Cedarville University will celebrate its 120th annual commencement May 7, 2016, as several hundred students graduate with bachelor’s, master’s and, for the first time, doctorate degrees. However, the university – known as Cedarville College at the time – had just five students in its first graduating class in June 1887. Though Cedarville has grown greatly in the nearly 130 years since its founding, the path from charter to college to university has not been without its challenges.
“There are a lot of people who paved the way for us,” said Lynn Brock, dean of Library Services at Cedarville. “We’re standing on their shoulders.”
In 1887, a group of five people obtained a charter from the state of Ohio in hopes of establishing a new college. At first, it seemed that this would be nothing more than a dream, due to the lack of financial support necessary to move forward.
During a Board of Trustees meeting in 1890, with a lack of financial support and no other visible aid on its way, there was a recommendation to abandon the effort to establish Cedarville College, Brock said. But shortly after the decision was made to stop trying to establish Cedarville College, the Board of Trustees learned of a $25,000 gift to the college. The gift to Cedarville College had been included in the will of a member of a church in Cincinnati that had been supporting the Board’s efforts to establish the college.
With news of this gift, the Board of Trustees reconsidered its decision and decided in 1892 to again move forward with establishing Cedarville College. The dream of a new college became a reality in the fall of 1894 when Cedarville College enrolled 32 students. Construction began on the college’s first building – now known as Founder’s Hall – in 1895, and a class of five students graduated in June 1897.
From Presbyterian to Baptist
The Bible Baptist Institute assumed control of Cedarville College in 1953, replacing the Presbyterian leadership that had been in place since the school’s founding, Brock said.
Senior professor of communication at Cedarville James Phipps said while there was not significant tension between the groups during the transition, it still remained a challenge for the leadership at Cedarville.
“For one group to lose something they’d worked for for a length of time and for the other one to pick up something that they’d never really done before was quite a challenge,” Phipps said.
James T. Jeremiah became the president of Cedarville College in 1954, and he played an important role in this transition for the college. He was able to work with individuals from both groups to bring them together for a common cause, Phipps said, which led to the flourishing environment and growth at Cedarville College after this transition.
During Jeremiah’s time as president of Cedarville College, another challenge arose: whether to seek accreditation. Phipps said the Board recognized that accreditation was needed to provide credibility for students graduating from Cedarville, particularly those seeking to attend graduate school. However, when the Board decided to move forward in seeking accreditation for Cedarville College, many individuals in the Christian community spoke out in opposition. Many said it would compromise the integrity of the school and that the leadership was submitting to societal and cultural pressures.
Still, the Board moved forward, and Phipps said Jeremiah exhibited humble leadership and patience in handling yet another transition at the college.
“It was probably one of the best lessons I ever learned as a young faculty member, because he didn’t respond in kind, he didn’t write anything about any of them,” Phipps said. “I never heard him say a word in public about it. But that was his response, you know, just to let the Lord have headway on it.”
Cedarville continued to grow and change through the leadership of the following presidents – Paul Dixon, William Brown and, currently, Thomas White – so that the college – now a university – is an accredited school with more than 3,700 students and 200 faculty members.
Brock said he has been amazed at the continuity Cedarville has seen – even through the challenges and changes – and the way the university has continued to grow and flourish despite times of difficulty.
“The Lord has always provided the kind of leadership we need, the kind of faculty we need and the kind of students we need,” Brock said.
Phipps said that through both his experiences at Cedarville and what he has learned of its history, it is clear that God has been directing the development of the school the entire time. From the provision of income and new buildings when needed to changes in faculty and administration, Phipps said the best way to explain Cedarville’s history is to quote Dixon, Cedarville’s eighth president.
“‘The only answer to Cedarville is God,'” Phipps said.
Michaela Carpenter is a freshman intercultural studies major and a reporter for Cedars. She loves to travel and spend time with family and friends.