On Wednesday, Azusa Pacific named Paul Ferguson, Ph.D., as the university’s next president. He will assume the role on June 1.
Ferguson has an impressive background in higher education. This will be his third time serving as president of a university. He previously served as president of Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. from 2014-16 and the University of Maine from 2011-14. He is currently the founding dean of the School of Science, Technology and Health at Biola University.
Ferguson also previously served as the provost and vice chancellor of Academic Affairs at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (2006–11), vice president for Research and Graduate Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (1999–2006) and vice provost and dean of Graduate Studies and Research at the University of Louisiana at Monroe (1993–99).
APU’s presidential search committee believes Ferguson is the perfect man for the job of navigating the university out of the difficult times it has faced over the past year, from the financial deficit to the handbook controversy.
“Dr. Ferguson is an accomplished and admired academic and administrative leader,” said Search Committee Co-chair Elizabeth Maring, JD. “He’s the right person to lead APU with his vast experience, thoughtful leadership and commitment to Christ and biblical principles.”
Ferguson said he is excited to assume the presidential role at APU.
“I’m grateful for this opportunity, and I want to thank the Board of Trustees for the confidence placed in me,” Ferguson said. “I’m devoted to APU’s Christ-centered mission, achieving sustainability, academic advancement and a joy for learning to all our campuses.”
Raised in Hacienda Heights, Ferguson is a Southern California native and currently resides in Yorba Linda. Although he lived in other parts of the country for many years, he still paid attention to what was going on in Southern California and at APU.
“Watching APU from afar, I’m familiar with it and I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for what’s gone on at APU,” he said. “I think the institution and its people have done extraordinary things over the last couple decades.”
Ferguson decided to return to Southern California in 2016 to help care for his wife’s parents. He also welcomed the challenge of revamping Biola’s science programs.
Ferguson earned his doctorate at UC Davis, where he focused on toxicology, later going on to become a professor of toxicology and public health. He plans on teaching classes at APU as well, although the details of these classes won’t be ironed out until a later date.
Ferguson said he admires current president Jon Wallace’s commitment to student service.
“I’ve seen how [Jon] interacts with and talks about students,” Ferguson said. “He’s a very good example of a student-centered president … he has truly walked with and fellowshipped with students. I think what [I] can learn from him is tangible love of students.”
Ferguson’s own leadership model places emphasis on creating strategies that unite people towards a shared vision. He developed these leadership skills when he became a dean at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
“When I became a professor I never thought that I would become a university administrator. That was not the path until the provost of the University of Louisiana pulled me aside and asked me if I had ever considered administrations. He wanted me to infuse administrative position with my love of learning so that the whole university could grow together,” he said. “So I really became a student of leadership, primarily [learning] how [to] inspire, encourage, and chart a course that everybody wants to do. Leadership, strategic planning, vision setting and how to do that in teams and as a community — that’s what a university does.”
Ferguson also said he’s a strong believer in the servant-leadership model.
“He who serves first leads well. It’s not about command and control from the top-down, it’s about encouraging, inspiring and empowering the organization to thrive,” Ferguson said. “That’s where I have been most successful, in getting people to come together and agree on a vision and getting them excited about where they go. That’s where I have developed leadership skills in my career, and learned how to best apply those skills in the community.”
Ferguson recognizes the complexity of APU’s academic structure and community. He plans on getting to know the community “intentionally and strategically.”
“In my past experience as president, I have gone out to every department and met with them. I’m a very relational, engaged person. I want to get to know people, who they are and what they do,” Ferguson said. “I’ll be directly going out into the APU community to seek and to listen. I need to go and see where they think we are and understand where they’re coming from, listening to their hopes and fears.”
In the next few months, Ferguson will meet with constituents from across campus. He said he needs to learn a lot from these constituents in order to form plans for improving the university and bringing it out of the current financial deficit.
“That’s part of my transition, to be doing a deep-dive with the finance office, CFO and cabinet, so I’ll be meeting with leadership over April and May, and have those conversations to be pretty well engaged before I start in June,” Ferguson said. “From now until June 1, we’re just starting to do transition things.”
Although the current situation APU is in may seem daunting to others, Ferguson said he embraces challenges like this. He described how he created strategic plans in his last two presidential roles to navigate through difficult situations.
“I really think in general, where do I get my most fulfillment, is when we have successfully charted a very challenging course because you don’t always know how it’s going to turn out or where it’s going to take you,” Ferguson said. “You just roll up your sleeves and do the hard work to get there.”
Ferguson said his vision for his first year as president is to listen to community members — students, faculty and staff — to determine what direction APU needs to head in the next three to five years.
“It’s now time to do a new strategic plan that really defines who we are today and the culture we live in and how to be difference makers in the current culture,” Ferguson said. “The ultimate goal, in my opinion, is that APU is the premiere Christian school in the country … I would hope that in five years APU is the model for what a Christian university should be in the U.S. That means not only in the integration of faith and academics, [but in] practicing Christ-centered academic excellence … not only the graduate but the undergraduate and professional.”
Ferguson said this goal aims to point back to God.
“If we do this right and God really blesses us like I know that he will, then people will say, ‘That’s not easy to do, how did APU do that?’ and [we’ll be able to] point them back to God,” Ferguson said. “When I say let’s be a model, it’s not for pride; it’s to really, truly demonstrate the model of God First at an institution of academic excellence.”