After 25 years as Biola’s president, Clyde Cook will retire in June, a year before the school’s 100th anniversary. The Biola that Cook will hand off has never seen better times.
Ranked as a “National University” by U.S. News & World Report — the only evangelical school that the magazine groups with the “major leagues” of higher education — Biola is one of the fastest-growing universities in the nation. It boasts new campus buildings, top Christian scholars among its faculty, and one of the largest operating budgets in the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.
But it wasn’t always this way.
Cook became president in 1982, a year after Biola transitioned from a college to a university. At that time, Biola was facing serious challenges. It had just entered a decade of declining enrollment and dwindling finances. Department funds were being slashed, and staff and faculty salaries were frozen. Discouragement set in across campus.
“That whole decade, Dr. Cook was very challenged because Biola is such a tuition-driven school,” said Dr. Harold Dollar, who joined the School of Intercultural Studies in 1983. “But he never stumbled or lost any confidence.”
Most universities saw sharp declines in enrollment in the 1980s, after the number of Baby Boomers peaked. Biola’s enrollment dropped from 3,181 in 1980 to 2,566 in 1989 — 615 students. On top of that, the year before Cook took over, the University received about 20 percent less donations than it had planned for; yet, it adopted a 17 percent higher budget, creating about a 37 percent shortfall. Cook had to quickly cut $1.3 million.
Meanwhile, as the president of any new university will know, people clamored around Cook for their causes — some hoping to change Biola’s direction. Cook recalls one man who told him, “Clyde, you need to bring Biola back to its founders. You need to teach a 24-hour, seven consecutive-days creation, and if you don’t, then you don’t believe in the Word of God.”
Cook disagreed and informed the man that some of Biola’s first professors, including James Orr — who contributed to The Fundamentals (a classic defense of the Christian faith) — taught the day-age view, a theory that the days of creation in Genesis weren’t literal, 24-hour days, but ages. Historically, Biola hasn’t taken a stance on the earth’s age, focusing on God as the Creator rather than on how He carried out creation. The statement of faith, however, rules out evolution.
“Everybody has their agenda for Biola,” Cook told Biola Connections. “People are telling me all the time how I should run this place.”
To withstand the pressures, Cook has often quoted a maxim by Herbert Swope, the first Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter: “I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure: try to please everybody.”
Underneath the Swope maxim — which Cook made into a placard for his office — he has added Jesus’ words: “For I always do those things that please Him.”
“That has to be foremost, my pleasing Him,” Cook said, a personal conviction that has won the admiration of staff and faculty.
“Dr. Cook is really a man of the Lord. That came out early in his presidency,” said Dr. Ed Thurber, who has served as a math professor at Biola since 1971. “There was no doubt about how he loved the Lord and how that was central to everything.”
Cook also faced an unforeseen obstacle two years into his presidency. At age 49, he had a major heart attack, a type so serious that it’s called “the widowmaker” — 100 percent blockage of his heart’s left main artery. Cook remained in critical condition for five days and was hospitalized for 24. Many people feared that his term as president would be cut short.
But Cook recovered and became Biola’s longest-serving president and one of the most beloved. He also became one of the longest-serving university presidents in the nation in a career where the average tenure is seven years at a private school and five years at a public one, according to the American Council on Education.
“Clyde Cook persevered and was a steady hand through those difficult years,” said Wes Willmer, the vice president of university advancement.
Yet, perseverance was nothing new to Cook, who faced adversity at an early age.
A Missionary At Heart
Cook, a fourth generation missionary, never aspired to be a university president, but, instead, always saw himself as a missionary. Born in 1935, Cook grew up in Hong Kong. When the Japanese invaded in 1941, he, his parents and five siblings were imprisoned for six months in three separate concentration camps. They nearly starved to death — as many of their fellow prisoners did — on a diet of rice and soup made with only a few Chinese greens.
They later settled in Laguna Beach, Calif., where Cook excelled on his high school basketball team. As the 1953 California Interscholastic Federation’s “Basketball Player of the Year,” Cook received lucrative scholarship offers from 13 colleges and universities. He planned to play for the University of Southern California, but, two weeks before classes started, he began to rethink his priorities.
