Dr. Mark Rutland, current president of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, will soon take the helm as President of Oral Roberts University (ORU) in Tulsa. He spoke Tuesday at the Tulsa Press Club of his experiences to date during this transition.
Dr. Rutland’s formal induction at ORU will follow May 2, the graduation date set for both universities. Now becoming acquainted with ORU and settling his family in Tulsa, he is excited to begin the task of leading a school he describes as bigger than life. “ORU is like a piñata. All the candy is ready to fall out if you hit it right,” he said in reference to the clear and powerful potential he is dedicated to bring to fruition.
Dr. Rutland spoke of being overwhelmed by Tulsa’s friendly atmosphere, the affirmation by local constituents to see ORU succeed, and even a telephone call Mayor Kathy Taylor made to his home in Florida soon after the public announcement of his selection. He described the call as sincere and very unlike the usual brief phone calls made in decorum by those in high office.
He praised Mart Green, chairman on the Board of Trustees at Oral Roberts University who recently donated millions to reduce the University’s debt. It was Mr. Green who pursued him to take the position and Dr. Rutland was quick to mention it was not by his own grand design that he decided to accept. “I am going to believe he knew what he was doing in that courtship,” Dr. Rutland said with a smile.
His qualifications may be perfect for the task. Dr. Rutland holds nearly ten years of experience as the president of Southeastern University which has a similar profile to that of ORU. A Christian university supported by the Assemblies of God denomination, Southeastern enrolls about 3,000 students per year, holds student-led chapel three times a week and is a member of the NCCAA Division I competing in various athletic programs.
Dr. Rutland is also the founder of Global Servants, a non-profit organization that emphasizes worldwide evangelism through missions and outreach. He is the author of eleven books and owns a 30-minute daily radio broadcast called “Herald of Joy.” With titles such as Dream, Character Matters, and his latest, Most Likely to Succeed, Dr. Rutland’s books emphasize Christian living, education, and even some political themes.
A Texas native who received his Doctorate from the California Graduate School of Theology, Mark Rutland is a family man. He and his wife, Alison, have three children and grandchildren. When asked what he enjoys to do recreationally, he was quick to answer- fishing. Recapping with some amazement one of his most memorable experiences in Tulsa so far, Dr. Rutland referred to an evening he had gone to dinner with some friends and, while returning to his car, mentioned his love for fishing. A stranger walking a few feet behind his party piped in, “I’m going fishing tonight, want to go with me?” For Dr. Rutland, that seemed to be an immediate confirmation that Tulsa was the place he needed to be.
Dr. Rutland first plans on building enrollment. With careful financial planning and tactics, he believes that the school is positioned at an advantage for growth. He said he is all the more hopeful despite the current economic situation, mentioning that people often reconsider schooling when such few jobs are available. In addition, a restoration of trust and connection between ORU and the Tulsa community is on the agenda. It will take a “level of transparency, authenticity, and being straightforward as possible” in order to do just that. But first, he plans on “getting educated” about the school.
Thus far, Dr. Rutland has complemented ORU for being international and transcending denominations. Having spent time in Africa, he has met young people that may have never before heard of Brad Pitt, but they did know the name Oral Roberts because it was that name that broke through households and gave them hope.
Oral Roberts University’s “larger than life” foundation established by Oral Roberts himself, its international flavor, and even its out of the box architecture that Dr. Rutland has noticed within his short time here in Tulsa. But he also plans on pushing forward so that the school’s identity will transcend its history and move out into uncharted territories. We plan to “honor and cherish the past, but find new expression,” Dr. Rutland said.
As for vision, Dr. Rutland feels he needs a smooth transition into the presidency before he knows exactly which tactics to employ in what order to make the best change. But he has thus far appeared to engage his relationship to the school, its staff, faculty, and students with hope, humility, and a large sprinkle of humor.