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John McVay, Longest Serving Walla Walla University President, Announces Plans to Retire

John McVay, Walla Walla University president, announces plans to retire.

John McVay, Walla Walla University president, announces plans to retire. Photo provided by Walla Walla University

Walla Walla University president John McVay announced on Jan. 11, 2024, that he will retire at the end of this academic year, after completing 44 years of service to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Eighteen of those years were spent at WWU. “To serve Walla Walla University as its president for an extended period of time has been the great honor of my career, which has blessed — and stretched — me in a whole host of ways,” said McVay.

“Successive senior leadership teams have been wonderful, supportive companions along the way. Faculty, staff, and students have offered both superb examples of dedication to the ideals of Seventh-day Adventist higher education and genuine friendship. Pam and I have found fulfillment and joy at WWU,” he continued.

When McVay became the university’s 23rd president in 2006 his first task was supervising the institution’s name change from Walla Walla College to Walla Walla University. He led the university’s strategic planning efforts, earning a commendation from accrediting organizations, and instituted a long-range budget planning process that improved the university’s overall Composite Financial Index rating and ensured critical working capital for the unprecedented circumstances introduced by the 2020 pandemic.

A Champion of Faith and Discovery

Throughout his presidency, McVay championed the university’s commitment to faith and discovery. He established a robust spiritual master planning process, and he added the university’s chaplain and Walla Walla University Church’s senior pastor to the president’s cabinet to enhance strategies to nurture faith and discipleship. He supported curriculum improvements in academic departments, enhancements to the student evaluation process, reorganization of the university’s general studies program, and the establishment of the university’s first doctoral program, the Doctor of Social Work degree.

McVay also guided WWU’s Our Commitment to Diversity initiative, and he supported the founding of academic centers like the Center for Media Ministry, the Center for Health Professions, the Center for Educational Equity and Diversity, and the Donald Blake Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture. He also established the Center for Humanitarian Engagement to integrate learning with a lifestyle of service and to better connect WWU resources and talent with community needs.

WWU programs and services expanded under McVay’s leadership. The establishment of the Freshmen Success Program led to the highest freshman-to-sophomore retention rate in university history. Sabbath morning worship opportunities such as Berean Fellowship, Nuestra Iglesia, and ReNew were founded. The university’s athletics program joined the Cascade Collegiate Conference and added golf, cross country, and men’s soccer. The Atlas was opened to offer students a unique on-campus gathering space. The university’s Christian music network, Positive Life Radio, expanded to include a potential weekly audience of 2.5 million listeners. WWU’s alumni and employee giving percentage increased, and more than $54 million has been raised as part of the Life.Changing. Campaign for Walla Walla University.

McVay championed improvements to campus spaces, including transforming WWU’s College Place front campus as part of the College Avenue Rose Street (CARS) project; modernizing classroom, gymnasium and locker room spaces in the Winter Educational Complex; remodeling and adding accessibility features to Smith Hall and Havstad Alumni Center; installing a modern healthcare clinic and the Counseling and Testing Center; refreshing Peterson Memorial Library spaces; expanding School of Nursing facilities in Portland, Ore.; refurbishing classroom and cabin spaces, upgrading beach and boating areas, and adding several new cabins at Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory (Anacortes, Washington); installing a 25-foot indoor climbing wall and bouldering area; refurbishing old rental spaces and purchasing new rental properties; installing modern nursing and engineering laboratory equipment, and establishing a new bioengineering laboratory; refurbishing Meske Hall; and transforming Bowers Hall into a home for the WWU School of Business.

Support for Higher Education

Active in his profession and Seventh-day Adventist Church governance, McVay’s service has included membership on the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Executive and Biblical Research committees, as well as the Executive Committee and Higher Education Cabinet for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists. He is a member of, and has served as president for, the Association of Adventist Colleges and Universities, and he has also been active with the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, and the Cascade Collegiate Conference Council of Presidents.

McVay’s support for higher education extends well beyond WWU’s campuses. While a member of the Independent Colleges of Washington, McVay served as chair of the board and worked with state legislators to bolster the Washington College Grant and the State Work Study Program. He also worked to support the rights of Christian educational institutions to operate according to their deeply held values and mission, and he led site visits for the Accrediting Association of Seventh-day Adventist Schools, Colleges, and Universities and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission. In February, McVay will be among five recipients to receive an award of excellence from the Charles E. Weniger Society.

"As Dr. McVay looks toward retirement, we celebrate his spiritually impactful tenure with us,” said John Freedman, chairman of the WWU board of trustees and president of the North Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. “His dedication to fostering a collaborative spirit and camaraderie has left an enduring mark on the Walla Walla University community. He is a gifted administrator, as well as a skilled theologian, excellent writer, insightful visionary, and inspiring speaker.”

John and Pam McVay

John and Pam McVay; photo provided by Walla Walla University

A Heart for Ministry

Prior to his years of service at WWU, McVay taught in the religion department at Pacific Union College (Angwin, Calif.) and, for a time, served as senior pastor for the Pacific Union College Church. He has served as a pastor in Iowa and Georgia, and he was the dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University (Berrien Springs, Michigan). He holds a master of divinity degree from Andrews University and a doctorate from the University of Sheffield in England. He is a specialist in the later Pauline epistles, and throughout his tenure as president contributed regularly to scholarly publications. More recently, he wrote the Seventh-day Adventist International Bible Commentary on Ephesians, as well as the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide and companion book on Ephesians.

In 2012, McVay announced his intention to step away from his role as WWU president to teach for the university’s School of Theology. He resumed the presidency just five months later, a term affectionally known as “John 2.0,” in January 2013. McVay and N. Clifford Sorenson are the only two WWU presidents to have served two terms, and upon his retirement, McVay will have been the longest serving president of Walla Walla University, surpassing George W. Bowers’ 17 years (1938-1955).

McVay and his wife, Pam, have partnered to graciously welcome thousands of guests to the campuses of WWU, and are well-known for their active roles in public events such as the president’s welcome, family weekend, the 2011 North Pacific Union Conference Northwest Adventist Leadership Convention, and the 2018 North American Division’s “Is This Thing On?” live event. The couple has two adult children, both WWU alums, and three grandchildren.

“Pam and I look forward to a slower pace of life, allowing for more time with family, expanded ‘generosity in service,’ and traveling to places old and new. There are significant scholarly projects I look forward to tackling. We sense God’s call to this new pilgrimage, into which we will carry passionate loyalty to the people and mission of Walla Walla University,” said McVay.

Freedman notes a presidential search committee will be formed shortly to begin the process of selecting a new Walla Walla University president. “As we continue forward, we will carry the torch of the McVays’ legacy, embracing the values they've instilled through excellence in thought, generosity in service, beauty in expression, and faith in God. We express our deepest appreciation, and we wish Dr. McVay a joyful and fulfilling retirement.”

Founded in 1892, Walla Walla University is a private university affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. WWU is fully accredited and offers more than 100 areas of study in liberal arts, professional, and technical programs. Currently more than 1,350 students of diverse backgrounds attend WWU across its four campuses in the Pacific Northwest.