Article: Courier 1999

Spirit of Excellence

Spirit of Excellence. Under this simple hallmark, Dr. R. Alton Lacey heralded a new era for Missouri Baptist College five years ago. Such was the theme of his 1995 inauguration as well as the recently-achieved chapel/fine arts campaign. But the words are much more than a theme or tag-line. For Dr. Lacey it was a simple creed he recited in mantra-like fashion to trustees, staff, alumni, students, and other friends of the College. It found its way into nearly every publication, report, and memorandum. It describes the nature of quality that President Lacey established for the College. Now, five years later, it serves to describe an era of tremendous growth and development defined within Christian excellence.

Much has changed in five years, and ultimate credit must be given to Dr. Lacey. Humbly, he would be quick to extol the leadership of the trustees, professionalism of the staff, commitment and talents of the faculty, spirit of the students, and vision of the College’s founders. Certainly he would be correct to note them, but no one could argue that the leadership of President Lacey has determined the level of success the College has experienced in recent years.
The successes read as a checklist of the Strategic Plan that Lacey detailed in 1996 and systematically revises each year. The chapel/fine arts campaign achieved its $10 million goal – almost two years ahead of schedule. The College received its first-ever ten-year reaccreditation from the North Central Association† in 1997. Multiple new international study agreements allow MBC students to study in almost every part of the world. Enrollment has risen a dramatic 55 percent since 1994, and the College has been recognized as the fastest-growing college in Missouri for the past two decades. Over a half million dollars has been invested in making the College one of the most up-to-date campuses in the technological and communication areas. The physical plant has been improved with the addition of a new residence hall and a million dollars’ worth of renovation to the main campus. The average ACT score of entering students has risen to well above the national average. The College’s budget has increased 80 percent over the past five years, and new financing options have allowed for additional funds without debt service or collateralization. In 1994, the College awarded 278 need-based scholarships totaling almost $2 million; in 1998 total financial aid reached $5.9 million, and 92 percent of students receive some form of financial assistance. The number of full-time faculty has risen eighteen percent, and the percentage of faculty with earned terminal degrees has risen four percent.

But just as President Lacey would remind us of others’ contributions, he would also state that being a college president is what he does – not who he is as a person. Then who is Alton Lacey? “I’m just a regular guy,” he replied. “God led me and my family here five years ago and I’ve developed a passion for the College.” While most regular people graduate high school in their late teens, Lacey graduated just months after receiving his driver’s license. He also earned his doctorate from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary before he was thirty and has worn more hats in higher education than Dr. Seuss’s Bartholomew Cubbins. In twenty years of service at Louisiana College he learned the intricacies of higher education from the role of both administrator and faculty. Before being appointed as MBC’s president, he had served in the position of Vice President for Development at “LC”, as he calls it with a Southern drawl.

In defining who Dr. Lacey is, traits of integrity, leadership and excellence were mentioned without exception. Knowing Dr. Lacey, this comes as no surprise. But one that took me by initial surprise was the word “enigma.” Upon further questioning, an explanation began to surface. In almost every respect, Lacey balances two opposing positions in an “out-of-the-box” harmony that causes an occasional double-take by those watching. He works by a very simple but, at the same time, paradoxically complex system of beliefs that only become more fully understood the better you know him. But just in fractal-like nature, the more you know him, the more complex he is to understand. He is a blend of both the scientific method (his Bachelor’s was in chemical engineering) and faith. He works diligently and thoughtfully to better the institution in a very structured and corporate manner, while at the same time, he knows the College’s future rests in God’s will. In search for a better definition Lacey is perhaps a neo-Renaissance man, studied in both arts and sciences and able to pick up a guitar as easily as a slide rule and pencil. He can sit and spend a warm afternoon’s conversation with a new freshman just as easily as he can stand toe to toe with the most academically honored lecturers and professors that come to campus.

When posed with complicated administrative issues, several times this writer has witnessed an uncanny deftness at which President Lacey has moved inflated matters of irrelevance aside and determined the best possible course of action. The stereotype of the typical CEO’s flying-off-the-handle approach to administration is a direct one-eighty from Lacey’s. He is casual and disarming – trusting of those who work for him, but steady and firm in his decisions.

In the same via media manner of balance, Alton (the “al” pronounced the same as in the word “Alabama”) Lacey seeks council with all of his staff, faculty, and friends, but none “have his ear” as to imply partiality. He listens, weighing words and perspective as he develops a rapport for explaining his perspective and decision in concensus-building fashion. Few times do others scratch their head in misunderstanding of method or motivation. And were they confused on the outset, once the course of action is begun, meaning becomes clear – never shrouded in secrecy or subversion.

