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In February, Southern Adventist University president Gordon Bietz became likely the first university president in the history of Adventist education to undergo an extreme makeover for a school event. Video of the event, which included a flash mob during convocation, spread quickly around the Internet, generating significant buzz. Below, President Bietz shares some thoughts on the event and its significance.
Jared Wright: By now people around the world have seen the video of Southern's convocation "flash mob" in which you arrive with brightly dyed hair. What is the story behind the video clip?
Gordon Bietz: I am privileged to witness Southern students showing their efforts to change the world around them for the better. Recently, students started raising money on campus for a literacy project in El Salvador. The President of the Student Association asked if I would lend my support by allowing my hair to be dyed another color if they raised $5,000 for the project. Students were able to vote for the dye color of their choice through their donation. The “Purple Team” won. The event you refer to was where the students first saw my winning hair color.
JW: What was the response to the event from the university and the community?
GB: Responses have been primarily positive although some have expressed concern. It would be my hope that both sides of responders to this student-led event would also take time to learn about events such as our student-led worship service, student-led small group Bible studies, and student-led service activities which give a far more accurate perspective of life on our campus than the attention being given to this particular event.
To view some of the other activities our students' are proactively involved with, see https://www.southern.edu/video/Pages/southernvideo.aspx. We have just completed a video at this link which discusses prayer on our campus. There are also several pieces that show how our students have found ways to be active in service to our community. These are small glimpses of how the importance of God as primary leader of our campus is manifested with our students.
JW: People often ask hypotheticals: "How much would we have to pay to get you to _________?" SAU students raised over $5,000 for the "No More Thumbprints" campaign. Do you feel you got your money's worth? Would it take more to persuade you to do something of this nature in the future?
GB: I do feel the project was worthy of my participation. Service and giving are things we work at cultivating on campus, and providing some motivation and incentive doesn’t hurt. For college students to chip in and raise $5,000 is quite an accomplishment. I might seek to raise more money next time because it was a challenge to get the purple out of my hair.
JW: Last December, Oakwood University president Delbert Baker dove into the university's swimming pool with his suit on because enrollment topped 1,800. Did the success of that event have any bearing on your willingness to get this extreme makeover?
GB: I enjoyed watching the video of Delbert’s famous dive into the pool, but it didn’t influence me in this case.
JW: Southern is well known among North American Adventists for its strong traditional values. Some who saw the "flash mob" video felt the episode was not befitting an Adventist institution, let alone an admittedly conservative one. How do you respond to those who feel Southern has surrendered some of its conservative cred?
GB: I would like to reassure those that may have concerns--Southern Adventist University remains a vibrant spiritual community of learners who are rooted in a rich tradition of upholding Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. I see a strong commitment to Adventist values exhibited in the leaders I work with daily and as I consistently witness Southern students and employees building up and honoring the importance of the spiritual life of our campus. I would ask those who are concerned to not judge the spiritual life of our campus by one video.
JW: Beyond the fun time students clearly had, it seems as though this event at SAU makes a statement about the university and perhaps about Adventism itself. What, for you, is the statement this event makes?
GB: I wouldn’t choose to interpret this event with any broader meanings, other than it’s important to give to charitable projects.
JW: What is your vision for the interaction between Adventist academia and local and global causes?
GB: Adventist education cannot be separated from a focus on service. Adventist students are global citizens and are very concerned with the current issues facing humanity, and the current economic and political conditions that are part of end-time events.
Headline image: Screen capture from Southern Adventist University Flash mob 2011 video by filmgurl7.