Monday, March 25, 2024

A Bold Merger of Faith and Education: Bluffton University and the University of Findlay

In a world where the pursuit of higher education is often driven by pragmatic needs and innovative approaches, a groundbreaking announcement was made on March 20 that challenges the traditional boundaries of religious affiliation in academia. Bluffton University and the University of Findlay, two institutions with distinct theological foundations, have declared their intention to merge into a single higher education community, spanning two campuses approximately 20 miles apart. This decision, ratified by the Boards of Trustees of both universities, is anticipated to reach completion by fall 2025.

The University of Findlay is affiliated with the Churches of God, General Conference, while Bluffton University is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA, a denomination rooted in the Anabaptist tradition. Though they share core convictions representative of what's considered orthodox Christianity, they are unrelated faith traditions outside of representing forms of Protestantism.

This union is a testament to the evolving landscape of higher education, where old arguments and sectarian divisions are giving way to a focus on shared goals and mutual growth. Findlay President Katherine Fell remarked that these times call for "innovative and forward-thinking" approaches, and this merger is a bold step in that direction. Similarly, Bluffton President Jane Wood highlighted the shared commitment of both institutions to preparing students to find and live out their callings, emphasizing that "we are stronger together."

The practical implications of this merger are significant. With Findlay's larger campus and diverse student body, and Bluffton's strong liberal arts programs, the combined institution will offer a richer array of academic programs and services. Moreover, the merger aims to maintain separate athletic operations, with Findlay continuing in NCAA Division II and Bluffton in Division III, preserving the unique identities of each campus.

The decision to merge these two institutions, despite their theological differences, is a powerful example of how the pragmatic needs of today's higher education landscape are reshaping the way we think about faith-based institutions. It challenges the notion that religious affiliation must be a dividing line, instead suggesting that diverse faith traditions can coexist and even thrive within a unified academic community. As this merger progresses, it will be interesting to see how the blending of these distinct religious identities will impact the educational experience and how it might serve as a model for other institutions facing similar challenges.