive review process headed up by Carpenter), "Heidi runs the place so well that you might not need a provost" (a tip of the hat to his assistant Heidi Rienstra) and "I'm tired of answering the question: 'what is a provost?'"

Having warmed up the crowd, Carpenter became more reflective.

"Ten years is a good, full term of service," he told his faculty colleagues. "The accreditation review process underscored that we have made great progress on what I hoped we could accomplish together. Calvin is increasing encouragement and support for research and scholarship, more vigorously serving its close-in neighbors as well as the broader cultural, intellectual and academic scene, learning and applying new ways to become more effective in college teaching, renewing its commitment to become a more just and inclusive community, expanding its horizons and reach to the global south and east, and entering a fresh season of reflection on Reformed Christianity's calling for our times."

And then he let those in attendance in on his future plans.

"I want to remain a faculty member here," he said, "in the most amazing Christian intellectual community I have ever seen, and I want to run the new institute you just approved tonight."

That institute is the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity which will be launched in 2006 with Carpenter as its first director.

Carpenter, co-editor of the recent book The Changing Face of Christianity, says heading up the new institute will make for an appropriate transition from his work as provost.

"Christianity has experienced a seismic shift in its place among the people and religions of the world," he says, "and this historic shift in the geographic and cultural location of Christianity has enormous implications for the churches of North America, and by implication, for their institutions of higher education, which have a charge to bring the gospel to bear on contemporary thought and culture. I think we've done a good job of that at Calvin. In fact I would say one of the highlights of my tenure as provost has been Calvin's refocusing in a southern and easterly direction. We've doubled the number of off-campus programs available to students, including locations such as Ghana and Beijing. We've added programs in Asian Studies and African and African Diaspora Studies. So this new institute is very exciting for me."

Calvin president Gaylen Byker is happy to have Carpenter's services in the new post. And grateful for all that he and Carpenter were able to accomplish together over the last 10 years.

"I think one of Joel's greatest legacies will be the way he helped Calvin's faculty sustain a balance between teaching and research," Byker says. "Joel was fond of saying that at Calvin teaching is job one. Indeed, the relationships that our students are able to develop in the classroom with their professors is one of the greatest things about a Calvin education. But, thanks to Joel's leaderships and efforts, we have been able to maintain an integrated view of the teacher/scholar. We've raised the bar in terms of research expectations, but raised the levels of support too. I think he has never forgotten what it's like to be a professor, and he has been able to both empathize with the challenges our professors face and share in the joys teaching brings."

Colleagues of Carpenter echoe those remarks.

"One of the hallmarks of Joel's tenure," says history professor Daniel Bays, "has been a close engagement with the faculty, both intellectually as well as organizationally. Joel has a clear grasp of what Calvin stands for and the ability to communicate it. In addition he has done a remarkable job of maintaining a very respectable level of scholarly output as a historian during his tenure as provost."

Carpenter, an Allegan, Mich., native and 1974 graduate of Calvin, returned to his alma mater in the summer of 1996 with a resume that included a year at Johns Hopkins as a research fellow, five years as an assistant professor at Trinity College, six years as an associate professor and director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College and seven years as director of the grantmaking program in Religion at The Pew Charitable Trusts in Philadelphia.

"A real point of growth for Calvin," he said at the time he was hired, "is to become a national and international convening center and staging area for creative projects and collaborative efforts."

As provost, Carpenter helped implement those areas of growth.

The new Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity is just the latest example of efforts to make Calvin a leader in examining the important questions facing society.

For example, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship was announced a year after Carpenter's arrival and in the eight years since has partnered with congregations, denominations, parachurch organizations, professional organizations and publishers around the world in efforts to promote the scholarly study of the theology, history, and practice of Christian worship and the renewal of worship in worshiping communities.

Other new institutes and programs added to the Calvin landscape over the last decade include: the Paul B. Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics (1997), the John and Judy Spoelhof Family Insititute for Christian Leadership in Business (1998), the Lilly Vocation Project (2002), the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning (2004) and the Calvin Workshops in Communication (2004). New endowed chairs include: the Paul B. Henry Chair in Christianity and Politics (1997), the Gary and Henrietta Byker Chair in Christian Perspectives on Political, Social and Economic Thought (2004) and the Arthur H. DeKruyter Chair in Faith and Communication (2004).

Carpenter and Byker also have fostered an "internationalizing" of the college. In 1996, Calvin had five off-campus semester programs; now, there are ten. In that same span Calvin has more than doubled the number of international students from outside North America who attend the college.

Connected to that were changes in the classroom.

"We needed to change our core and curriculum in that regard, too," Carpenter says. "We still teach students about Western civilization, but we make sure that every student has the study of other cultures as well. That's a core requirement now, both in formal course study and also in an experiential cross-cultural engagement requirement. A lot of American colleges and universities did away with foreign language requirements a long time ago. Calvin's core curriculum stands firm on keeping the requirement that every student should have college-level competence in a foreign language."

Through it all Carpenter is quick to deflect praise for his efforts and quick to credit others.

"As I look back," he says, "I'm delighted to see what we've been able to accomplish together. We have had willing and engaged creative people here who have made things happen. It's been a joy to be a small part of it."