In a time where titles and labels have become banners of cliques or campaigns, Lacey is steadfastly determined not to be labeled one way or another. Political or religious in nature, Dr. Lacey does not merely opt out, but he simply sidesteps muddled complications that entangle many but those holding strong to ways of integrity.

Lacey is a very religious man – but a private man as well. While he is strong and well versed in his faith, he will not be found arguing finer points of beliefs that have little effect on the practicalities of life. A world-traveled and culturally aware person, he also has a unique and disarming acceptance of other people’s beliefs. “How can we appreciate our religious freedom without exercising the acceptance of others’?” One of his greatest desires for MBC students is to experience other cultures. Because of this desire, the College now has agreements with Hong Kong Baptist University, Harlaxton College, the Center for Cross Cultural Education in Seville, Spain, and other ventures through the Consortium for Global Education that opens up almost every part of the world to our students.

President Lacey spends a normal week at work. Unlike other leaders, he does not pour countless hours into his work at the expense of his family and quality of life. Instead, he takes a balanced approach to life, believing that people are more effective when their lives are in order and in harmony. In a time where employers squeeze every ounce of time and talent-resource from their subordinates, Alton Lacey wants his faculty and staff to go home at a normal hour and to spend time with their family and community.

In this belief, we find much of who Lacey really is. He is a family man who balances the call and weight of an institution with the love for his family and the needs of society. He invests time in community efforts and civic organizations such as Rotary Club. He is an active member of his church, Third Baptist, St. Louis, while he is first to admit that his role at the College prohibits him from serving as Sunday school teacher, deacon, and choir member as he has served before. During the Greater St. Louis Billy Graham Crusade, he participated in the 6,000 voice choir and strongly encouraged the MBC family to become invovled.

An avid fly-fisherman and backpacker Alton Lacey enjoys the outside. “I mean he really roughs it,” claims his wife and First Lady, Pat Lacey. “He goes out with Aaron (their son) or some friends and roughs it for a week with only a backpack.” She was trying hard to convince me, but I still had the mental image of Dr. Lacey standing in the middle of a river wearing a double-breasted suit and waders. But as much as an outdoorsman as he is, Lacey is also a closet-techie, quietly sporting a palm computer that helps keep him in contact with his office email. He even has his own web site (www.lacey.to), where I found a photo of him fly-fishing – sans a double-breasted suit.

In regards to technology, Dr. Lacey has long understood the place it has in the educational process. Three years ago, he reconfigured the Computer Technology Committee and gave it the bold directive to academically empower faculty and students through technological means. Three years and over a half million well-spent dollars later, MBC boasts one of the most technologically sound campuses in the Midwest. Ignoring the flashy computer trappings other institutions have become burdened with, MBC has completed plans to fully integrate new technologies into every classroom and curriculum.

MBC has been an institution melding faith and learning since its inception. Even as early as in his 1995 inaugural address, Lacey noted of an MBC eduction, “As a Christian college, we are poised to provide a values laden education that gives the student a moral and ethical base for decision making.” Last year, Dr. Lacey made the specific integration of faith and learning priority-one in the classroom, establishing a task force to define a pragmatic structure for further developing virtue and moral character. “We are first and foremost a learning institution, but we are a learning institution under the control of Christ. We want to serve all Baptists and indeed be a place where anyone who attends can grow spiritually while pursuing academic objectives. It is not our mission to be a church, but we will always take seriously our charge to integrate our Christian faith with classroom instruction.”

Perhaps the best manner to know him is to hear from his own words and Dr. Lacey speaks well of the College and Christian education. “Untimately, the development of morals and ethics comes down to the relationship between teacher and student. This is why I place such an importance on faculty. Everything else we do supports the basic educational enterprise. We can survive almost anything – a change in leadership, a change in the Board, whatever – but we will not survive without good teaching. We do not have the name recognition or facilities of an Ivy League that will attract and keep students. What we do have are dedicated, talented, spiritual faculty. Our responsibility is to insure that they have the resources and freedom to do the task they are called to do. We have a rigorous process in place for hiring and evaluating teachers and we must be diligent in recruiting people who not only have a passion for their subject but also are equally as passionate about teaching under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”

“The new Chapel/Fine Arts building will be an incredible facility for our students,” Lacey continued. “When finished, this new building will be a place of worship and a place to celebrate the wonders of the human spirit through song and drama. It will provide facilities for the teaching of music, drama, broadcast and telecommunications. There will be a place to assemble, to entertain, and to fellowship. People who come to the campus will be drawn to the building’s beauty and appreciate its functionality. It will stand as a tribute to the profound faith and unshakable resolve of all that have believed in this project and worked to make it possible.”

