On August 17, Dr. James Brenneman, Goshen College’s 16th president, announced his resignation effective June 30, 2017.Goshen College faculty and staff gathered at Merry-Lea Environmental Learning Center for the annual all-employee retreat, where they first heard the information. Students also received an email directly from Brenneman on the same day.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to have helped shape my alma mater and this community for the better,” said Brenneman in the email. “I am eternally grateful to have served alongside such a dedicated and diverse faculty, staff, administrators, committed board members, loyal alumni, generous donors and supportive church and community leaders - all in pursuit of providing the best Anabaptist-Christian liberal arts education for every student who comes to Goshen College.”
Brenneman also credited the students for the “abiding purpose, heartfelt emotions and immense blessing [he] received every single day.” He also mentioned that this will give the college a chance to experience a “timely, yet expeditious transition.”
During his nearly 12 year time at GC, Brenneman has made a lasting impact. According to a press release, he founded the Center for Intercultural and International Education in 2006 and three campus institutes in 2001: the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism, the Institute for Ecological Regeneration and the Institute for Intercultural Leadership. GC’s international and intercultural student population increased from 18 percent in 2006 to 33 percent in 2015. Also, according to the press release, the Latino student body has increased from 5 percent to 16 percent since 2006.
Brenneman also pushed the boundaries of education offered at GC. According to a press release, he redesigned GC’s general education program (The Goshen Core) in 2012, helping bring the focus to international, intercultural, interdisciplinary and integrated learning. Brenneman also oversaw the beginning of online class programs and e-portfolios on campus, as well as the college’s first master’s degree programs: M.S. in Nursing (2007), M.A. in Environmental Education (2008), M.A. in Intercultural Leadership (2013) and the Collaborative MBA (2014). According to a press release, under Brenneman’s direction, a spike in donations allowed for an increase in scholarships, making college a more affordable and accessible option.
“We are more interculturally diverse in our makeup, more interculturally competent in our teaching practices and more confident in realizing our vision than ever before in the history of Goshen College,” said Brenneman in a press release.
After graduating from Goshen College in 1977 with a Bachelor of Arts, Brenneman attended Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind. and received his Master of Divinity at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. He also earned a Master of Arts in religious studies and a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament studies, after which he became the founding lead pastor of Pasadena Mennonite Church for 20 years. He then spent 15 years working Episcopal Theological School at Claremont in Old Testament scholarship, then moved on to become GC’s President.
Brenneman’s influence extended outside the confines of Goshen’s campus. In a press release, Goshen Mayor Jeremy Stutsman thanked Brenneman for his leadership and vision. “Goshen College is recognized and appreciated for its significant role in bridging differences in our community and in helping our region become a truly vibrant, inclusive and inviting place to live, work and enjoy life,” said Stutsman.
“In working with President Brenneman for just over a year, I’ve seen his vision that has expanded the reach of the college into our local community to make GC a resource for the citizens of the City of Goshen,” said Ken Newbold, Provost and Executive Vice President. “This outreach to communities, both local and global, reflects the President’s dedication to bringing Goshen College to the world and the world to Goshen College.”
When asked about the President’s impact over the years, Jim Caskey, Vice President for Institutional Advancement, said, “Without a doubt, the primary points of impact President Brenneman has had on the campus community is in the diversification of the Board of Directors and the student body. There is still work to be done in other areas, but these two groups lead the way in transforming the campus community.”
Newbold also praised Brenneman’s efforts to create the five core values, which “will remain a critical piece of the college as they define who we are as a community and guide our actions.”
Looking towards the future, Newbold and Caskey believe Brenneman has set the standards high.
“My hopes,” said Newbold, “are the longstanding commitments to increasing diversity, providing students with unique learning opportunities, advancing social justice issues and engaging our community will continue and be built upon to pursue our vision. President Brenneman has helped shape the future of the College in his tenure as president and his efforts have placed the College on a solid path forward to continue to grow and innovate.”
Caskey agreed and discussed how Brenneman positioned the college to better serve a new generation of students and their families as part of a larger initiative to enhance economic prosperity in the Midwest.
“I hope Goshen’s next president will build on the significant progress made over the past ten years in these important areas for the benefit of all students choosing to study at GC,” said Caskey. “I hope they will have a deep appreciation for Goshen’s past while charting a clear course for greater exposure and influence in the future. I expect they will highly value the distinctives that make GC unique in the world and the marketplace and inspire others to invest in making bolder visions possible.”
After leaving GC, Brenneman is planning to “focus on several writing projects and possible new opportunities.”