Dr. Joseph McRae Mellichamp is Emeritus Professor of Management Science in the Manderson Graduate School of Business at the University of Alabama and National Faculty Representative for Christian Leadership Ministries. For 25 years, Dr. Mellichamp combined successful academic pursuits with effective Christian ministry activities.
Of the talks I am presenting as we travel around the United States and the world with Christian Leadership, the most frequently requested by a wide margin is "Regrets Upon Completing Twenty-five Years in Academia." It is fairly obvious to me why this topic is so popular with university professors and staff. You see, each of us is a bit nervous about the way we invest our time and live our life. It is comforting to hear someone else voice his regrets on completing a particular stage in life and to be able to say, "Oh, I’ve already got that covered." At least, this is what I suspect is the motivation for the interest. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your perspective, the regrets I share in the talk are likely to be the very ones many professors or staff members would bring up at the end of a career in the academy, and I have seen little evidence that more than a few individuals would have these concerns covered.
My regrets have nothing much to do with the professional side of my career. On the contrary, I had a wonderful 25 years at the University of Alabama. The university was very, very good to me and for me. For most of my tenure at the university, I was the senior faculty member in my area. I taught pretty much what I wanted to teach when I wanted to teach it. My research flourished, I believe, as a consequence of my having committed it early on to the Lord. I was fortunate to have generated approximately $1.25 million in sponsored research funding during a time in which this type of funding was unheard of for business school professors. Thus, I had funds for research assistants, travel, and equipment that most of my colleagues did not have. I was also blessed with connections, mostly former students, who enabled me to do research and consult with some of the most prestigious organizations in the country -- AT&T, General Motors, and NASA to name a few. In the early 1980s, I made a mid-career shift in my research, moving into the area of using artificial intelligence methods in the design of complex manufacturing and communication systems -- which was also unusual for a business professor. For the last 15 or so years I taught almost exclusively graduate students, mostly my own students, in very small classes. And during that time, I chaired more than 20 doctoral dissertations. For most of my career, I was well-paid by the university and was able to cash in on a very generous retirement situation after completing 25 years of service. All in all, I had a very satisfying career. You could say that I had it made.
What, then, were my regrets? Well, the things I regret about my time at the university are concerned with models, ministry, and methods. Let me explain.
Looking back over my career, I think the most difficult aspect of it was there were no role models for me to follow. I was not fortunate as a graduate student to be mentored in how to succeed in the university; consequently, I pretty much had to discover this by trial and error. I didn’t have a clue how to develop a research program and how to go about the important task of generating refereed publications. I did have good incentive, thanks to a former dean who called me into his office early in my career and gave me the best professional advice I ever got, "Rae, you are not going to be promoted this year and you will never be promoted as long as I’m dean of this college until you start doing research and having it published." Pretty direct. No sugar-coating here at all! Yet, the man did me a huge favor and I look at that conversation as a real turning point in my life. This is why the tenure workshops I have encouraged you to consider are so vital. We have an unusual opportunity to help young Christian and non-Christian professors succeed in the university.
But my concern about role models goes much deeper than this. For me, there were no models of what it was to be a Christian professor. What is a Christian professor? What does one look like? What does one do? What differentiates a Christian professor from any other professor or from a professor who just happens to be a Christian? Many times in my career, I would have welcomed the chance to just look over at Dr. Christian, Professor of Engineering or Professor of History, who was a model of what I needed to become: someone who was succeeding in his teaching and research and who was having an impact for Christ on the institution and on his students and colleagues; someone who had it together in his family and in his church; someone who was respected as a Christian man or woman in the university, in the church, and in the community. There was no one. To be sure, there were professors who were involved in their church -- but not visible on campus. There were Christians who were successful in the academy, but they were "Secret Service" Christians as far as the university was concerned. Looking back on my early years, I can’t think of a single professor who was making a strong stand for Christ on campus.
So one of the things I wanted to accomplish in my career was to be an example of what a Christian professor is to younger professors and staff, and older ones, too, if they were interested. I haven’t always been all that I could. I have not taken advantage of all the opportunities I had. I have not always been as bold as I should have been or wanted to be. I would do things differently if I could start all over again knowing what I know now. I think I could be much more effective the second time around. Regardless of what I have been able to do on my own and challenging others to work with me, I have always tried to be a Christian professor. And I can say with a degree of satisfaction, "You want to know what a Christian professor is? I’m a Christian professor. You follow me as I follow Christ, and I think you will learn something of what it means to be a Christian and a professor." So one of my regrets is there were no models. Hopefully, you won’t have this same regret; there are many Christian professors in academia now, with more coming along each year. People like Walter Bradley, Phil Bishop, Byron Johnson, Jim Stock, Larry Caillouet and a host of others; who challenge me with their commitment to the Master and to changing the university for Him. These are people who can challenge you. There are probably some on your own campus.
A second regret I had as I reached the end of my career as a professor had to do with ministry, or rather the ministry, more specifically, with Christian Leadership Ministries, the faculty ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. When we first became involved with Campus Crusade for Christ, there was a faculty ministry. When we were challenged to join Campus Crusade for Christ as Associate Staff, we were told there were about 25 other faculty couples around the country who were also on Associate Staff. This was a strong incentive for us to join -- I saw our involvement as one way I could find models of Christian professors. So in July of 1972, Peggy, Jonathan, Jennifer, and I flew to California to go through staff training subsequent to joining the faculty ministry.