“I wanted to invest my life in something that would last for eternity,” Cook, now 71, said.
So, he enrolled at Biola Bible College to prepare for professional Christian ministry. There, he met his wife, Anna Belle Lund (’55), and earned three degrees: a bachelor’s degree in Bible, a master of divinity and a master of theology. After a five-year stint as Biola’s athletic director and coach of the men’s sports teams, he, Anna Belle and their two young children, Laura and Craig, left as missionaries to the Philippines. But they returned four years later for Cook to head Biola’s missions department, which he did for 12 years. In 1979, Cook was appointed the president of Overseas Crusades, a missions agency (now called O.C. International), succeeding evangelist Luis Palau.
Biola’s Board of Trustees watched as Cook grew Overseas Crusades and increased its financial stability. So, when then-president Dick Chase left in 1982 to become the president of Wheaton College, the Board invited Cook to be Biola’s seventh president.
After praying about the offer, Cook felt he could do more to influence world missions as the president of a Christian university than he could as the president of a missions agency. So, with the blessing of Overseas Crusades’ board, he accepted their offer.
When Cook stepped into his new office, he knew, first off, that he needed to change some minds. Now a university, Biola needed to start seeing itself as one.
Changing the Mindset
Many people on campus still thought of Biola more like a Bible college — or even a church — than an academic institution, and it was run accordingly. An incident early in Cook’s presidency illustrates this mindset.
One of Cook’s first actions was to get women on the Board of Trustees. Although more than half of the students were women, some Board members felt that the Bible prohibited female leadership of a Christian institution. Cook felt otherwise. When he broached the issue, however, there was stiff opposition.
Still, the issue kept bugging him. So, a year later, he brought it up again.
“I thought we should have women on the Board because there have been a number of women who have had such an impact on my life, especially my mother,” Cook said. “I just thought it was healthy for the institution to have the perspective of women, particularly because of the excellent women faculty and staff we had and the large number of female students.”
So, Cook wrote a paper arguing that the Bible addressed female leadership in a church, not an academic institution like Biola. His argument took hold.
“For the Board, it wasn’t a bias against women; some members felt it was compromising with the Bible,” Cook said.
The dawning realization that Biola was a university helped change their minds. A year later, they voted to bring Carol (Carlson) Lindskog onto the Board.
“Carol has done such a good job,” Cook said, adding that, since then, three more women have joined her.
“Lindskog told Biola Connections that she accepted the invitation because she felt that Biola’s female students and faculty should be represented. “I have loved serving Biola, and it’s been a very positive experience,” she said.
Cook also began to set up a university structure for Biola, under the direction of then-provost and senior vice president, Dr. Robert Fischer. The entire advancement division — including student recruitment, marketing and fundraising — was created under Cook’s watch.
“Before President Cook came, Biola had modest efforts in these areas,” said Willmer, who was hired by Cook to head the advancement division in 1989. “During the Cook era, they’ve grown substantially.”
Under Cook, Biola also added graduate programs that strengthened its academic profile, including three new schools: the School of Intercultural Studies, the School of Professional Studies and the Crowell School of Business.
During the changes, Cook always listened to dissenting voices, according to Jennifer (Cowen, ’95) Fitzgerald, who served as the student body president from 1994 to 1995. When the administration proposed a policy change that would require students to pay more for taking 18 units, Cowen sat down with Cook and shared the students’ concerns.
“He was really receptive, and they ended up dropping the proposal, which, to us students, meant a lot,” said Cowen, who now owns her own political consulting and fundraising business in Fullerton, Calif. Cook’s warmth and sense of humor also won over students. In 2003, they dedicated their yearbook to him.
“Dr. Cook treats everyone the same. It doesn’t matter if they’re a tenured faculty member or a first-year student,” said Cook’s close friend, Chuck Swindoll, the founder of Insight for Living radio ministry and the chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary. Even the timing of Cook’s retirement has been viewed as an example of his humility, since it will give the new president the limelight during Biola’s centennial celebration.
