Interesting Person: President Ron Ellis

Sarah Jane O'Keefe -- President Ellis leads with the future of California Baptist University in mind.

When you were a college student, did you ever plan on being the president of a university? And, if not, what did you want to do with your life? 

Not as an undergraduate, but when I was working on my master’s degree at Baylor, my Sunday school teacher was also the dean of students. We had a lot of conversations about the road ahead and he said, “Why don’t you do an internship for me?” And, I did. After a couple of weeks, we had a one-on-one meeting. He asked me how it was going and I said, “Well, I think I found my calling in life,” and I said, “I believe I’d like to be a president of a Baptist college.”

Out of everything you’ve done as President, since you’ve been here, what is your most memorable achievement? 

It’s hard to mention just one particular thing, but I’d say a couple of things. When I came, the institution was really in a survival mode and we were able to, fairly rapidly, get it turned. There was 808 students in the fall of ’94, which was down from the previous fall. And by fall of 1999—ten months after I arrived—it had gone from 808 to 1,226 and then the next year it had gone to 1,687 and then to 2,009. So, in less that three years, we had a 152 percent increase in enrollment.

Then we didn’t really grow for five years. We ran out of capacity. When I came, we had empty beds, empty parking spaces and all that, but when we went from 808 to 2,009, we filled it up. And then, for the next five years or so, we didn’t really grow very much. It wasn’t until we dedicated the Yeager Center that we really started growing again. That was in 2003. We were up about 146 that year and then the next year, I think we went up about 546 and then we just continued the growth since then. And, so that’s been another major achievement.

So, out of all the responsibilities you have, what do you think is the most important? 

I work for the trustees and the trustees hold the institution in trust for the California Southern Baptist Convention. So, I’m the chief administrator to implement the policies and procedures that the board of trustees puts in place and those are all designed to help us achieve our mission and our vision for the institution, which is a university committed to The Great Commission.

What does a normal day look like for you and what takes up most of your time? 

Well, one of the things I really enjoy about being president is, everyday is different. There’s really a lot of diversity in a day: when it starts, when it ends. There’s really hardly any days that I don’t work to some degree for the university. It’s pretty much a 365-day type of responsibility, which is fine with me.

The more that we have grown into a bigger organization, the greater the complexity has become. So, today, I probably spend the majority of my time creating the CBU of the future.

Now, I know you said it’s pretty much a 365-day a year job, but when you’re not at the school and when you don’t have to focus on your responsibilities, what do you like to do for fun? 

We have four grandchildren. Three of them live relatively close and we see them a good bit and, thank goodness for Skype, because the other one lives in Oklahoma and we’re able to talk to her. Family is very important.

And then, one of my hobbies is Wentworth wooden jigsaw puzzles. They’re from England. I came across those on one of my first trips to Europe years ago and bought one at a museum and just kind of fell in love with them. So, I really look for those now and just like putting them together and they’re kind of heirlooms.

Similar to that, what are some other things that you’re passionate about? 

Probably the number one thing that has really been central to my life is The Great Commission. For me, it kind of answers the so what question of the Bible. It’s kind of the bottom line.

Is there anything, in particular, you would like to say to the student body as we get ready for this spring semester? 

Yeah! Enjoy everyday. Live life to the fullest and drink deeply of all the opportunities. Always remember: academics are number one. But, with that, enjoy everyday. Live in the moment and really have a great time. Seek to do good for other people.

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