Robert SpenceSBJ photo by AARON SCOTTClick here for more photos.
Robert Spence


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Last edited 8:07 a.m., July 11, 2012

Longtime Evangel University President Robert Spence may have set a retirement date, but he's showing no signs of going out quietly.

Spence, scheduled to retire April 30, 2014, after four decades at the helm, is spearheading an Assemblies of God transition to consolidate Evangel University with Central Bible College and the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.

Spence spoke on the subject this morning during Springfield Business Journal's monthly 12 People You Need to Know series at Hilton Garden Inn.

The Assemblies of God General Council voted in favor of the merger in August, and now, Spence serves as chairman of the consolidation steering committee, which meets monthly to oversee the transition and weigh reports from dozens of committees from all three campuses.

"I certainly could not adequately describe the dimensions of (the consolidation)," Spence said. "Because you have three unique institutions, each with their own culture, each, it seems, with their own vocabulary, each with their own perspective of where the priorities should be, bringing this into a consolidated form is indeed a challenge."

According to a June task force report from the schools citing an audit by BKD LLP, the net combined assets of the schools have decreased by $7.42 million during the last three years, and combined short- and long-term debt, including lines of credit, amounted to roughly $32 million.

Spence said the steering committee has not yet projected the financial savings through consolidation, but he said there are opportunities if redundancies can be eliminated.

"There are presently three presidents; there will be only one with this. There presently are three vice presidents for business and finance; there will be only one," Spence said. "The university, as it begins to move forward and develop, will have to be very, very careful and prudent."

He said Evangel's enrollment of roughly 2,000 is manageable by its current administration, which includes five vice presidents, but additional students coming on board through the consolidation could add challenges.

Spence noted that financial projections would be included in an accreditation application to the North Central Association's Higher Learning Commission, which has a June 1 deadline.

Spence said the earliest classes would begin under the consolidated Evangel University would be the fall of 2013. The Higher Learning Commission has the final say over the transition.

"Anywhere along the line, if accreditation is in danger, then the process stops," Spence said. "They are the ones that really hold the keys, because without their approval, this process could not go forward."

During Spence's tenure as president, Evangel's enrollment has virtually doubled, the campus has been transformed from what was once an Army barracks, and the first academic building came to fruition. Spence noted, though, he would not be a candidate for the presidency of the consolidated Evangel University.

Initially, Spence agreed to a five-year term with the school in 1974 after serving as a pastor for 20 years.

"I thought that my time here at Evangel would be that five-year period," he said. "As time has gone along, each time we would be moving toward the end of a five-year period, we would be involved in some kind of development or things would be happening that it would seem inopportune to make a change. Each time I would approach the end of a term, the board of trustees would ask me to stay until we got that project finished.

"We're out of projects now," he said, jokingly.