Under Cook, and at the urging of Willmer, the University Planning Group was also launched, which has helped define Biola’s niche in higher education as Protestant, evangelical, non-denominational and theologically conservative. As Biola has honed in on these distinctives — especially in communicating its conservative evangelical stances — enrollment and financial support have gone up, according to Willmer. The University Planning Group also has helped formulate Biola’s vision to become “a global center for Christian thought and spiritual renewal.”
Yet, structure and strategy weren’t the only issues Cook tackled. As a new Christian university, Biola also needed a philosophy of the relationship between faith and academics.
Faith and Academics
Many secular universities have treated faith as antagonistic to academics, or at least as periphery to it. But, for Cook, Christianity has always been the core of an education.
“I don’t think you can be properly educated when you exclude Jesus Christ, the Source of all knowledge and truth,” Cook said. “So, I think you get a better education here than you would at Stanford or any other school that excludes the Source of all knowledge and truth.”
Cook kept the requirement that all undergraduate students take 30 semester-units in Bible, making Biola one of only two schools to require this many units in the 105-member Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. Cook — with then-provost and senior vice president, Sherwood Lingenfelter — also encouraged faculty to teach every discipline from a biblical worldview by introducing “faculty integration seminars,” where faculty are taught how to combine their faith with their disciplines. A “seventh-semester sabbatical” was also created, which allows professors to apply for a research leave every seven semesters — if they are doing research that combines their faith with their fields –– instead of waiting seven years for a sabbatical.
“Some would say, in mathematics, how can two plus two be spiritual?” Cook said. “Well, if you talk to our math professor Dr. Ed Thurber, he’ll give you a great lecture on how mathematics shows the intricacies of God’s creation and how it ties into philosophy. So, every discipline can be seen through the eyes of faith.”
Cook hired faculty who would strengthen Biola academically, but who were also ministry minded, according to Dollar.
“Schools tend to go in one direction or the other, but Dr. Cook moved the school in both of those directions at the same time,” Dollar said.
Cook, himself, believes one of his biggest achievements has been “maintaining Biola’s spiritual dynamic and not compromising it for the sake of secular academic respectability.”
The key for keeping Biola on track, doctrinally, is its faculty, according to Cook.
“One of the reasons schools have left their Christian moorings is because they build up a critical mass of faculty who do not believe the values and biblical commitment upon which the school was founded,” he said. To make sure that each faculty member shares Biola’s evangelical views, Cook’s administration has required each prospective professor to undergo several interviews, including one with Biola’s seminary, Talbot School of Theology, and another one with Cook and the provost and senior vice president, Gary Miller.
“Dr. Cook carefully reviews the candidates’ responses to the doctrinal portion of the application and often inquires about certain issues for clarity,” Miller told Biola Connections.
One of the most trying times of his tenure, according to Cook, was in 1997 when concerns arose over three faculty members who were part of the Antiochian Orthodox Church (a Christian church that is historically outside Protestantism). The faculty members had signed Biola’s statement of faith, but their church affiliation caused a controversy across campus that was even featured in the Los Angeles Times. To help resolve the matter, the professors were put through multiple interviews to gauge their adherence to Biola’s doctrinal stances.
“I tried to formulate the boundaries of our doctrinal statement, using Talbot School of Theology’s input,” Cook said.
In the end, Cook was satisfied that the professors upheld the statement of faith, and he felt it would be wrong to dismiss them since, during the hiring process, they had been open about their church membership. However, to clarify Biola’s doctrinal stance, he had the word “Protestant” added to the statement of faith and stated that church affiliation would be looked at in future hiring.
Another one of Cook’s doctrinal legacies is his commitment to inerrancy — the teaching that the Bible is without error in its original manuscripts. Though some Christians have urged Cook to drop this doctrine — considering it unimportant — many Biolans have applauded Cook for his staunch stance.
“Of the Christian colleges that have been around for a century or more, Biola is among a minority that has truly stayed on the classic fundamentals of the faith, including inerrancy,” said Dr. Robert Saucy, who has taught theology at Biola for 45 years and served as a past president of the Evangelical Theological Society.
Many alumni agree.
“It’s very reassuring to alumni out there, knowing that Dr. Cook is holding Biola to the foundational Christian doctrines,” alumnus Eugene Levert (’75), the father of a current Biola student, told Biola Connections.
