In the world of college campuses, time passes in one- and four-year cycles, transitioning each spring on the coattails of graduation robes and flitting colored tassels.
On Saturday, May 4, President Mark Rutland’s four-year cycle at ORU will end. The 65-year-old academic CEO will join the class of 2013 on the Mabee Center stage and exit ORU with the group of students he started with four years ago.
“It is like we’re graduating at the same time,” Rutland said. “That’s kind of rewarding.”
This year’s diplomas will still bear his signature.
After another four-year cycle spins out, however, Rutland said he doesn’t expect future students to remember him. With generally short terms in office and even shorter legacies, college administrators are as transient as the Oklahoma wind from Rutland’s point of view.
“Kids are concerned about their papers and their dates and their basketball games, and you know, you’re gone,” he said. “That’s not sad. It’s real.”
Rutland reflected on his tenure during an April 3 interview in Oral Roberts’s old office on the seventh floor of the Graduate Center. He sat near the gold-framed windows showcasing the downtown skyline of Tulsa, the city he has called home since 2009 and will soon leave behind.
Rutland said that as he heads back east, he wants to fish more and get back to writing consistently.
“I can’t use company time to write a book, so I end up writing books on airplanes and in hotel rooms,” Rutland said. “I’d like to try to write on a more disciplined basis.”
His wife, Alison, first lady of ORU and director of special projects to the president’s office, said in a separate interview that she would also like to write a book. Married to a man who has already authored 14 texts of his own, she finds her husband’s complaints of limited creative output amusing.
“For my husband, [writing] comes easily. I go and do three loads of laundry, and when I come back, he goes, ‘I’ve written a play,’” she said. “I do have some things I’d like to do, but I’m slow.”
During her time at ORU, Mrs. Rutland worked in her slow, meticulous way to redecorate the entire seventh floor, craft a timeline of ORU’s history on display on the sixth floor of the Graduate Center and renovate the observation deck of the Prayer Tower.
Mrs. Rutland said she always tried to teach and contribute meaningful work wherever she and her husband landed over the years. Forty years ago, at a time when pastors’ wives were supposed to fit a demure mold, Mrs. Rutland said she was always at odds with the norm.
“I didn’t play the piano, and I can’t keep my mouth shut,” she said, adding that teaching at the university level has always been a priority. At ORU, she co-taught Spirit-Empowered Living for three years with her husband.
She said that before stepping on campus, Dr. Rutland made a list of things to accomplish at the university in the next 5-7 years. Both are surprised most of these things only took four to do.
In college years, that means they’re graduating right on schedule.
During a chapel service April 17, members of the ORU community were quick to recognize these accomplishments. Among them was David Green, CEO and founder of Hobby Lobby. The Green family made a crucial $70 million gift in 2007 to save the university from closure. Green’s son Mart currently serves as chairman of ORU’s Board of Trustees.
“[Rutland] took ORU at a very challenging time and accomplished an incredible turnaround,” David Green said in a video message.
But amid a legacy of balanced budgets, a new student center, $50 million in campus renovations and increased enrollment, Rutland said the people of ORU color his memories of Tulsa more than the numbers.
He said he was surprised how quickly he bonded with a student body and faculty that once intimidated him. Rutland remembers reading about the faculty lawsuit that forced former President Richard Roberts to resign in 2007 for fiscal irresponsibility and thinking that working with that faculty wouldn’t be easy.
“But I got here and found out that wasn’t who they were,” he said.
He found the student body equally endearing.
I do believe that God gave me a unique and special love for the students at ORU,” he said.
This love for young people isn’t new.
Before breaking into university administrative positions, Rutland once worked as a youth pastor in Decatur, Ga.
Ronny Brannen was part of this youth group in the early 1970s and became a Christian while under Rutland’s leadership. Brannen’s daughter Alison Nicole is named after Alison Rutland.
Brannen, now a Methodist pastor in Georgia who serves on the Board of Directors at Rutland’s nonprofit missions organization Global Servants, remembers his days playing football at Saturday night youth group with Rutland.
He also remembers being horrified when he preached his first sermon in front of his mentor.