Beyond the easily quantifiable achievements the College has experienced in the last five years, one significant aspect emerges. Dr. Lacey has been able to balance living in the house while it is being built. While many of the College’s changes have changed the foundation and structure of the institution, Lacey has charted a visionary plan for the future.

“Integrity, leadership and excellence.” Three words with concise denotations, but wieldy connotations when held as standards for man or institution. The College has recently adopted these as much more than a sound-bite slogan to replace the era-ending Spirit of Excellence. They define the College’s state of attainment and existence in its mission for entering the next century with Dr. Lacey at the helm.

In the front of our strategic plan there is a quote by Victor Hugo that reads, “The future has several names. For the weak, it is impossible. For the fainthearted, it is unknown. For the thoughtful and valiant, it is ideal.” In asking Dr. Lacey what one word he would use to describe the College’s future, he replied with two: “welcome” and “possible.” “With clarity of mission, a commitment to hard work, the grace of our Loving Father, and an ear to the Spirit, we march confidently into the next century.”

But just as President Lacey would remind us of others’ contributions, he would also state that being a college president is what he does – not who he is as a person. Then who is Alton Lacey? “I’m just a regular guy,” he replied. “God led me and my family here five years ago and I’ve developed a passion for the College.” While most regular people graduate high school in their late teens, Lacey graduated just months after receiving his driver’s license. He also earned his doctorate from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary before he was thirty and has worn more hats in higher education than Dr. Seuss’s Bartholomew Cubbins. In twenty years of service at Louisiana College he learned the intricacies of higher education from the role of both administrator and faculty. Before being appointed as MBC’s president, he had served in the position of Vice President for Development at “LC”, as he calls it with a Southern drawl.

In defining who Dr. Lacey is, traits of integrity, leadership and excellence were mentioned without exception. Knowing Dr. Lacey, this comes as no surprise. But one that took me by initial surprise was the word “enigma.” Upon further questioning, an explanation began to surface. In almost every respect, Lacey balances two opposing positions in an “out-of-the-box” harmony that causes an occasional double-take by those watching. He works by a very simple but, at the same time, paradoxically complex system of beliefs that only become more fully understood the better you know him. But just in fractal-like nature, the more you know him, the more complex he is to understand. He is a blend of both the scientific method (his Bachelor’s was in chemical engineering) and faith. He works diligently and thoughtfully to better the institution in a very structured and corporate manner, while at the same time, he knows the College’s future rests in God’s will. In search for a better definition Lacey is perhaps a neo-Renaissance man, studied in both arts and sciences and able to pick up a guitar as easily as a slide rule and pencil. He can sit and spend a warm afternoon’s conversation with a new freshman just as easily as he can stand toe to toe with the most academically honored lecturers and professors that come to campus.

When posed with complicated administrative issues, several times this writer has witnessed an uncanny deftness at which President Lacey has moved inflated matters of irrelevance aside and determined the best possible course of action. The stereotype of the typical CEO’s flying-off-the-handle approach to administration is a direct one-eighty from Lacey’s. He is casual and disarming – trusting of those who work for him, but steady and firm in his decisions.

In the same via media manner of balance, Alton (the “al” pronounced the same as in the word “Alabama”) Lacey seeks council with all of his staff, faculty, and friends, but none “have his ear” as to imply partiality. He listens, weighing words and perspective as he develops a rapport for explaining his perspective and decision in concensus-building fashion. Few times do others scratch their head in misunderstanding of method or motivation. And were they confused on the outset, once the course of action is begun, meaning becomes clear – never shrouded in secrecy or subversion.

In a time where titles and labels have become banners of cliques or campaigns, Lacey is steadfastly determined not to be labeled one way or another. Political or religious in nature, Dr. Lacey does not merely opt out, but he simply sidesteps muddled complications that entangle many but those holding strong to ways of integrity.

Lacey is a very religious man – but a private man as well. While he is strong and well versed in his faith, he will not be found arguing finer points of beliefs that have little effect on the practicalities of life. A world-traveled and culturally aware person, he also has a unique and disarming acceptance of other people’s beliefs. “How can we appreciate our religious freedom without exercising the acceptance of others’?” One of his greatest desires for MBC students is to experience other cultures. Because of this desire, the College now has agreements with Hong Kong Baptist University, Harlaxton College, the Center for Cross Cultural Education in Seville, Spain, and other ventures through the Consortium for Global Education that opens up almost every part of the world to our students.

