In a class of its own


I am absolutely focused on staying true to our mission—it must be at the forefront. So every decision has to be made using this criteria: will it make this a better place to develop a relationship with God or not? We have no value proposition if we lose our unique spiritual component. If we lose that our reason for existing disappears. 

We could grow by 15 per cent instantly by adding day students. But day students miss much of the spiritual content on campus, from our morning and evening worship to our spiritual activities on the weekends. So before we add a large contingent of day students we have to be sure we have a plan for them to be spiritually engaged. 

God is the centre of this campus and knowing Him is the beginning of all our learning.

As our boarding student numbers grow—we have close to 2000 people on campus now—we are adapting to ensure they are spiritually active. Currently we have two churches. But there are only so many people who can be active in the program of a large church during a given service. So we are in the process of setting up four additional worship service centres around the campus. The idea is to significantly increase the opportunity for spiritual leadership and active engagement. 

I believe a significant reason I’m still in church is that when I was 14 I was made a junior deacon in my local church. I had to be at church on Sabbath because my church needed me. I had a job. I want to make sure our students have the same experience.

Each school puts on a weekend of spiritual emphasis each semester. This is in addition to our four separate weeks of prayer each year. One school did theirs in the nearby prison training facility. They camped in a hall there. All the kids—dorm and day—along with the faculty participated in ministering to the inmates. These kinds of events reinforce that deans and faculty have a spiritual mission along with an academic mission.

Our director of spiritual services and academic dean are working together to integrate spiritual values into our classes. We want both the spiritual team and our academics to help each other think about how their roles integrate and inform their respective work.

On the academic front we’re looking at our assessment. Traditionally we’ve used the curve to grade. That is, the students’ grades were arranged from top to bottom and grades assigned by a predetermined spread. The problem is that this grading system doesn’t necessarily ensure that students have mastered the core subject matter. Currently we’re moving to criteria-based assessment. That is, grades will be assigned for achievement in assessment where criteria are aligned to learning outcomes. After the transition, an entire class could do well or do poorly or we could have an inverse curve based on how well they perform against the criteria aligned to learning outcomes. Dr Jeff Crocombe is working on this with a team of faculty members and they are doing an outstanding job. This is a challenging process. But we’re doing it because we’re dedicated to excellence.

When we started we had 27 faculty and 109 students. Staff and students really got to know each other well. There’s a lot of mentoring that goes with that. Today we’re so large it makes that personal touch hard to maintain. As we grow further the personal interaction will continue to diminish unless we address it. In part to address the scale of the university, we’re working to ensure each school is a tight-knit community where everyone knows everyone else and the faculty are there not just to teach but to model and mentor.

But growth also has tremendous advantages. First, we are reaching far more people. Second, we’re able to build a level of depth, breadth and sophistication of programs. This enables us to serve the Church better and to assist the Pacific nations in nation building.

We have had very positive meetings on ways PAU can assist in other areas of our Division. One of the areas we’ve been asked to help is the Solomons. It’s too early to say how these things will work out. But the most important thing is that we are working together in a wonderful spirit of unity.

In the past two years we’ve finished five student duplexes, two faculty duplexes, a new girls’ dorm, a health sciences extension and now we’re building a new school of business and a three-storey men’s dorm. There’s also a new high school on our land operated by the Central Papua Conference. The long-term goal is to have a 1200 student high school, a 1500 student primary school and a preschool for 300 children. We will use it as our demo school, integrated with our education program.

In all this growth, we like to think PAU will remain a great place to contribute to our mission. Others seem to think so. This year we won the Employer of the Year Award from the PNG Human Resources Institute. Kay Humble is our director of Administration, Policy and Planning, which includes the HR function. She is doing an outstanding job.

Professor Tracie Mafile’o, our deputy vice chancellor, with the assistance of Dr Lalen Simeon, director of Research and Postgraduate Studies, oversees our research efforts and is passionate about turning our campus into a centre for knowledge creation relevant to the Pacific context. The research our faculty is engaged in is quite broad and very important. For example, we are doing biofuel research that has the potential to revolutionise the production of fuels in PNG—and possibly further afield. Another area we are at the forefront in is HIV/AIDS research—this has included our own Church responses in PNG. Other communicable diseases are also of interest to our health sciences faculty and our business/economics team is active researching factors that can turn the economic development of PNG into substantive gains for all its citizens.

Among Adventist universities, PAU has an almost unique position as we are a leading university for this nation. That comes with a responsibility and it is a responsibility that we take very seriously as we work to build PAU into a university that is world class. But in the process we want to keep our spiritual values at the forefront of all we do. God is the centre of this campus and knowing Him is the beginning of all our learning.

Professor Ben Thomas is vice-chancellor of Pacific Adventist University.