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Presidential Update Fall 2001

To Hope College Alumni and Friends

I am very pleased to share a few thoughts with you as we approach the final weeks of this first semester. Like all of you, we have this fall experienced both excitement and despair. As a campus community, we are grateful for each new day with all its joys and challenges.

We began this new academic year with a record number of first-time students (763) and an overall enrollment of 2,999. We give thanks often for each student that has been entrusted to us during these special college years. Each one brings considerable gifts to the campus that enrich our life together.

On August 29, I sent a bulletin to our faculty and staff thanking them for the role that each one played in so effectively launching this new academic year. It was the single smoothest opening that I have experienced in my many years in higher education. From housing, to orientation activities and workshops, the appearance of the campus, registration, financial aid, and food service, I was very pleased with the attention to matters both large and small as students either returned to campus or made the transition to Hope for the first time.

September 11, 2001

Then came September 11. The events of this day and the subsequent ramifications have left all of us sobered and saddened. In so many ways, our lives changed rather dramatically in the space of a very brief time. In the midst of all of this, I cannot begin to identify all the ways that our people supported each other, but they were considerable.

By 11 a.m. that morning, over 1,000 students, faculty, and staff gathered in the Pine Grove for a spontaneous time of prayer and comfort from God's word. We took solace in Psalm 46 (NIV): "God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in time of trouble" Perhaps you have seen in newspapers nationwide or in People magazine the Associated Press photo of the Hope community at this service. Through it all, I was so proud of the maturity, respect, and care so evident on the campus.

Karen Cox from Holland, Mich., a recognized expert in disaster training and counseling, aided us in our campus interactions. She met with administration, faculty, and student groups throughout the day and led with Dean of the Chapel Tim Brown a worship and information session in the chapel that evening. The next day, Karen, Tim, and Professor Neal Sobania met with our international students who understandably had special concerns at this time.

Like all of you, our agenda has changed. We have been involved in considerable contingency planning-trying to measure the impact of these events on campus life and taking steps to ensure the safety of the campus and the financial vitality of the college.

Members of the college family have been affected by the disasters and their aftermath in numerous ways. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have experienced pain and loss. We grieve especially with the friends and family of David Pruim '70, who is one of those missing in the World Trade Center.

Hope Summer Repertory Theatre

The Hope Summer Repertory Theatre, now in its 30th year, enjoyed another very successful season. The plays were superb and enriched cultural life in Holland immeasurably. Both private and corporate sponsorship subsidized ticket prices, but this did not eliminate the necessity of college support. Such is the case with virtually all cultural events, both here and elsewhere. My favorite play was The Wizard of Oz. It was superbly done, and I was somewhat surprised that I was so smitten with such frivolity. I loved it!

A Well-Deserved Tribute

In September, Hope and Calvin College honored Stanley and Harriet Essenburg '51 van Reken on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary. Calvin hosted this event, which was especially fun because Stanley is a Calvin graduate and Harriet a Hope alumna. The van Rekens have generously provided scholarships to students of missionary parents at Hope, Calvin, and Wheaton. This exceptional benevolence has made it possible for more than 100 students to attend these colleges when it might not otherwise have been possible. Appropriate tributes were given by each institution, including the traditional gift of Hope and Calvin sweatshirts. Although it was somewhat difficult for me to wear the Calvin nametag and receive the Calvin pen, the mutual respect for our efforts in Christian higher education enabled us to have a grand time together. Later this fall, the van Rekens will meet with scholarship recipients on our respective campuses.

An Afternoon at the Links

On a beautiful fall Friday afternoon, Athletic Director Ray Smith and I were invited for lunch and a round of golf by two of our former football players, Bill Hondorp '71 and Dave Teater '77. How special it was to be treated to this time together with former players now mature men who are leaders in their professions, involved in their churches, and respected by family, friends, and community. We had a great time remembering all the fun times we enjoyed together in sport at Hope. I felt a bit guilty about playing on a workday, but Ray indicated it would be okay. If we were questioned about it he would simply say, "This is a bad news/good news situation. The bad news is you caught your president playing golf on a day he should have been working. The good news is you can tell by his score he doesn't do it very often!"

Critical Issues Symposium

Each year for the past 21 years, Hope College has dismissed classes for one day to focus on an issue of importance. This year, the symposium examined Earth Matters: Daily Decisions, Environmental Echoes. Under the leadership of Associate Provost Alfredo Gonzales and a Steering Committee, there was considerable opportunity to learn from both guest and campus speakers alike in lecture and workshop settings. Overall, this was a very rich experience and brought an important perspective to the world in which we live. The stewardship of God's creation is a legacy for good or evil that we will leave to future generations. We only have one opportunity to do it right. Each of us in our own special way can engage in the care and keeping of our world and make a positive difference for the future.

The Pull

The Pull is a traditional event at Hope College that has received considerable national recognition in many major publications. Ironically, until my return to Hope as president in the summer of 1999, I had never personally experienced this event. In the 21 years that I had been on the campus, I had always been involved with football in the fall either as a player or coach. Since our return we have been at the Pull each year, spending an equal amount of time on the freshman and sophomore sides. Quite frankly, I was not prepared for what I saw. Oh, I expected that students would be wildly enthusiastic. And, I even thought that parents would become vocal in cheering on their sons and daughters. What I wasn't prepared for were grandparents on their knees urging their grandchildren to pull harder. This event is a happening!

