In an announcement to the Board of Trustees and Houghton College community, Dr. Shirley Mullen shared her intention to complete her 15-year tenure as president of the college at the conclusion of the 2020-2021 academic year.
Mullen, the fifth president in the history of Houghton College, believes this timing allows for a smooth transition in leadership that will ensure continued momentum for the nationally-ranked Christian liberal arts college with an enrollment of nearly 1,000 students.
“Given the successful conclusion of our $70 million IMPACT Campaign, including more than $41 million from alumni and friends designated for access and affordability, the launch of our 2021-2023 strategic plan, the strength of our senior leadership team and the support of our Board of Trustees, Houghton College is well prepared to continue delivering our commitment to ‘accelerate the pace of mission-driven change’ to meet the needs of today’s students over the course of their lifetime,” said Mullen.
Inspired by the words “Yours for fixing up this world,” which founder Willard J. Houghton used to sign his letters, Mullen has intentionally sought to cultivate Houghton College’s distinctive brand of Wesleyan education that emphasizes both personal and social restoration to God’s originally intended purposes for individuals and the world.
“The contemporary cultural climate often seems to require choosing between a commitment to social justice and a commitment to personal morality,” said Mullen. “Houghton College seeks to prepare graduates whose vision transcends the temporary categories of partisan politics to care about the full range of concerns that God cares about and whose training in the timeless habits and skills of a Christian liberal arts education assures their ongoing relevance and effectiveness in the everchanging marketplace of our time. Our graduates have the capacity to live in the ‘courageous middle’ and serve as the bridgebuilders, translators and hosts who can convene and sustain productive conversations and bring together the truth and the grace that came in Jesus Christ.”
Mullen’s leadership has led to significant advances for Houghton College, including:
- implementing dramatic change in the tuition pricing model to assure prospective students and their families that a Houghton education is obviously affordable, partnered with a renewed commitment to accessibility and affordability for learners of all ages through the expansion of Houghton College’s online and non-residential urban centers in Buffalo and Utica;
- improving curricular and co-curricular program offerings such as engineering, data science, criminal justice, master’s programs in business administration and education, and a revived pre-law program including the creation of the Katherine W. Lindley Center for Law and Constitutional Studies and the commitment to Sustainability and Creation Care;
- initiating the move to NCAA Division III athletics;
- enhancing facilities including Kerr-Pegula Athletic Complex, Equestrian Event Center, 11-Acre Solar Panel Array and Alumni House, as well as the renovation of the Paine Center for Science (including the Robert and Elizabeth Van Dyk Data Science Analytics Suite and the Dr. and Mrs. Edward Savolaine Science Honors Suite);
- strengthening programs in advancement and external engagement such as the annual One-Day Giving Challenge, the 1883 Society to recognize annual giving, the James S. Luckey Society to recognize legacy giving and the growth of endowment during the IMPACT campaign to fund 90 new-student scholarships, the Shannon Summer Research Institute, the Horne-Blanchard Chair of Music and the Irwin Chair of Engineering and the annual Kindschi Faith and Justice Symposium; and
- cultivating local and regional partnerships such as Leadership Allegany in cooperation with the County Chamber of Commerce, Allegany County United Way and ENCORE — a dedicated effort to provide programming for local senior citizens.
“We are so fortunate to have had the leadership of Houghton College alumna Dr. Mullen for the last 15 years,” said Board of Trustees Chair John Lee. “President Mullen has expanded Houghton College’s visibility through her service on national boards, improved our offerings to students, led us through a successful advancement campaign and strengthened the engagement of our leadership boards, all while remaining steadfast in our mission of providing a high-quality, Christ-centered education to students from diverse traditions and economic backgrounds. We are well-positioned for the future because of her leadership.”
Referencing a conference session titled “Finishing Well” that she led at last year’s Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) President’s Seminar, Mullen affirmed that “a critical aspect of faithfully stewarding our commitment to institutional flourishing in this turbulent external environment for higher education is ensuring a smooth leadership transition. Presidents must pay as much attention to how we complete our service as to how we started it.”
Mullen’s lifetime passion for the transformational power of a Christian liberal arts education in the lives of students will no doubt continue to inform her choice of activities, though less formally than over the past 35 years. She looks forward to spending more time with her husband, Dr. Paul Mills, former president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, in their newly completed home in Houghton and also cultivating her hobbies of photography and travel.
The Board of Trustees will begin a presidential search immediately with the expectation that Houghton’s sixth president will take office on June 1, 2021.
Michael Blankenship is director of marketing communications at Houghton College.