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Newsmakers: Q&A with Chancellor Ken Jones

Every other week, the Talon invites a member of the Oklahoma Christian University community, a “Newsmaker,” to answer questions about their role on campus. 

On September 7, the Talon interviewed Ken Jones, the newly appointed Chancellor of Oklahoma Christian, to discuss his new role and plans for the future of the university. 

What does your job as Oklahoma Christian University Chancellor entail?

“In universities like ours, the Chancellor title is normally given to a past president. 

At Lubbock Christian University, I was president there for 19 years.  When I came to Oklahoma Christian, I came under the idea that I would be a business coach, doing public speaking, consulting, that kind of thing. Last November, I arrived and my job was to listen, to observe, to ask questions and maybe at some point, to give a little bit of advice. Over the next month or so, they wanted me to take on more and more responsibility. The Chancellor’s role here at Oklahoma Christian is a very unique position because both the chancellor, as well as the president, report to the board of trustees. The president is now trying to raise funds, create public awareness about OC and build new friends; he’s the face of our student body. They wanted me to come in and have most of the university functions fall under me to give leadership across campus. 

President deSteiguer and I have a wonderful relationship. I would never agree to do something so bizarre at this time in my life unless I knew it would be in complete harmony with the president and the board, which it has been.” 

What past roles or accomplishments have prepared you for this role?

“I guess a lifetime of experiences have prepared me. I am an engineer by training and earned three degrees. I was a professional engineer and then was an employee of Oklahoma State University as a faculty member. I often say it was the best job I’ve ever had. It was a fun, energetic, creative time. I absolutely loved every minute there. People kept trying to persuade me that I ought to preach and I had no background to preach. 

Along the way, Lubbock Christian contacted me. They were searching for a president. They thought I was a genius. I wasn’t. They knew I could speak, so they said, ‘you’re our president.’ For the next 19 years, I did that. It led me to a large arena of public speaking on subjects of business leadership, executive coaching and consulting. Leadership’s kind of my thing and always has been. All of that together put me in this role.” 

What changes are you planning on making? 

At OC, our culture is a little chaotic. We’re having to rebuild a culture, we’re having to rebuild the confidence of our employees plus our students. We’re trying to change the way we operate and make decisions where we’re more open, more transparent and far more operating on data instead of just what we think might work. Also, becoming a bit more professional in the way we handle things. So those are the immediate changes I’m after right now.

Could you explain more about the dynamic and differences between your role and President deSteiguer’s on and off campus?

“I think everybody knows President deSteiguer is an extrovert. He loves being around people. He’s gifted at connecting with people, he’s gifted at speaking, he’s gifted at being on a stage. It’s pretty natural for him. It’s kind of effortless for him to step more into a role requiring that kind of connectedness and fundraising abilities, so that’s what he will be held accountable for by our board of trustees. 

My role is more internally focused. I work with what we call cabinet members here—the chief academic officer, the chief legal officer, the Human Resources Officer and the chief financial officer. We’ll be enrollment management. That’s leadership; knowing who we are, where we’re going, how we’re going to get there.”

What were your first impressions of the Oklahoma Christian campus?

“I thought there was a lot of turmoil. I thought there was a lot of polarization. I thought there were certain functions that were broken. I thought our finances were in worse shape than I imagined they would be. But at the same time, my first impressions were that the campus was beautiful, it was located in a really, really nice place, and that we had very, very talented people across campus. That’s the combination of my first impressions.” 

What are your personal goals for this university moving forward?

Right now, we are doing deep studies and modeling of what it will take to balance our budget. How many students does it take to increase on his campus? Our scholarships right now are at the rate of about 54%. We know by industry averages, that’s out of balance. My personal vision is to make the campus a happier, more vibrant, growing and healthy institution.” 

How do you hope to improve student, staff and faculty life with your new position?

“I’m really interested first in improving faculty life. Alongside the staff, I believe our faculty needs to be increased in pay. I want the employees to be happy in the sense that they can come to believe we will be transparent on every single subject, that we will not hide things. I want them to believe the administration building is not randomly making decisions without input or without good data, which has been one of the frustrations the whole campus has had for some time. I believe before I can make students healthy and happy, I have to make faculty and staff happy and healthy. At the same time, we will not let a day go by where we are not listening to students and seeing what they need and want and how we can best take care of them. Students are the reason we exist. We exist by avenues like teaching and mentoring to help you build your life into the image of Christ. That’s really why we’re here. Those are my words, they’re not official university words. That’s how I feel. If I get this little moment of time with you, whether it’s one year or four years, we can build you a little bit, and then somebody later can build you a bit more because life is a whole lifelong building.” 

What challenges do you anticipate with your position and how do you plan on overcoming them?  

“The number one challenge I have is credibility. Credibility is not something any leader has automatically. I can come in with reputation, I can come in with a resume, I can come in with all kinds of things, but it doesn’t mean a thing for true Christian credibility. It means nothing until people see me walking according to how I talk. If they see a problem coming to me, I have to deal with it and deal with it quickly. And I always have and always will do that.”

In what ways do you plan to implement unity across campus? 

“A university, by definition, is a collection of diverse people. They have diverse thoughts, there’s diverse opinions. I don’t mind that whatsoever. I want to establish unity by staying out of those fringe areas which are really not important and instead stick to our core mission. That’s how I’m trying to bring unification to the campus. I’m not going to fight with anybody, but I will stand up when I think the university’s being pushed in the wrong direction. Everybody will be treated with dignity. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care where you’re from, I don’t care about your ethnic background, your socioeconomic background, I don’t care about your view. Everybody will be treated with dignity. Every single person is important. Every person will be treated as important, and if you’re mistreated, I believe the leader has to come to your defense.

So let me give you my definition of leadership. In leadership coaching, the Bible’s the best leadership book ever written. The last verse of the book of Esther says Mordecai was held in high esteem. That means he had credibility. Why? Because he worked for their good and spoke for their welfare. My job is to work for the good of our faculty, to work for the good of our staff and to work for the good of our students.”

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