Homecoming 2001

Homecoming is always a glorious event on college campuses. This year was no exception as the classes of '86, '91, and '96 returned for their class reunions. There were other activities ranging from athletic events, to the Homecoming ball, and reunions of all kinds.

This year in particular, the H-Club luncheon was very special. Honored were the MIAA Most Valuable Players from Hope teams for the past seven decades. Especially touching on this occasion for me was the awarding of the Hope for Humanity Award to my former college football coach and subsequent colleague, Gordon Brewer '48. I can think of no more deserving recipient. Gordon was introduced by coaching colleague Russ De Vette '45. What a marvelous contribution these two men have made to the life of sport at Hope. I have stated publicly on different occasions that if I ever needed a person to communicate either orally or in writing at a most special event, I would choose Gordon Brewer. He always has just the right words for every occasion. In his acceptance speech, he did not disappoint!

Capital Projects

Progress continues on fund raising for several capital projects. We are very pleased with the responses to date which now total almost $63 million-toward a goal of $85 million-for three initiatives: 1) expansion and renovation of the Peale Science Center, 2) enhancing the college's endowment, and 3) other campus development including the Martha Miller Center for the departments of communication and modern/classical languages.

We are reaching a rather critical decision time for these two major building projects. There is urgency about the science center addition because of the deteriorating infrastructure systems in the current Peale building. While perhaps less urgent, the necessity of putting communication and modern/classical languages in state-of-the-art facilities is crucial to the future of those departments as well.

Because these projects are not yet fully funded, moving ahead at this time would take a major step of faith compounded certainly by the current economy. But, there are also risks with not moving ahead. These decisions will likely be made at the January Board of Trustees meeting.

In addition, progress is being made on the community-wide effort to respond to the generous challenge gift of Richard and Helen DeVos to construct a spectator facility on the eastern gateway of the community and campus. This community-based fund raising effort is being spearheaded by James Jurries '63 and has met with considerable enthusiasm. This facility would serve broad community and college needs and would present an opportunity for considerable sharing of an outstanding spectator space in a prominent location.

Task Force

As you know, our society, churches, and college campuses struggle with issues of sexuality. Hope College is no exception. In light of related campus events of the last several years, I have formed a task force of college personnel representing the academic, student development, chaplain, and counseling areas of the college. The task force is encouraged to engage others in their deliberations.

The mandate of the task force will be to:

  1. review the college attempts at educating about human sexuality including, but not limited to, homosexuality;
  2. research the educational activities of other Christian liberal arts colleges;
  3. evaluate the treatment of homosexual students at Hope College;
  4. explore how the college can best exhibit care and compassion for those with a homosexual orientation; and
  5. examine what periodic educational experiences would be beneficial for the campus community, including especially those entering the helping professions.

The mandate is to address the above in the context of biblical authority, the Reformed Church in America and Hope College positions, constituency and community expectations, and educational research literature. The task force, which is chaired by Dr. James Herrick, professor of communication and chair of the department, is asked to report their findings and recommendations to me by March 1, 2002.

I believe this is a highly capable task force that will address this matter thoroughly and with wisdom.

Provost Search

The Provost Search Committee interviewed three persons on campus immediately following the completion of the last academic year. After receiving the appropriate campus feedback, we decided to continue the search but suspend it until the fall. We have now resumed our deliberations. I have appointed Dean for the Social Sciences Dr. Nancy Miller, as interim provost. She has assumed overall academic leadership and is being aided in her work by members of the Deans' Council. These individuals are experienced and capable, and will provide excellent leadership until a permanent appointment is made later this academic year.


In our family devotions, Martie and I usually read from the Words of Hope Daily Reflections. This month, Dr. Dick Nieusma Jr. '52, missionary dentist, educator, and immediate past recipient of the Hope for Humanity Award, was the author. On Monday, Oct. 15, he related a story about loved ones going to be with Jesus. Dick indicated that if we send a loved one far away, we are very concerned unless we can trust the one to whom they are sent and can rest assured that they will be lovingly cared for.

Several thoughts converged as Martie and I read this passage together. The first occurred several years ago when a single mother came to campus for Parents' Weekend. Both of her children went more than 2,000 miles away to college. She shared with me that this was so difficult until she realized how good a place it was and how happy her children were there. Then it didn't seem so far away anymore. In the absence of that assurance, one block is too far away! The second thought was the statement made by Dawn Hoving '94 Noorman, three-time MIAA Most Valuable Swimmer, at the H-Club luncheon when she said that it felt so good to return to campus because she felt like she "belonged here." Then, in the midst of all of the turmoil and, yes, death in our world, I was reminded how comforting it is to know who we are, where we are ultimately going, and that we belong there. It reminded me of the answer to the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism: "That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ"

Martie and I feel so privileged to serve Hope at this time in the college's history. There is so much about this place for which we have deep and abiding affection. And, yes, there are challenges that we hope by God's grace to meet in the days, weeks, and years ahead. These challenges, however, are far overshadowed by the joys of being a part of delivering an exceptional educational experience in a caring, Christian environment. May it ever be so.

Thank You

Thank you for your faithful and generous support of Hope during this time. The needs of the college continue, and the worth of a Hope College education is, perhaps, of greater value now than ever before. Your partnership is greatly appreciated.

James E. Bultman, President