But most of all, he remembers the Rutlands’ compassion.
“The fact of the matter is that they…really love God, really love each other and really love people,” Brannen said.
This love for people has sent the Rutlands around the world in foreign missions. They plan to continue their international missions work.
In the coming months, Kiev awaits in June. August promises Southeast Asia. Africa will come in the fall.
But while at home in Georgia, Dr. Rutland plans to fish.
“I enjoy fishing. It’s very restful,” Rutland said. “The fish never talk back to me.”
Mrs. Rutland has changed her email tag to “23moves” to remind her husband that this move will be their last.
Since he’s staying put for a while, Dr. Rutland figures now is as good a time as ever to begin sculpting again. It’s a hobby he picked up decades ago. Mrs. Rutland kept his sculpting tools stored away in case he ever returned to it.
Before coming to ORU, he made a dignified splash in church circles’ missions fundraisers with a ceramic, cowboy figurine that he crafted in bulk.
“His sculpting was a surprise to us all,” Brannen said.
When he’s not drifting around in a fishing boat on a lake somewhere in Georgia, pretending not to hear the voices from shore, Rutland said he wants to try sculpting something a little more serious than the “cartoonish” cowboys.
As the couple prepares for graduation in fifteen days, Mrs. Rutland spent most of last week packing up the couple’s belongings into boxes on the seventh floor, including several ceramic cowboys that Dr. Rutland had kept stashed in a closet next to his desk.
Once the property sales and mortgage dust clears, the Rutland family plans to leave Tulsa May 31.
As he adjusted a blue paisley tie underneath his signature pinstripe suit, Rutland reflected on his legacy as a college administrator, and the cowboy imagery again emerged.
“Being a college president is humbling,” Rutland said. “You come in, shoot your best shot and then ride off into the sunset.”
Georgia on my mind
After stepping down as university president at the end of next month, Mark Rutland, his wife Alison, his daughter Emily, his son-in-law James Leatherbarrow, the grandkids and the family Yorkie, Chewbaka, will leave Tulsa and travel back across the Mississippi River. Sights set on Georgia, they jokingly refer to the move as the great “eastward migration.”
Rutland and his family plan to live north of Atlanta, near Jentezen Franklin’s Free Chapel church. He is joining Franklin’s staff and will preach twice a month on Sundays and once a month on Wednesdays. He will also host quarterly leadership seminars for Franklin’s staff.
Rutland said all the money from Franklin will go to Global Servants, a non-profit missions organization he founded in 1977 and currently serves as president. Global Servants holds crusades, camps, local evangelism projects and leadership training in addition to operating girls’ homes in Ghana and Thailand. The ministry headquarters will also be moving to Georgia.
“Jentezen has been very generous, and that’s one opportunity to bless Global that I couldn’t afford to pass up, and it was a great opportunity for me to speak,” Rutland said. “I love that church, and I’ve preached there many times.”
Rutland said he and Franklin have been good friends for 25 years and expects the fit at Free Chapel to be a good one.
The Atlanta-based pastor readily agrees.
“We are thrilled and honored to have such a legendary leader as part of our preaching team,” said Franklin.
Rutland will also continue to direct the National Institute of Christian Leadership, a year-long leadership program for churches and ministries. He said he is already working with three struggling churches to consult them on a turnaround.
Turnarounds are nothing new to Rutland. Before taking over the debt-strapped campus in Tulsa, Rutland revitalized a dying megachurch and prompted notable growth in enrollment during his tenure as president at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla.
Since his 2009 inauguration, a university once riddled with debt has seen $50 million poured into renovations and enrollment increases for three straight terms. This year also welcomed the largest ORU freshman class in over a decade.
Rutland said he has no intentions of slowing down in Georgia.
“I’m not retiring. I’m changing jobs,” he said.
Not that this sustained vocational verve comes as a surprise to his co-workers.
“He is just a machine with his drive and stamina,” said Cody Miller, the family ministries pastor at The Assembly church in Broken Arrow, Okla. Miller served as executive assistant to President Rutland from September 2006 until January 2012.
“I don’t think retirement will ever be in his vocabulary,” Miller said.