Mark Brister to retire from OBU presidency
SHAWNEE, Okla. (BP)--Oklahoma Baptist University trustees accepted the retirement of OBU President Mark A. Brister during a special meeting Oct. 12 on the university's campus in Shawnee.
Brister, who will retire effective Nov. 10 at the conclusion of OBU's annual homecoming, 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," Brister said. "The last nine years have been among the most satisfying and enjoyable, and so it is with mixed feelings that we make this announcement."
Brister's nine-year tenure as OBU's 14th president is the third-longest in the university's 97-year history.
"I'm enormously proud of the quality of education that OBU provides its students," Brister said. "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," Brister said. "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," Brister said. "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, Okla., said the university is poised for continued success because of the groundwork Brister established.
"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," said Howell, a 1956 OBU graduate. "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. 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, John W. Parrish was elected as the university's interim president, effective Nov. 11. Parrish, OBU's executive vice president emeritus, retired from the university's administration in November 2002 after more than 38 years at OBU. He was executive vice president and chief financial officer from 1995 until his retirement.
One of Brister's last official actions as OBU president will be 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 Nov. 9.
In addition to the wellness facility, the university is completing various 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.
Earlier this year, OBU launched an MBA degree program based in Oklahoma City. The graduate program, with an initial 24 students, is the first to be implemented in OBU's International Graduate School. Accreditation is pending, meanwhile, 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 $2.8 million the university receives through the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma's Cooperative Program. 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. While OBU has demonstrated strong fiscal health, university leaders have sought greater success in an increasingly competitive student recruitment environment, Howell said. 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," the board chairman said. "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. Reared in Fort Worth, Texas, he earned a bachelor's degree from Baylor University and master's and Ph.D. degrees 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:
-- establishment of the Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach in the spring of 2005 to coordinate and expand missions education and international projects.
-- adoption of the "Kai" people group in September 2006 as part of the Finishing The Task global evangelism effort.
-- a medical school acceptance rate in excess of 90 percent per year from the university's pre-medicine program.
-- posting one of the top four-year graduation rates in the state of Oklahoma according to recent statewide reports.
-- finishing in the top five in the NAIA annual Directors' Cup ranking of overall athletic programs for the past two years.
-- an innovative 529 Plan matching donation program, initiatited in 2002, to encourage alums to save for their children's college education.
Marty O'Gwynn is associate vice president for university communications at Oklahoma Baptist University.