Longest serving WWU president will step down at the end of the current academic year.
Published on: 01-15-2024
Walla Walla University president John McVay announced that he will retire at the end of this academic year, after completing 44 years of service to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Eighteen of those years were spent at the Adventist higher education institution located in Walla Walla, Washington, United States.
“To serve Walla Walla University as its president for an extended period of time has been the great honor of my career, which has blessed — and stretched — me in a whole host of ways,” McVay said. “Successive senior leadership teams have been wonderful, supportive companions along the way. Faculty, staff, and students have offered both superb examples of dedication to the ideals of Seventh-day Adventist higher education and genuine friendship. Pam and I have found fulfillment and joy at WWU.”
When McVay became the university’s 23rd president in 2006 his first task was supervising the institution’s name change from Walla Walla College to Walla Walla University. He led the university’s strategic planning efforts, earning a commendation from accrediting organizations, and instituted a long-range budget planning process that improved the university’s overall Composite Financial Index rating and ensured critical working capital for the unprecedented circumstances introduced by the 2020 pandemic.
Throughout his presidency, McVay championed the university’s commitment to faith and discovery. He established a robust spiritual master planning process, and he added the university’s chaplain and Walla Walla University Church’s senior pastor to the President’s Cabinet to enhance strategies to nurture faith and discipleship. He supported curriculum improvements in academic departments; enhancements to the student evaluation process; reorganization of the university’s general studies program; and the establishment of the university’s first doctoral program, the Doctor of Social Work degree. McVay also guided WWU’s Our Commitment to Diversity initiative, and he supported the founding of academic centers like the Center for Media Ministry, the Center for Health Professions, the Center for Educational Equity and Diversity, and the Donald Blake Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture. He also established the Center for Humanitarian Engagement to integrate learning with a lifestyle of service and to better connect WWU resources and talent with community needs.
WWU programs and services expanded under McVay’s leadership. The establishment of the Freshmen Success Program led to the highest freshman-to-sophomore retention rate in university history. The university’s Christian music network, Positive Life Radio, expanded to include a potential weekly audience of 2.5 million listeners. WWU’s alumni and employee giving percentage increased, and more than US$54 million has been raised as part of the Life.Changing. Campaign for Walla Walla University.
Active in his profession and Seventh-day Adventist Church governance, McVay’s service has included membership on the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Executive and Biblical Research committees, as well as the Executive Committee and Higher Education Cabinet for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists. He is a member of, and has served as president for, the Association of Adventist Colleges and Universities, and he has also been active with the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and other entities. In February, McVay will be among five recipients to receive an award of excellence from the Charles E. Weniger Society.
“As Dr. McVay looks toward retirement, we celebrate his spiritually impactful tenure with us,” John Freedman, chair of the WWU Board of Trustees and president of the North Pacific Union Conference, said. “His dedication to fostering a collaborative spirit and camaraderie has left an enduring mark on the Walla Walla University community. He is a gifted administrator, as well as a skilled theologian, excellent writer, insightful visionary, and inspiring speaker.”
Prior to his years of service at WWU, McVay taught in the religion department at Pacific Union College (Angwin, California) and, for a time, served as senior pastor for the Pacific Union College church. He has served as a pastor in Iowa and Georgia, and he was the dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Andrews University and a doctorate from the University of Sheffield in England. He is a specialist in the later Pauline epistles, and throughout his tenure as president contributed regularly to scholarly publications. More recently, he wrote the Seventh-day Adventist International Bible Commentary volume on Ephesians, as well as the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide and companion book on Ephesians.
In 2012, McVay announced his intention to step away from his role as WWU president to teach for the university’s School of Theology. He resumed the presidency just five months later, a term affectionally known as “John 2.0,” in January 2013. McVay and N. Clifford Sorenson are the only two WWU presidents to have served two terms, and upon his retirement, McVay will have been the longest serving president of Walla Walla University, surpassing George W. Bowers’ 17 years (1938-1955).
McVay and his wife, Pam, have partnered to graciously welcome thousands of guests to the campuses of WWU. The couple has two adult children, both WWU alums, and three grandchildren.
“Pam and I look forward to a slower pace of life, allowing for more time with family, expanded ‘generosity in service,’ and traveling to places old and new. There are significant scholarly projects I look forward to tackling. We sense God’s call to this new pilgrimage, into which we will carry passionate loyalty to the people and mission of Walla Walla University,” McVay said.
Freedman notes a presidential search committee will be formed shortly to begin the process of selecting a new Walla Walla University president. “As we continue forward, we will carry the torch of the McVays’ legacy, embracing the values they’ve instilled through excellence in thought, generosity in service, beauty in expression, and faith in God. We express our deepest appreciation, and we wish Dr. McVay a joyful and fulfilling retirement,” he said.
Founded in 1892, Walla Walla University is a private university affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. WWU is fully accredited and offers more than 100 areas of study in liberal arts, professional, and technical programs. Currently more than 1,350 students of diverse backgrounds attend WWU across its four campuses in the Pacific Northwest.