New faculty members embrace the mission

08-08-2016-8015Aug. 15, 2016 | Faculty |

As the beginning of the 2016-17 school year drew near, campus began preparing for the return of students and the start of classes and campus activity. The week before school began, new faculty members learned more about Harding and its mission in an orientation program created by President Bruce McLarty.

A five-part curriculum, “Embracing the Mission” introduces new faculty members to the University, communicates the mission and higher purpose of the institution, and helps familiarize them with campus. The program was created as a part of McLarty’s doctoral dissertation, “Helping New Teachers Embrace the Spiritual Mission of Harding.”

“The most important key points are that we stay anchored in something that is constant,” McLarty said. “In the midst of a world that is changing so rapidly, this dissertation and ‘Embracing the Mission’ is saying that there are things that do not change at Harding University. We never lose sight of this mission.”

The new faculty orientation program began on Harding’s campus in 2010, the year McLarty successfully defended his dissertation at Ashland Theological Seminary. Former Provost Larry Long served as McLarty’s field advisor throughout McLarty’s doctoral work, and Long wanted the program to begin at Harding as soon as possible.

“His idea of developing a training program for new Harding faculty that would instill in them a knowledge of the University and a deeper, richer sense of its mission filled a gap in our new faculty orientation,” Long said. “Both in theory and in content, the program is well-conceived, well-researched and well-written.”

Each day of the faculty orientation, McLarty presents thoughts and ideas surrounding five themes: mission, faith, worldview, teaching and community. The core message of the curriculum communicates that Harding was built upon Christian principles and teachings, and those core values will always define the institution.

“As Dr. McLarty’s research uncovered, throughout history, faith-based schools have drifted away from their initial mission when faculty seem to have lost sight of that mission,” Long said. “Unless we systematically remind ourselves why the main thing is the main thing, we’re pretty likely to drift away from it, alter it to make it fit our current culture, or even simply forget it. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 shows us that God thought the Israelites should systematically and repetitively remind their children of his laws. Based on those precedents, I think it is highly appropriate that new faculty be introduced to Harding’s mission in a thorough, systematic and purposeful way.”

“I think it is highly appropriate that new faculty be introduced to Harding’s mission in a thorough, systematic and purposeful way.” -Larry Long

After each “Embracing the Mission” session, faculty members reflected on what they had heard and made applications to their own disciplines. Dr. Emmie Mercer, assistant professor in the Paul R. Carter College of Business Administration, enjoyed hearing from other faculty members on how they plan to weave faith into content of their classes.

“Dr. McLarty speaks so eloquently and with such wisdom, and he inspired us to be better in all areas of our lives, whether it be as a professor, colleague or family member,” Mercer said. “We even discussed the importance of our membership in the community. I especially enjoyed the days that we openly spoke about how we can embrace the mission while teaching.”

“I thoroughly enjoyed hearing President McLarty passionately describe the mission of Harding University,” Associate Professor of Bible and ministry Jesse Robertson said. “I came away with not only the big picture of what it means to help students develop a Christian worldview but also with specific guidance for what that looks like at the classroom level.”

Another unique component to the program was the emphasis on the University’s history. Faculty members learned about Harding’s beginning in 1924, how the school progressed to where it is today, and the legacies of Harding’s four previous presidents.

“Learning about Harding’s history helps me better embrace the mission because I realize that we are striving to maintain and strengthen the same mission that began at Harding’s inception in 1924,” Mercer said. “There’s a unity that comes with embracing a shared mission and realizing that if we remain diligent and stay focused, we remain the strong, faith-based university that we are today.”

The orientation week ended with a visit to the Harding History House and two Searcy cemeteries where key men and women of Harding’s history are buried. Robertson said those activities made him feel closer to the University.

“Although I already had a general understanding of the Harding culture, learning more details about the history of Harding and visiting the grave sites of some of its founding men and women made me feel connected to the University’s roots,” he said. “Linking the past, present and future of the school through the theme of the University’s persistent mission was powerful and made us want to be a part of the story.”

The week included sessions on class responsibilities, University policies, and other campus resources and programs. New faculty familiarized themselves with Harding and its mission, but they also bonded together over this shared experience of reflecting on their roles as teachers and helping Harding to continue to stay grounded in the values and beliefs on which it was founded.

“There’s only one Harding, and what a shame if the world were to lose that.” -Bruce McLarty

“I made some special relationships this week with the other new faculty, and I know that we all feel that we are strongly supported by Harding’s administration,” Mercer said “I’ve never been more excited to meet a classroom of students than I am today after completing the orientation. Our life experiences up until this point have prepared us as new faculty, and we should be prepared to take on the fall semester with a Christ-like confidence and determination.”

“The natural gravitational pull in history is to pull faith-based schools away from their faith,” McLarty said. “It is only by being resolute and pushing back that we can keep from being drawn away. There’s only one Harding, and what a shame if the world were to lose that.”

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