One thing I have always admired about Shirley Mullen’s leadership—whether as president of Houghton or as the current chair of the CCCU Board of Directors—is how unafraid she is to engage with the large and complicated issues of our time. An example that comes to mind is her participation in a 2019 CCCU conference panel discussion featuring leaders of faith-based institutions from Jewish, Catholic, Mormon, Muslim and Protestant Christian backgrounds. She navigated that conversation using her skillful ability to understand and engage with a diversity of thought in a manner that is winsome while still holding fast to her Christian convictions. In that moment, she modeled what Christian higher education strives for: developing holistic leaders who are firmly rooted in their faith in Jesus Christ and are not afraid to tackle the tough questions.
It’s amazing to consider just how much has changed in the world of Christian higher education since Shirley took up the mantle of Houghton president in June 2006. Not too long after she became president, the U.S. suffered an economic downturn that impacted higher education for several years. In that time, Shirley led with courage and imagination. She has continued to do so in the decade since. Demographic shifts; changing public sentiments on the value of a college degree; a growing call for low-cost public education that impacts private education; countless regulatory shifts at the federal, state and local level—these are just some of the intimidating challenges that have arisen during Shirley’s time as president.
But that is why her leadership at Houghton and on the CCCU Board has come at such a pivotal moment. As a historian and philosopher, Shirley looks at these challenges and recognizes that there is a long arc of history to consider. She inspires us as she looks to the lessons learned from the past that we can utilize even as she recognizes that we cannot be afraid to embrace the changes we must make in this present moment in order to prepare for the future.
There has never been a better champion for all the fullness and promise that is Christ-centered education than Shirley Mullen. She shared this vision so well in a video we put together about the life-changing work of Christian higher education: “If you’re going to turn out people who are whole, people who are prepared to serve the world, their desire for service and preparation as a whole person has to be connected to their fundamental moral and spiritual convictions. …Our education of the whole person [at CCCU institutions] is really about liberating all of the gifts and all of the potential that God has given to a student for use in the world.”
While it is bittersweet to say farewell to Shirley Mullen as Houghton president, fortunately, she will continue to be an invaluable advocate, leader and friend through her continued roles on national boards and other networks that impact Christian higher education and the world.
Shirley V. Hoogstra, J.D.
President, Council for Christian Colleges & Universities
President Mullen’s leadership roles on national boards have enhanced Houghton’s visibility well beyond Western New York. She currently serves as Chair of the Board of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and on the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals. During her tenure as president, she also served on the Board of the National Association of Independent Colleges & Universities, on the Council of Independent College & Universities in New York State, and on the Board of Trustees of Fuller Theological Seminary where she also chaired the Academic Committee.