APU Welcomes Adam J. Morris, PhD, Azusa Pacific University’s 18th President
An accomplished senior administrator with more than 30 years of experience in Christian higher education, Adam J. Morris, PhD, became the 18th president of Azusa Pacific University on July 1. Entrepreneurial, innovative, collaborative, and discerning, Morris excels at mobilizing people around a compelling vision, with specific gifting in the area of strategic planning and transformation, and a rich history of securing significant external financial support to advance the mission of an organization. He exhibits a deep love for the Lord, a genuine heart for students, and a high regard for the vital role of an engaged faculty. Most recently, he served on Biola University’s senior leadership team as the executive vice president, chief transformation officer, and chief institutional advancement officer. The new president sat down with APU Life to share his thoughts, insights, and vision for the future of Azusa Pacific University.
Q & A
When did you discover your passion for Christian higher education?
During my senior year of college, I had my mind set on heading into the corporate world. I took a nonprofit management class that changed the trajectory of my life. We were given the opportunity to come alongside a Cambodian refugee organization that was helping refugees coming into Southern California by providing housing, food, and employment. For me, it was the first time I realized that my love for business, my entrepreneurial drive, and my love for people could come together to make a profound impact in the world for the cause of Christ.
Christian higher education provided that intersection. I have a love for learning and a passion for the life of the mind. Through my undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs, faculty have made a huge impact on my life. I have a deep desire to make attending a private Christian university possible for all those who would seek an education that will equip them to make a difference in our world.
What drew you to Azusa Pacific?
First and foremost, the university’s 123 years of faithfulness to mission, the motto of God First, and the cornerstones of Christ, Scholarship, Community, and Service, resonated with me personally and professionally. Of course, I was also drawn to the diversity of the APU community, reflecting the beautiful tapestry of God’s creation. Throughout the search process, my wife and I held this opportunity with open hands. We prayed fervently. Faith and I had multiple opportunities to be on the APU campus, including several early-Sunday-morning visits where we walked the campus and paused in different locations to pray. We believe deeply in our hearts, with complete conviction, that God has called us to serve in this capacity. I’m excited to join this community and can’t wait to see what God will do in us and through us in the months and years to come.
What unique leadership skills do you bring to this role?
My journey to Azusa Pacific University is a continuation of God’s story in my life. I believe that the Lord has equipped me for just such a time as this to be joining Azusa Pacific University as your president. I’ve served in Christian higher education for more than 30 years and have been a member of the President’s Cabinet of another faith-based Southern California institution for the last 15. I’ve served during times of plenty and times of want. I understand the challenges facing Christian higher education and the shifts in the sector as a whole.
I am a student of the business model of higher education. I know the factors that lead to organizational health, stability, and transformation as well as the best practices that enhance enrollment and advancement. Often these comprise the primary revenue drivers of an institution and the Lord has given me experience in these areas. More importantly, I’m beginning my position at APU having been in leadership positions that reflect a deep dependence on God. I’ve had a front-row seat to the work that He has been doing in Christian higher education. I come to APU with firsthand knowledge of the power of prayer. I come to you keenly aware of the role of discernment in executive leadership. I’m incredibly hopeful of what we will be able to accomplish together.
What are you most looking forward to as you begin this position?
I already appreciate how the APU community is intentional in its pursuit of holistic development of all students—how we support all students and value their lived experiences. This support begins with faculty creating a rigorous academic community where scholarship is esteemed and research is encouraged. I’m equally excited to help cultivate and advance discipleship at APU. This means that discipleship should be happening everywhere—in the residence halls, in the lecture halls, in laboratories, during faculty office hours, in an online community, on athletic teams, over lunch with fellow students, through research activities. I look forward to bringing leadership to an institution that is serious about pouring into the lives of its students.
What makes APU especially relevant to a new generation of students?
Pew and Barna data affirm APU’s importance to society and the higher education landscape. Barna researcher David Kinnamen contends that one of the most impactful ways churches (and I would add Christian higher education) can equip Generation Z for resilient discipleship is by helping them cultivate cultural discernment—wisdom for what’s happening in the world and how Christ followers should respond. Though studies show that Gen Z is losing trust in major institutions, their spiritual curiosity is alive and well. These prospective students are looking for a haven for wrestling with doubts and difficult questions, a place where they can seek truth and learn together, in the context of meaningful intergenerational relationships. If not for Christian universities, especially APU as an open-enrollment institution, many college students would not have the opportunity to explore their faith, some for the very first time, and others to grow deeper, making their faith their own.
How is APU positioned to meet the evolving needs of today’s undergraduate, professional, and graduate students?
At APU, we are a community of believers who are being transformed into the image of Christ through scholarship, community, and service. This is not a passive place, but rather a vibrant Christian community of disciples and scholars across disciplines and degree levels who are making a difference in the world.
APU provides a robust faith and learning community where students find a place of belonging, a place that supports transformation as students encounter exemplary scholars and connect with God’s call on their lives. This fuels all of our students as they graduate and go on to apply their training and make a difference in their communities and workplaces.
Alongside our ideal Southern California location, APU’s rich diversity is acknowledged by our Hispanic-serving status. This distinctive brings with it a responsibility to implement the systems and practices to support the richness of our diverse student body.
The evidence of APU’s impact and God’s hand of blessing comes as our graduates are making an incredible impact in countless careers, but especially in the helping professions—nurses, teachers, counselors, social workers—all serving society with compassion and expertise. We believe that the values-based education that we offer has wide appeal, the excellence of our faculty and our relevant academic programs are sought after by our vast network of employers, and the combination of competence and compassion reflected in our graduates sets this university apart.
Ten years from now, what are the words that people will use to describe Azusa Pacific University?
First, and most important, APU will be known as a place that is spiritually alive and vitally Christian, rooted in Christ and anchored by our time-honored mission. In 10 years, the university’s student-centered approach will be fueled by our robust academic offerings, including leaning fully into our prestigious R2 research designation that denotes high research activity by the Carnegie Commission. APU will have clarity of vision and purpose marked by innovation and adaptability, recognizing that higher education will continue to go through periods of great change. Our institution will be a global leader in Christian higher education and embrace the diversity of our community, reflecting the image of God and the beauty of His creation. Finally, we will be financially strong with a vast network of supporters. We will continue to work very hard to serve the Church and the marketplace by graduating difference makers who impact the world for the cause of Christ. These successes will be ours to share, marked by collaboration, blue-sky thinking, and a willingness to take risks and try new things.
Posted: August 8, 2022