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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...



Connections: Carol Taylor

Leading a University

Dr. Carol Taylor, president of Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, Calif., is one of three female presidents of the 19 endorsed Assemblies of God post-secondary schools. Vanguard has been named a “Best in the West” university by The Princeton Review. Technical Editor Jennifer McClure spoke with Taylor about tackling the school’s recent set of challenges.

evangel: When you arrived in 2007 at Vanguard as provost, vice president for academic affairs, what challenges faced you?
TAYLOR:
There were both professional and personal challenges. On a personal level, my brother had passed away just before I came to Vanguard. As his executor, I was attending to his affairs and dealing with complexities in his medical insurance. My elderly parents share a home with me, and shortly after I arrived, my father had a medical emergency and spent a week in ICU. Fortunately, we had a caring and supportive church community.

The challenge professionally became clear soon after I arrived at Vanguard and learned that Vanguard wasn’t going to make its budget. We had our first painful round of budget cuts. As the year progressed, the depth of the financial crisis became increasingly apparent.

evangel: Vanguard has traversed quite a difficult journey in recent years.
TAYLOR:
In the fall of 2008, our president resigned. We were also scheduled at that time for a review by our regional accrediting association. The review resulted in a devastating report that found us out of compliance with the four major accreditation standards. In January 2009, the board asked me to serve as the acting president. At the same time, we had some very ominous headlines in the local press. All of this was occurring during the national economic crisis, so it became the perfect storm.

evangel: How did Vanguard overcome those challenges?
TAYLOR:
There was an urgency to pray and ask for help. One of the first things we did was assemble the best expertise that we could to advise us on the work that had to be done. Then we convened a number of task groups to tackle the various issues. We worked hard on communicating internally and externally. We sent out a call for prayer, as well. I was amazed at the number of messages within the community and from alumni, friends of the university, parents of students, ministers here in Southern California, even strangers, all letting me know that many people were praying for Vanguard.

evangel: In addition to those messages of support, what motivated you to press on?
TAYLOR: I looked at what our graduates are doing. They’re literally around the globe making a difference for the Kingdom in many different areas of vocational service. Equipping men and women for Kingdom service has been at the heart of Vanguard for 90 years. And I became convinced that there would be a gaping hole if Vanguard ceased to exist and live out its mission.

evangel: What did the accrediting commission find in its follow-up visits?
TAYLOR:
In June 2009, the commission found we had come into compliance with three of the four required standards, but they were still uncertain about our financial sustainability, especially because of the economic climate overall and not knowing what our fall enrollment would be. They were also concerned about our board governance, given that our new board had not yet convened. So for these two areas of concern, the commission placed us on probation, which is a public sanction.

A visiting team came back in March 2010 to look at our progress. After their interviews on the campus, I was sitting with the review team in my office. At one point the chair of the visiting team put her pen down and asked, “How did you do this?” The changes we had made were significant and dramatic, and universities don’t generally change that quickly.

I said: “Well, depending on your perspective, Vanguard was either extraordinarily lucky, or we had providential help. And as a faith-based institution, my answer is that we had help that went far beyond anything we could have done on our own.”

It was an amazing moment. I didn’t have any other explanation other than we worked hard; we prayed as hard as we worked; and God helped us. At its June 2010 meeting, the commission took action to remove the sanction and commend the university for its “phenomenal progress” and “significant institutional turnaround.” The entire campus paused to give thanks.

evangel: When did you transition from being the acting president to president?
TAYLOR:
When the new board met July 2009, they asked me to continue to serve as the president.

evangel: Did you aspire to become a college president?
TAYLOR:
If you would have asked me years ago when I was an undergraduate student at Evangel College, now University, to lay out what I projected as my career goals and career path, I never would have imagined the things that I ended up doing professionally.

At the point I was asked to serve as the acting president of Vanguard, I didn’t have time to take a week to reflect and pray. It was one of those moments when you’re standing on the precipice of a major crisis, and in that moment you say, “Do I step off this cliff and trust that God is in this, or do I run for the exit?” I thought briefly about the option of an exit. But in the middle of the storm, I sensed God’s peace and this quiet voice that said, Perhaps this is why I came to Vanguard. And perhaps, just perhaps, I have the opportunity to be part of something miraculous that God is about to do.

evangel: To what do you attribute your personal success?
TAYLOR: I think at the heart of it is a willingness to say yes to the opportunities that God opens. To a great extent, it’s been a dependence on God and a willingness to take risks and trust that if God has called you to something, He will be with you. But it doesn’t mean you don’t do the hard work to bring all the expertise and skill that you can and keep learning and depending on God.

evangel: As we’re nearing the new year, would you talk for a moment about goal-setting?
TAYLOR:
I’ve written lots of New Year’s resolutions. There have been some that I’ve actually kept! I’ve set goals; I’ve pursued goals; but I always try to hold those plans loosely and say, “God, You get to redefine them, reshape, change them, take them anywhere You desire for Your glory.”

We make plans, and we seek God’s help and direction. Then we trust our ways to Him and follow Him with abandon, knowing that He is faithful and trustworthy. I love what Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “Only Jesus, who bids us follow Him, knows the journey’s end. But we know that it will be a road of boundless mercy.” It just doesn’t get any better than that.

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