In 2003, Dr. Malcolm Russell was a lively, energetic professor of economics and history at Andrews University. Content with his present circumstances, Dr. Russell had no plans to relocate. So when he received a phone call inviting him to apply for an open position at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, his reaction was understandable.
“I tried to turn it down,” says Dr. Russell of the phone call with a small chuckle. But Union wouldn’t let up.
“They asked me, ‘If we offer you the job, is there at least a 20 percent chance you’ll accept?’ I figured they’d interview at least a few other people, so I thought I was safe,” he says.
He wasn’t. Today, he ‘s finishing up his thirteenth year at Union College.
In a month, this year’s seniors will graduate, summer will come and Union will start up again in the fall. As we all know, Dr. Russell will be retiring at the end of the spring semester.
Thirteen years is a long time, and, without a doubt, a void will be left in Dr. Russell’s place.
If asked to describe Dr. Russell’s legacy, many would probably cite the creation of the International Rescue and Relief Program (IRR), or for students, that one snow day he called that they really appreciated. However, Russell has a different view.
“You know, programs start and programs end, but lasting change, that’s what really matters,” he says.
Though he admits the IRR program is close to his heart, Dr. Russell views the improvement of Union’s faculty as his greatest accomplishment. “On both an individual and academic level, we’ve increased the quality of our faculty here at Union,” he says.
When asked if he would have done anything differently, Dr. Russell took a long pause and looked out his window at the freshly bloomed crabapple trees. “I would have spent less time worrying about day to day problems and would have focused more on the long run,” he remarked as he turned back towards me.
For Dr. Russell, it’s impossible to place too much emphasis on focusing on the long term.
Speaking of the long term, Dr. Russell has complete confidence the college will continue to flourish under his replacement, Dr. Frankie Rose. “He’ll be an outstanding administrator,” notes Russell. “He has great ideas and grasps situations very quickly.”
As the school year wraps up and Dr. Rose continues the process of replacing Dr. Russell, Dr. Russell has big plans for the coming months. “I’m going to be spending three weeks in England and Ireland,” says Dr. Russell with a huge smile spreading across his face.
But as is a recurring theme with Dr. Russell, his focus remains on the long term. Over a decade of employment at a place like Union instills inside a person, if it wasn’t there already, a servant heart.
Such a philosophy, such a way of life, doesn’t simply vanish when one leaves his/her post. Dr. Russell sees, in one form or another, volunteering abroad as part of his continuation of service, and he hopes to use the valuable experiences gained over thirteen years at Union to help light his path.
Before his tenure ends, Dr. Russell has a final message for Union College.
“Union faces the challenges of student debt, the need for new buildings, the need for more specialized faculty, the need for improved technology. . . . There are lots of things we need, but what’s most important is that we keep our sense of purpose.
“If we don’t keep the Spirit of God within us, if we don’t keep our spirit of friendliness, then why are we here? There’s no need for us to exist. We have no purpose,” he shares.
What became perfectly evident in my interview with Dr. Russell is that , not only is Union losing a focused and intelligent administrator with a passion for excellence, Union is losing a good man.
Jonathan Deemer is a freshman International Relations major.