Luther College was built in 1913, a school for rural Saskatchewan’s community of German Lutheran immigrants to raise their children in a tradition of academic excellence within the context of Lutheran faith and values. Its founders formed the school’s curriculum around the highest standards, placing academic scholarship and absolute freedom of inquiry within a spiritual perspective.
Today, one hundred years after the college was founded, the demographic of Luther College is much different. Seated in the heart of Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan, Luther College welcomes a diverse mix of students from around the world and a multitude of faiths to its High School and University campuses. But as Luther College continues to grow, the original vision remains at its core.
“If you were to take two snapshots in time – one from 1913 and one from the current year – the big differences would be that we’ve grown from an ethnically narrow institution to a much more pluralistic institution – as Regina has become a much more pluralistic and even cosmopolitan kind of community, so too has Luther College,” says Dr. Bryan Hillis, President and CEO at Luther College. “It has gone from a religiously narrow to a broader religious perspective and, while we still talk about our Christian context as our heritage and the dominant religious system, we acknowledge the truth in other systems and are interested in learning from other systems both for sake of those systems and for the sake of ensuring we are as fully Christian as we can be. There is also definitely more engagement with the civic community, in both a religious and nonreligious sense.”
“But what remains at the school’s core is this emphasis on academic excellence and the freedom to explore that academic excellence in whatever way is necessary,” he continues. “We want to be as positive and as excellent in our scholarship as we can possibly be – that’s part of the Lutheran heritage, and part of what Luther envisioned.”
An Inclusive Management Style
What has made Luther College a standout in its field for the past hundred years? In addition to its emphasis on academic excellence, much of it has to do its management style. “I think what is distinctive about our school is an acknowledgement that every member of staff and faculty has something very worthwhile to contribute – not just to their particular task at hand, but to what the school is,” says Hillis. As he explains, this acknowledgement does not just include academic staff but extends to kitchen workers, maintenance workers, and the college’s janitorial and clerical staff as well. Every member of the Luther College team is granted a voice, and is consulted when guiding the mission of the College and deciding on new investments and the future of the school.
“That’s part of the Lutheran heritage: his concept of vocation was that, whatever station of life we find ourselves in, the best thing we can do in terms of service to God and to our fellow human being is to be the very best in that vocation – that in itself is a form of prayer,” explains Hillis. “So we view the input of every person in the College to be absolutely essential. These are the people who in many respects are working on the front line. We really do take them seriously and involve them because we can learn from each other no matter what our position in society.”
But consultation is not the only factor that plays into the unique environment at Luther College. “Caring for our community is also extremely important, and then a sense of integrity and that we all trust one another to do the best we can for the College, for our students and each other – consultation, caring, and integrity are big parts of everything that we do,” says Hillis. “We know that we all make mistakes, so forgiveness is also there. We are willing and ready to forgive each other when we make mistakes, recognizing that the integrity of our college means we’re all going to work together to do better next time.”
Preserving the Past, Investing in the Future
Tradition is important at Luther College, but so is looking ahead and recognizing student necessities now and in the future. Luther College invests heavily in taking advantage of the latest technology to improve teaching techniques and enhance the educational experience for today’s students.
“Just as important, or even more, is the training of our faculty and staff,” adds Hillis. “We give them opportunities for that training to learn the latest techniques, and encourage them to think about how they would use technology both within and outside the classroom. Probably most of our students are ahead of the faculty in terms of technology, and we want to make sure students are using that technology for completing assignments and pushing their own boundaries of knowledge.”
In addition to investing in technology, Luther College is also investing in preserving and improving the school’s infrastructure. The College just recently began the finishing touches on a $17.3 million addition to its High School campus, with plans for completion before the new school year starts on September 2. The ambitious project that involves new classrooms, a new gymnasium second only in size in the city to the University of Regina campus , new locker rooms and washrooms, and $4 million in upgrades and renovations to existing infrastructure. Meanwhile, on the University campus, Luther College has recently invested in improvements to its HVAC system and energy consumption, and is putting away savings to be used toward upgrading the 45-year-old infrastructure of its dorm residences, ensuring that its students are housed safely and comfortably during their educational career.
Looking Toward the Future
It is impossible to know what the next hundred years will bring, but Luther College will be building upward well into the future. The College is planning new investments to continue the process of revitalizing its aging campuses, including a new worship and performing arts centre as well as a new cafeteria for its High School campus.
Most importantly, the College is looking forward to staying true to itself and taking on and overcoming the challenges that the future will bring. “As the liberal arts are increasingly viewed to be of less value in society, we will have to rethink what we mean by ‘liberal arts’ and how they can be of value in the community,” explains Hillis. “I think we will also continue to be more broad and diverse in our faith understanding – our College will have to think in much more global ways and we welcome that. That’s what it means to have freedom of inquiry.”
“But our mainstays, and our outstanding vision that our founders developed – those will remain,” he continues. “Academic excellence within a faith context, combined with a freedom of inquiry, has really been the source of strength for this school and I think will continue to be. How we manage that in an ever changing and increasingly secular society is going to be the challenge of the future. Where academic excellence has been confined to the liberal arts, we need to rethink how that’s going to be done; where faith is redefined in an increasingly secular society, and where organized religion is less and less of a factor in Canadian society, how will we think about what it means to be operating from a Christian context? Those will continue to be challengs for us, but there is still something outstanding about that original vision that we’re trying to live out. As long as we keep that vision, understanding that it has to evolve, we will continue to be successful.”