An Interview With Dr. Ronald Matthews

Eastern University junior, Anthony Barr, had the opportunity to interview Dr. Ron Matthews, the new President of Eastern University. This is an edited transcript of their interview.

Tell us about your faith journey! What were some defining moments for you?

Moment 1:

I was born into a Christian family. At the age of 4, I watched a Billy Graham crusade on television with my mom and afterwards asked if I could receive Jesus into my life, which I did.

Moment 2:

I had just graduated from college and was on my way to play tennis. I experienced serious pain in my abdomen. I played tennis and then had to get help. After tests, the lab doctor told me that I’d be dead in seven hours if I didn’t get an operation. Being young and immortal, it was a shock. During my hospital stay, I experienced a freedom and detachment that I had never had before. I was ready to die. Midweek, a Bible reference came to my mind. It was a verse I I didn’t know – Jeremiah 17:14 “Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.” I received this with faith and prayer for God’s healing. With the gift of medical technology and a surgeon’s skill, God graciously healed me.

Moment 3:

I started my first teaching position after graduate school and commuted to Nyack College from Philadelphia. My life consisted of the full-time position as Director of Choral Activities, a part-time church staff position, teaching evening school at La Salle University and what is now Cairn University, and giving concerts on the weekends. I was overwhelmed and asked God for help. Another scripture reference came to my mind. I looked it up and it became my life verse. 2 Corinthians 9:8 “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” I learned a divine principle that God’s grace is greater than my limitations and my strengths.

Moment 4:

The call to serve as president of Eastern University.

Tell us some of your favorite memories in your development as a performer, composer, and conductor!

Memory 1: I sang in a choir under the baton of Leonard Bernstein, one of the greatest American conductors, composers, and aesthetic thinkers.

Memory 2:

I conducted a recording project in Tel Aviv with musicians many of whom were also soldiers wearing camouflage and entering the studio with their music cases and machine guns.

Memory 3:

I conducted two 911 Memorial Concerts in Carnegie Hall and Verizon Hall. To stand on the podium in such beautiful halls working with over 200 musicians and remembering such tragedy was profoundly meaningful!

What are some of your core beliefs about education, higher education, and Christian higher education?

Education is transformational. Jesus links learning to love (loving God with our entire mind) and discipleship (“if you love me, you’ll keep my commandments; “learn from me”). It is important that education is not isolated from relationships and life and that it is not viewed as only information or skills. Education is about the process of experiencing life. We were created with curiosity and learning is part of the innate delight and task of being human.

What are some core aspects of Eastern that you think our marketing should capture? If you were giving a sales pitch for why a student should consider Eastern, what would you say?

Branding is or should be the public representation of who we are as a vibrant, compassionate, Christian university in service to God and the world. Eastern is distinctive, maybe even unique, in our Christian commitment, our willingness to take risks for the kingdom of God, our various micro-communities, our regional locations, and our international presence. So it’s about loving Jesus, loving our neighbor and enemy, being in community and doing kingdom work. It’s about faith, reason, and justice. OK, one sentence sales pitch:  “The world needs you! The world needs EU! Join us!”

What is your vision for the arts at Eastern?

Music and other performing arts provide a microcosm of the ideal society, involving freedom of expression in creative submission to community, the holistic engagement with the true, the good, and the beautiful even amid personal and communal brokenness, and lots of fruitful fun – fun that edifies us and those we impact. We experience and do things that can only happen by being together.

Do you forsee the return of the dance major?

Since this is day 1 of my official position as president, I’m going to “take this under advisement”. There are several factors to consider for the future. When the dance major was discontinued, it was a personal and university loss, so I would welcome the return of the dance major. Related to that however, is the larger campus issue of supporting programs adequately with funding and facilities. EU has been very successful in starting programs. We need to strengthen the sustainability factors for all majors and programs.

Will the Master Plan continue as planned? Is a football program still on the agenda?

There is a Master Plan. It is influenced by our Strategic Plan and institutional needs and priorities. Next year is the last year of our present Strategic Plan and I am now joining discussions about our next Strategic Plan. There are benefits to having robust athletic teams and clubs, and football is part of that discussion. Similar to the arts, sports teams build communities, institutional morale, campus enrichment, and advancement opportunities for the school. In all of our discussions, sustainability will continue to be an important aspect of everything we want to do.

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