President Mauri Ditzler was elected 2011-12 chair of the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities (APCU) at the association’s recent annual meeting.
APCU is an independent, not-for-profit organization of more than 60 private colleges and universities that have a historic affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The association works under an agreement with the PC(USA)’s General Assembly Mission Council and exists to promote its member institutions and to advocate the mission of higher education in the Reformed tradition.
In his role as chair, Ditzler hopes to take advantage of interest among APCU members to strengthen college-church ties and emphasize the academic excellence of member institutions.
“The Presbyterian Church has a lot of projects on its plate and, like so many other entities at this time, limited resources to address those projects,” he noted. “But the leadership of the church and of Presbyterian colleges is aligned in their commitment to a strengthened partnership, and I believe now is the time to take that ongoing conversation to a new level.”
Ditzler continued, “We know that when prospective students hear a phrase such as ‘Ivy League’ or ‘the Associated Colleges of the Midwest,’ they immediately associate it with academic excellence. Many Jesuit institutions have outstanding academic reputations, reminding us that religiously affiliated colleges and universities can, without a doubt, achieve national recognition for the quality of their academic programs.”
Ditzler notes that “Students who are not Catholic are drawn to the high quality of outstanding Catholic colleges and universities – and we can do the same within the Presbyterian consortium. This is about academic excellence and access for all students of promise and ability, not about exclusivity.”
Given the relative size of the denomination, an unusually high proportion of the top liberal arts colleges have a Presbyterian affiliation, said Ditzler.
“It’s clear that Presbyterian colleges are among the very best in the country. For example, consider Macalester, Rhodes and Davidson, all distinguished liberal arts colleges. However, there’s not as much visibility for Presbyterian colleges as a general set. We need to celebrate, support and advance the academic excellence of our colleges. We can do this best together, as members of a consortium having in common church affiliation as well as dedication to academic excellence.”
Ditzler noted that the founders of the Presbyterian and Jesuit movements – John Calvin and Ignatius Loyola – attended the University of Paris at approximately the same time.
“Both men say essentially the same thing in regard to education – that God created all things and, thus, any subject studied with rigor will reveal truths about God,” he said.
Ditzler is drawn to the Presbyterian belief that an important task for all of us is to discern our calling, or ‘vocation,’ in life.
“What better place to do that than a liberal arts college,” he said. “Indeed, a focus on finding one’s vocation in the deepest and most meaningful sense explains why Presbyterian colleges have historically thrived. Helping young men and women find their calling, and thus cultivating the leadership of the rising generation, is why the Presbyterian Church founded so many liberal arts colleges. We embrace that tradition.”