Interestingly, shortly after we "came on staff" as it was called, the faculty ministry started to evaporate. Jim Engel, a Professor of Marketing at Ohio State University who had started the ministry, worked heroically to keep things together, but he was fighting a losing battle. He was trying to have a career in academia, which meant all of the teaching and research and committee work, as well as trying to run a national ministry at the same time. It simply couldn’t be done. So by about 1975, the faculty ministry was basically gone. Walter and Ann Bradley and Peggy and I continued our relationship with Campus Crusade for Christ working primarily with the student ministry or with other projects that came down the Campus Crusade for Christ pike such as the "I’ve Found It!" campaign and the JESUS film. I recall a conversation I had with Dr. Bill Bright, president and founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, in early 1976. I was doing a sabbatical at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and had flown from Cambridge to Chicago for a training session for the "I’ve Found It!" campaign. I rode back to the airport from the conference hotel with Dr. Bright and he commented that if he could start Campus Crusade for Christ all over again, he would pay a lot more attention to professors.
Well, in 1980, Dr. Bright determined to restart the faculty ministry -- this time with much more in the way of resources than in the days when Jim Engel was a one-man-show. He challenged Stan Oakes to give leadership to the new effort and provided other full time staff and funding to do what was necessary to get the job done. The rest is history. As I have mentioned, we started with some regional meetings around the country that Walter Bradley and I participated in, and gradually, the ministry became what it is today -- 100 full-time staff, about 12,000 Christian professors and staff on almost every college and university campus in this country and around the world, and an expanding array of ministry tools and resources. Seventeen years down the road, we have made tremendous strides from our early beginnings. And we have a strategy to impact all of higher education that is well under way.
I regret that for the first dozen years of my career at the university, there was no national ministry organization with which I could connect, for vision, for resources, for relationships, for strategy. There simply was nothing. From 1974 to 1980, Walter and Ann and Peggy and I met every other year in Fort Collins, Colorado, at Campus Crusade for Christ’s summer staff training, and that was basically my connection with Christian professors in the world! What I would give to be able to relive those years having Christian Leadership Ministries in Dallas available to me -- with all it has to offer. I am pretty sure I could have been much more effective as a Christian professor if that was possible. But it is not, at least, not for me. But Christian Leadership Ministries is available for you, to come alongside and help you succeed as a Christian professor or staff member in the university. And for that, I am glad. Take advantage of a huge opportunity that we did not have. Plug in to Christian Leadership Ministries. Use it to accomplish your goals at your university. Help it with your involvement, your prayers, and your financial support.
My final regret has to do with methods. When we first began thinking about reaching out as professors in the university, there were no methods. There was no strategy. There was nothing. When I first started meeting with colleagues on the University of Alabama campus, Christian Leadership Ministries was eight years in the future. In a very real sense, we have had to invent everything we did in the ministry: the Faculty/Staff Fellowship, the Real Issue, tenure workshops, position papers, Worldwide Web home pages, everything. Many professors, staff members and Christian Leadership Ministries staff, have contributed in this respect for a long time. In fact, we are still inventing. That is the nature of the ministry, and if we ever stop inventing, we are dead -- the Faculty/Staff Fellowship must be a research and development activity if it is to effectively impact the university.
I can remember strategy sessions at our Christian Leadership Ministries staff training in the early years, talking about how we desperately needed more bullets in our arsenal. And we would try to identify what the logical next steps might be and who we had who could give attention to that area. At one of those meetings, Walter and I determined to try to develop some "How To" materials. During the next months, we wrote what became known as the Faculty Impact series. At another meeting, we talked about needing help in the legal issues area, and over the next year or so, Scott Luley put together the excellent video workshop we have in the Freedom of Expression arena. Some of our best tools have happened almost serendipitously as individuals have tried to reach out in new and different ways. And we have had some colossal failures, too. Our freshmen orientation at which we had 30 Christian professors and staff and only four freshmen is one example. Walter Bradley shares a wonderful story of how he and Ann invited all of their friends on the faculty when he was at the Colorado School of Mines to an outreach at their apartment. Through no fault of theirs, the affair degenerated into a shouting match that lasted forever and, Walter thought he was ruined professionally.
I could go on in this vein for a long time. I won’t. But how often I would like to redo my career knowing, what I know now about ministry. I regret that I only learned how to reach out to students in such an attractive way as the "How to Make Better Grades and Have More Fun" format toward the end of my career. Sometimes, I’d like to go back and do it all over again. I regret that I was only just beginning to learn how to reach out to colleagues effectively with The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People material as I neared retirement. I’d like to go back and do that over again. I can’t. But you have access to these and many other strategies and resources. Take advantage of them! They are yours for the asking through Christian Leadership Ministries.
You will have regrets at the end of your career. I don’t think they will be much about your professional accomplishments. I have not once since leaving academia wished that I could have another refereed journal article published. I don’t think you will either. I haven’t once wished I could deliver another of my sterling lectures to a rapt group of students. I don’t think you will either. I think your regrets will be similar to mine -- that you were not as effective for the Savior in the university as you might have been. What will you say the problem was? No models? No Christian Leadership Ministry? No methods? I hope not. In fact, I think that if you will faithfully begin to incorporate some of the ideas I have suggested here, on an individual basis, and working together with your colleagues, you might have no regrets. Perhaps you will even decide to come join Christian Leadership Ministries full-time working with professors and staff to change the university for the Lord Jesus Christ!
© Copyright 1997, Joseph McRae Mellichamp
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