As a missionary, Cook also saw everything in light of the Great Commission. To keep Biola’s historical thrust on missions, he turned the small missions department into an entire school — the School of Intercultural Studies — and he fought to keep the annual missions conference, even though it takes away three days from classes.
Cook also broadened Biola’s understanding of missions, urging all students to see themselves as missionaries — not just those headed for cross-cultural ministry. During graduation ceremonies, he often reminded them that they were entering their mission fields — in the boardrooms, public schools and film studios.
This missionary zeal, applied to all careers, has resulted in a new era of impact for Biola.
Cook’s mainstreaming of missions has led Biola to new ways of influencing the culture. The film program, for example — known as one of the nation’s top Christian film programs — has produced graduates like Scott Derrickson (’89, ’90), the co-writer and director of the successful, spiritually themed Exorcism of Emily Rose (Sony Pictures, 2005).
The Torrey Honors Institute, an honors program for undergraduate students, was started in 1996. Phillip Johnson — a retired University of California, Berkeley, law professor and the father of the Intelligent Design movement — said: “The students enrolled in the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University are getting a better education than the students at Harvard and Yale.”
The Master of Arts in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics Program is viewed widely as the leading one of its kind, and it boasts more than 100 graduates in top Ph.D. programs for philosophy, including the University of Notre Dame. Biola’s faculty includes “very powerful philosophers,” Alvin Plantinga told Biola Connections. Plantinga is perhaps the most influential Christian philosopher alive.
The growing reputations of programs like these has caused major media outlets to seek Biola for an evangelical perspective, including, in recent years, The New York Times Magazine, ABC News’ Nightline and the BBC.
These programs have also contributed to several years of record enrollments at Biola.
Since Cook’s arrival, Biola’s enrollment has nearly doubled to 5,752 — a growth that has outpaced public, private and many other Christian colleges and universities.
The campus also has been built up, including the purchase of 20 acres that adjoin the campus in 1988 and the additions of a state-of-the-art athletic field, a tennis complex, two new residence halls and a new library. Construction is underway on a 32,000-square-foot classroom building that will house Crowell School of Business.
Off campus, Biola has added six extension sites throughout Southern California and three overseas: in Chiang Mai, Thailand; Klaipeda, Lithuania; and Kiev, Ukraine. Another one is planned for Manhattan, New York.
The profile of incoming students has also improved, with the average GPA going up from 3.15 to 3.53 and the average SAT going up from 1025 to 1125.
The endowment, virtually non-existent in 1982, is now over $43.5 million. And the budget has grown nearly ten times, from about $13 million to over $125 million. Net assets have grown from $33 million to $115 million.
“By virtually all measures, Biola's financial footing is stronger today than at any other time in its history,” said Carl Schreiber, the vice president for financial affairs and information technology.
After his retirement, Cook will take the office of president emeritus to serve Biola however the new president desires, perhaps helping to raise funds. Cook believes the biggest challenge for his successor will be fundraising for the nearly $200 million in new buildings, including a larger building for Talbot School of Theology; expansions of Sutherland Hall, Crowell Hall, Bardwell Hall and the Student Union Building; a four-story classroom building; a five-level parking garage and a convocation center.
Cook also plans to spend time with Anna Belle, their children and six grandchildren, including their oldest grandchild, Candace, who is a freshman at Biola. He and Anna Belle will celebrate their 50-year anniversary on June 7.
Cook said he doesn’t know what else the future holds for him and Anna Belle, but perhaps they will be involved in missions.
“I still have my Hong Kong ID card,” he said, adding that he feels like he has a lot left to contribute.
Some of his best memories are commencement ceremonies, seeing eager graduates going out to fulfill Biola’s mission of impacting the world for Christ.
“The world needs a place like Biola that does not compromise, that’s rigorous in its academic programs — a place where parents can send their children, not to have their values undermined, but built up,” Cook said.
Many Biolans say they can’t imagine Biola without Cook. But Cook said he’s always reminded himself that he’s the temporary office holder and to hold his work at Biola lightly.
“It’s so easy for me to think I’m Mr. Biola,” Cook said. “But there were presidents before me and presidents will come after me,” he said. “This is God’s work and it’s His mission, and He’s going to see it through.”