President Lacey spends a normal week at work. Unlike other leaders, he does not pour countless hours into his work at the expense of his family and quality of life. Instead, he takes a balanced approach to life, believing that people are more effective when their lives are in order and in harmony. In a time where employers squeeze every ounce of time and talent-resource from their subordinates, Alton Lacey wants his faculty and staff to go home at a normal hour and to spend time with their family and community.

In this belief, we find much of who Lacey really is. He is a family man who balances the call and weight of an institution with the love for his family and the needs of society. He invests time in community efforts and civic organizations such as Rotary Club. He is an active member of his church, Third Baptist, St. Louis, while he is first to admit that his role at the College prohibits him from serving as Sunday school teacher, deacon, and choir member as he has served before. During the Greater St. Louis Billy Graham Crusade, he participated in the 6,000 voice choir and strongly encouraged the MBC family to become invovled.

An avid fly-fisherman and backpacker Alton Lacey enjoys the outside. “I mean he really roughs it,” claims his wife and First Lady, Pat Lacey. “He goes out with Aaron (their son) or some friends and roughs it for a week with only a backpack.” She was trying hard to convince me, but I still had the mental image of Dr. Lacey standing in the middle of a river wearing a double-breasted suit and waders. But as much as an outdoorsman as he is, Lacey is also a closet-techie, quietly sporting a palm computer that helps keep him in contact with his office email. He even has his own web site (www.lacey.to), where I found a photo of him fly-fishing – sans a double-breasted suit.

In regards to technology, Dr. Lacey has long understood the place it has in the educational process. Three years ago, he reconfigured the Computer Technology Committee and gave it the bold directive to academically empower faculty and students through technological means. Three years and over a half million well-spent dollars later, MBC boasts one of the most technologically sound campuses in the Midwest. Ignoring the flashy computer trappings other institutions have become burdened with, MBC has completed plans to fully integrate new technologies into every classroom and curriculum.

MBC has been an institution melding faith and learning since its inception. Even as early as in his 1995 inaugural address, Lacey noted of an MBC eduction, “As a Christian college, we are poised to provide a values laden education that gives the student a moral and ethical base for decision making.” Last year, Dr. Lacey made the specific integration of faith and learning priority-one in the classroom, establishing a task force to define a pragmatic structure for further developing virtue and moral character. “We are first and foremost a learning institution, but we are a learning institution under the control of Christ. We want to serve all Baptists and indeed be a place where anyone who attends can grow spiritually while pursuing academic objectives. It is not our mission to be a church, but we will always take seriously our charge to integrate our Christian faith with classroom instruction.”

Perhaps the best manner to know him is to hear from his own words and Dr. Lacey speaks well of the College and Christian education. “Untimately, the development of morals and ethics comes down to the relationship between teacher and student. This is why I place such an importance on faculty. Everything else we do supports the basic educational enterprise. We can survive almost anything – a change in leadership, a change in the Board, whatever – but we will not survive without good teaching. We do not have the name recognition or facilities of an Ivy League that will attract and keep students. What we do have are dedicated, talented, spiritual faculty. Our responsibility is to insure that they have the resources and freedom to do the task they are called to do. We have a rigorous process in place for hiring and evaluating teachers and we must be diligent in recruiting people who not only have a passion for their subject but also are equally as passionate about teaching under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”

“The new Chapel/Fine Arts building will be an incredible facility for our students,” Lacey continued. “When finished, this new building will be a place of worship and a place to celebrate the wonders of the human spirit through song and drama. It will provide facilities for the teaching of music, drama, broadcast and telecommunications. There will be a place to assemble, to entertain, and to fellowship. People who come to the campus will be drawn to the building’s beauty and appreciate its functionality. It will stand as a tribute to the profound faith and unshakable resolve of all that have believed in this project and worked to make it possible.”

Beyond the easily quantifiable achievements the College has experienced in the last five years, one significant aspect emerges. Dr. Lacey has been able to balance living in the house while it is being built. While many of the College’s changes have changed the foundation and structure of the institution, Lacey has charted a visionary plan for the future.

“Integrity, leadership and excellence.” Three words with concise denotations, but wieldy connotations when held as standards for man or institution. The College has recently adopted these as much more than a sound-bite slogan to replace the era-ending Spirit of Excellence. They define the College’s state of attainment and existence in its mission for entering the next century with Dr. Lacey at the helm.

In the front of our strategic plan there is a quote by Victor Hugo that reads, “The future has several names. For the weak, it is impossible. For the fainthearted, it is unknown. For the thoughtful and valiant, it is ideal.” In asking Dr. Lacey what one word he would use to describe the College’s future, he replied with two: “welcome” and “possible.” “With clarity of mission, a commitment to hard work, the grace of our Loving Father, and an ear to the Spirit, we march confidently into the next century.”