Women in the Halls - April 2011

Women in the Halls

Women in the Halls

Carol TaylorBy Carol Taylor, Ph.D., President
Vanguard University of Southern California (Costa Mesa, CA)

As I reflect on following my vocational calling, I’m reminded that it has been an unexpected journey. As a young graduate armed with a bachelor’s degree and teaching credential, I never imagined serving in higher education, let alone being recognized as a “turnaround” president.

I don’t write every day or week, but I have journaled for years. There are three quotes that I have copied into the opening page of each new journal. First is Proverbs 31:25 – “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future.”

The second is from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea:
I want first of all … to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact—to borrow from the language of the saints—to live “in grace” as much of the time as possible. …By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from Phaedrus when he said, “May the outward and inward man be at one.” I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.
The third is from my now yellowed edition of Dietrich Bonheoffer’s classic, The Cost of Discipleship:
When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows the journey’s end. But we do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy. Discipleship is joy.
As a young professional, I had two passions – a love of teaching and a desire to live from a place of inner grace and an unconditional “yes” to following Christ.

From One Unexpected Role to the Next

My first teaching position was in a Greek Orthodox school in Chicago where I was embraced as a “token non-Greek, unorthodox teacher.” It was also the place where my love for other cultures and peoples was nurtured. This led to the pursuit of an M.A. in Cross-Cultural Communications where I became intrigued with the idea of teaching at the university level.

I was offered a teaching position at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in their intensive English program. It was an incredible time to be on a state university campus working with international students. The Iranian revolution and hostage crisis and the Russian occupation of Afghanistan overshadowed our program because many of our students were from these countries. China had just opened, and the first wave of Chinese students began arriving. It was an incredible learning opportunity.

While at UNO, a public school invited me to develop a district-wide English as a Second Language program to serve their influx of non-English speaking students. I prayed and then stepped into the challenge and immersed myself in learning about the best K-12 ESL programs. It was during a summer fellowship program at UCLA that a professor encouraged me to think about pursuing a Ph.D.

Growing as a Professional

With the offer of a full-time teaching fellowship, I next headed to Florida State University where I again taught international students, pursued my doctorate, and consulted with a federally-funded resource center. While teaching at FSU, I kept one foot in public education as I traveled throughout the Southeast doing teacher training and program evaluation for counties and departments of education.

After a year as a visiting professor at Eastern Michigan University, I joined Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J., to direct a new writing test and the research program for the suite of Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) tests. I would have never applied for such a position had it not been for my advisor at FSU who submitted my name and encouraged me with “you were made to do this job.” It was an incredible learning opportunity to work in the world of large-scale assessment and research with national and international committees of leading experts.

I was then asked to help lead the research and development project that would redesign the TOEFL test. These were years of incredible leadership challenge and growth, international travel, and learning how to manage large budgets, complex projects, and international teams of consultants and researchers. They were years of personal and spiritual growth as I struggled to balance the demands of my work and travel with commitment to my church community, family, and friends.

It was in 1999 that I began to question whether God might be calling me in a new direction. There was a growing attraction to the idea of serving in Christian higher education, but I wrestled with questions of leaving the marketplace and whether my experience would be of any value to a Christian university.

Entering Christian Higher Education

In spring 2000, I traded the East Coast for the West Coast to serve as vice provost for undergraduate education at Biola University. It was the most dramatic shift in my journey thus far. Several years later, an undergraduate department chair stopped me at the end of a seminar to share that he had not supported the decision to hire me. I hoped that a particular conjunctive adverb would follow. It did.

He went on to say that he was now convinced it was one of the best decisions the university had made. We had a good laugh, and I told him that, looking back, Biola’s provost and president had taken a risk in hiring their first female vice provost. I had had no connection to the university. My specialization was not undergraduate liberal arts. I had no track record of proven performance in Christian higher education. I was more egalitarian than complementarian in my theology. Nonetheless, it appeared that my rather nontraditional journey and portfolio of professional experience had been of some value after all.

In the spring of 2007, while attending to the affairs of my brother at the end of his battle with cancer and caring for elderly parents who now shared my home in California, Vanguard University’s search consultant called to invite me to explore the position of provost. I was a reluctant candidate who entered the search thinking “given that I wouldn’t have to relocate my parents, I should at least be willing to explore this.”

When the exploration became serious, I called in my two assistants to tell them I was exploring a new assignment. One broke into tears, and I reassured her that no decision had been made and that Vanguard was in the midst of its reaccreditation and had some real challenges. She was not consoled and said, “I know you. You love a challenge.”

I had no idea the depth of challenge ahead. Within a year, the school was in a major crisis. By January of 2009, I was asked to step in as acting president to help Vanguard navigate the very real possibility of loss of accreditation. Vanguard was placed on probation in June 2009. By June 2010 the University was commended for its “phenomenal progress” and “significant institutional turnaround,” and the sanction of probation was removed. In between is a longer story of a community that worked hard, prayed hard, and experienced the miraculous. Today it is my privilege to lead a wonderful school celebrating its 90th anniversary.

I don’t think I yet reflect the three quotes that I keep writing in the front of each new journal. But I can say with a smile and a gladness of heart that following His adventure is indeed a road of boundless mercy and joy if we are willing to take risks, embrace challenge, and trust the One who is able to both keep us and do His immeasurably-more thing for His purposes and glory.

See Carol’s profile in the Orange County Metro’s “20 Women to Watch” article.