If there were any lingering doubts about the decision to change George Fox’s designation, they certainly weren’t evident on this morning.
It was November 1995 when President Ed Stevens stepped to the podium in chapel with the news: The school, defined as a “college” since opening its doors in 1891, was soon to be classified as a “university.” Spontaneously, the crowd of students roared in approval.
The name change wouldn’t become official until July 1, 1996, when the college would merge with Western Evangelical Seminary, but this moment encapsulated the excitement of an undeniable reality – that George Fox, a “small college” its first 105 years, was on the brink of exploding beyond such a limited definition.
Just a decade before, such lofty aspirations seemed farfetched. With only 549 undergraduate students in 1986, the school was regionally focused and limited in its scope. But Stevens recognized the importance of expanding into adult- and graduate-level education. The school was the first in the Northwest to add an adult degree-completion program in 1986, and added its first graduate-level offering, a doctor of psychology program, in 1990. Now, with the addition of WES and its theology, ministry and counseling programs, George Fox would more than double its number of graduate programs to 12 and push enrollment beyond 2,000 for the first time.
A campus celebration under sunny skies on July 1, 1996, included the unveiling of a “George Fox University” sign on the corner of Meridian and Sheridan streets. And while the new name reflected growth – colleges traditionally adopt the name “university” to indicate an expansion of programs – Stevens was insistent the school not lose touch with its traditional roots.
Writing to the campus community after the merger was announced, Stevens affirmed that George Fox would adhere to the tradition of being a “Colonial-model” school – an institution where students were highly valued, general education is emphasized, campus is the focus and teaching is paramount.
“It is my understanding that George Fox University will have the purpose, goals and values of the Colonial colleges and universities,” he wrote. “The George Fox/WES merger clearly is a win-win type of relationship – and the decision comes after many months, even years, of discussion, planning and prayer. I’m excited about the possibilities for good and for God.”