A Conversation with John deSteiguer
John deSteiguer became the face of Oklahoma Christian University when he took on the role as OC’s seventh president on May 1. By then, he already had given the university a lift through a comprehensive fundraising campaign.
During his time as Oklahoma Christian’s chief advancement officer, a record $110 million was given to Oklahoma Christian, including the successful Higher Learning/Higher Calling campaign, which raised $64.3 million.
That campaign led to significant improvements at Oklahoma Christian, including 60 new or enlarged endowments, development of Lawson Commons, the Freede Centennial Tower and the McGraw Pavilion, a $7.5 million project to build the Noble Science Wing, and state-of-the-art chemistry labs in Vose Hall.
A graduate of Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Okla., he was awarded a Rotary scholarship to study international economics at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. He served as director of development for his alma mater and youth minister of the South College Church of Christ in Tahlequah before moving to OC.
He married Darla, his college sweetheart, in 1986. Both earned law degrees, magna cum laude, from Pepperdine University in 1989. The couple has two teenage children. John deSteiguer is a deacon and regular Bible class teacher at the Memorial Road Church of Christ in Edmond, Okla.
What interested you in becoming Oklahoma Christian’s president?
I love the world of Christian higher education. I love the opportunities it provides to create relationships and better futures serving the Lord. I love to see the enthusiasm and dreams of young people in the college setting.
Darla and I were thrilled in 2002 when Mike O’Neal invited us to come to OC because we were able to combine the best of both worlds — the higher education setting we had grown to know and love and a campus immersed in Christian faith. What could be better than that?
I did not come to OC intending to seek the presidency. In fact, I had a close colleague and dear friend who I fully anticipated would become the next president. I planned to be a happy and loyal right-hand man to him.
Several years ago, he returned to private practice. With this important opening to fill, encouragement from a number of people, and an awful lot of prayer, I concluded this might be the next step of service for me here at Oklahoma Christian.
Why is Christian education relevant today?
Darla and I received really fine academic educations at Northeastern State University, a public institution.
However, a first-rate Christian university like OC is as academically strong as the best public institutions because it trains not only the mind but also the heart. But even beyond the high-quality academic experience, Christian colleges provide opportunities for young people to mature spiritually, socially and emotionally in ways that state schools cannot.
At OC, Christian men and women educate students in the classroom but also connect with them outside of it — at church, across the campus and in their homes. It is through these deeply important mentoring relationships that students are able to explore real faith, not as stagnant text on a page, but as a living, breathing, world-changing force that’s relevant in every facet of their lives.
Students leave our campus armed with knowledge but covered in wisdom, prepared to serve the kingdom in mighty ways. And that’s the core reason why a Christian education is not only relevant but of unparalleled significance in today’s society.
Most colleges founded on religious principles do not remain true to those for even a century. What is your plan for OC?
Over time, most faith-based colleges slide away from their founding purposes. This tendency is demonstrated in books like James T. Burtchaell’s “The Dying of the Light.” Often, the departure seems to occur by accident and inattention.
At Oklahoma Christian, we are committed to preventing this slide. We will remain true to our spiritual principles by intentionally integrating Christian faith with learning, having faculty, staff and trustees who are active members of Churches of Christ, gathering for daily chapel in a variety of settings, recruiting students from our fellowship and emphasizing the spiritual.
What relationship to Churches of Christ will OC have under your leadership?
OC was founded in 1950 by members of the Church of Christ, and we will remain close to our fellowship. I was born and raised in this fellowship, and I love it. Scripture is the Word of God, and we will honor it in all that we do.
We will aggressively recruit students from Churches of Christ, and we will dialogue regularly with church leaders and members. OC’s history is one of mission and service around the world by members of our university community. This history will be our present and future, and this will bless individuals and church families.
I believe our church fellowship is good for OC, and OC is good for our church fellowship. We need each other.
What do you see as distinctive about OC?
This may seem like a hyperbole, but I truly believe that OC has it all. We’re in a great location. The Oklahoma City metro area is growing and maturing on the national and international stage. There are great job opportunities and church opportunities here for our students and graduates. And OC provides a first-rate education and a sense of home because of the personal relationships and concern people have for each other.
At OC, one can grow, learn and take risks in a safe, supportive environment. Students are prepared to go out and make a living, but more importantly, they’re prepared to make a life. Many of our graduates choose to make that life in the OKC metro because it’s a great place to do that. But whether they’re working in downtown Oklahoma City or serving on a faraway mission field, they long to return to Oklahoma Christian because OC is home.
What do you see as the next great challenge for OC?
The next great challenge is for us to effectively communicate to students and their families that OC is a special place where they should come and invest their lives. Some think a Christian college is a place where you get a second-rate education at a higher price. That’s just plain wrong. You get a better, deeper education at a Christian college like OC.
With OC’s commitment to affordability (we recently announced a zero cost increase while allowing our students to take even more hours in 2012-13), our students may pay the same, or even less, than they would at other well-known public and private schools.
And at OC, students’ lives can be changed in remarkable ways that impact not just them but everyone they come in contact with — their families, their friends, their peers, their church and their community. There is a qualitative and quantitative difference about their spiritual life and the opportunities they have here. I don’t think there’s another place anywhere like Oklahoma Christian University.