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Ellis, president of California Baptist University, to address Campbellsville University community at April 3 chapel

Dr. Ron Ellis

By Gerard Flanagan, lead writer and communications specialist, Office of University Communications

CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – At the age of nine during a Vacation Bible School, Dr. Ron Ellis was asked to write down his favorite Bible verse on a yellow poster with red ink.

The verse Ellis wrote down – Matthew 28:19-20, commonly known as the Great Commission – would become his life verse.

That verse hung over Ellis’ bed during his childhood, and it has guided him throughout a successful career at several Christian colleges and universities across the nation.

Ellis, now serving as president of California Baptist University, will step foot on one of those campuses when he speaks at Campbellsville University’s chapel service at 10 a.m., Wednesday, April 3, in Ransdell Chapel on campus.

Ellis, who served as an executive vice president at what was then Campbellsville College from 1989 to 1994, said his time at Campbellsville molded his future in higher education in a positive way.

“It was a launchpad for me to do a lot of the things I do now that I refined while at Campbellsville as executive vice president,” Ellis said. “Because it was a small school, I was exposed to many of the functions of the organization and saw how they fit together, whereas if I’d been at a much larger institution, I might have experienced a very thin slice of the organization.

“That was really important in preparing me to be a president.”

Ellis was brought in at Campbellsville under President Kenneth W. Winters, who added Ellis to Campbellsville’s leadership soon after arriving as the 9th president of the college in 1989.

Reflecting on his time serving under Winters, Ellis noted, “Working closely with President Ken Winters was just a joy. The way he allowed others to utilize their talents deeply influenced me and how I try to lead.”

Just five years after joining the administration at Campbellsville, Ellis would be called to become president of California Baptist University (at the time California Baptist College) in Riverside, Calif., about 50 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. When he arrived, the college’s enrollment stood at 808 – a decrease from the prior year – and it operated on a budget of just over $11 million.

“Things were not looking great,” Ellis said.

So, with CBU facing an uncertain future at best, Ellis did a “deep dive” to compile a plan to turn around CBU’s fortunes. The plan bore almost immediate fruit, with enrollment shooting up to 1,226 the year after Ellis’ arrival and 2009 just three years later. Eventually, a college that had sold 15.5 acres of land to make ends meet now faced the exact opposite problem – a lack of space. In 2003, CBU dedicated the Yeager Center, which houses academic and administrative functions.

Today, CBU’s enrollment has rocketed to 11,580, and its budget has grown to $387 million. During this growth, CBU has added STEM programs and eight doctoral programs.

“So we try to stay strong to our Christian commitments while at the same time offering the types of programs that are going to provide our graduates good paying jobs that are in high demand.”

Campbellsville University President Dr. Joseph Hopkins noted Ellis’ role in spurring CU’s growth during Ellis’ time at Campbellsville, adding he took that same “spirit of innovation” to CBU.

“Dr. Ellis is a brilliant leader, who has guided California Baptist University to high academic standards, authentic commitment to Christian mission, financial strength, and extraordinary growth,” Hopkins said. “He is respected by Christian higher education leaders across the nation for his integrity and innovation.”

From a young age, Ellis has been shaped and molded by his faith.

“Like a lot of kids who grow up in strong religious family, it’s always foundationally there,” Ellis said. “That doesn’t mean you don’t stray a little bit here and there and test out some things, but you have this overlay that everything filters through. And that would be the way it was for me. The Baptist faith was very strong in my home.

“Particularly for me, it was the Great Commission and trying to come up with how I take that and apply it in my work and in my career.”

 Ellis’ desire to become an administrator in Christian higher education was sparked during an internship for his master’s degree at Baylor University. As part of that internship, Ellis shadowed different offices on campus, such as financial aid, admissions, fundraising, and physical plant.

It was in this time that Ellis began envisioning himself as someone who could bring the many pieces that make up an institution together to accomplish its goals.

“I felt at that point that I could spend my career in Christian higher education,” Ellis said. “I love the spiritual environment. I love the academic stimulation, everything about it and I thought this would be an area where I could really make a positive contribution.”

Ellis described the world of higher education as an ecosystem, with Christian higher education occupying an especially important role in this ecosystem in today’s world.

He noted, “We play a vitally important role,  partly because we’re a bastion of traditional values combined with cutting edge academic programs that are helping provide a constant flow of ethical, well-prepared employees for all types of professions. While not for everybody, Christian institutions are vitally important in the ecosystem that is higher education.”

Ellis and his wife, Jane, have two sons, Ashton and Erik. Dr. Ellis received his Bachelor of Arts in Education from Houston Baptist University in 1977. He also holds a Master of Science in Educational Administration from Baylor University, which he received in 1981 and a Doctor of Philosophy in Higher Education Administration from Texas A&M University, which he received in 1987. He also studied at the Institute for Educational Management in Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.

In his spare time, Ellis enjoys going on Viking Cruises – with plans to go on a cruise with his wife in just a few months – and also enjoys assembling Wentworth jigsaw puzzles.

Campbellsville University is a widely acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university that offers over 100 programs including doctoral, master, bachelor, associate and certificate programs. The website for complete information is www.campbellsville.edu.