CMU names new president from within

February 15, 2012 | God at work in the Church | Number 4
By Rachel Bergen | National Correspondent
Cheryl Pauls takes over as CMU president on Nov. 1.

When Cheryl Pauls takes over the reins from Gerald Gerbrandt, Nov. 1, as president of Canadian Mennonite University, she will guide the institution from a different academic discipline and from a different historical narrative.

Pauls, a CMU professor of piano and music theory, was named by the board of governors early this month after more than a year-long search for a successor to Gerbrandt, 65, who retires on June 30 after nearly 12 years as the university’s founding president.  His field is biblical studies, something to which he will return after a year in retirement, he says.

Pauls, growing up in eastern Ontario but making her adult home in Manitoba for the past 29 years, comes out of the Mennonite Brethren historical stream while Gerbrandt, son of the late well-known Mennonite Church leader Henry Gerbrandt, grew up in a Russian Mennonite church setting in southern Manitoba. The younger Gerbrandt, familiar with the tensions of the Mennonite merger that brought together the three predecessor schools forming CMU, was well equipped to guide the new university through the thickets of its early development.

Pauls, the beneficiary of this success, says her primary imperative “is to support and sustain the impulse of the university’s mission so that it resonates both within and beyond the institution, and to work collaboratively to sustain the will and the capacities of our CMU community to achieve the university’s strategic goals and mission.”

Gerbrandt, always careful to nurture the church-university relationship, said in a 2004 paper on Scholars as Servants of the Church, that “the Anabaptist tradition would suggest that Christian scholars should do their research in continual dialogue with the larger community in the church.”

He prided himself with the high percentage of Mennonite students in the early years, telling a Winnipeg Free Press reporter that “in 2000, two-thirds of the students were Mennonite.  Today, that’s more like 40 percent, though the Mennonite numbers have not decreased.”

Pauls, wanting to now extend both the reach of the university and conversations across the disciplines, claims that CMU “has found a way of interfacing with them. Whether it’s about the Occupy movement or Bill C-10, the Omnibus crime bill, CMU is the place where people can grapple with these issues together.”  

She also hopes to strengthen the disciplines by pushing for students to be required to take courses in certain areas. “Communication and Business, for instance: I’d like to see that every student is required to take a public speaking course. To then be working with students in learning good stewardship and good money management.”

A well-established solo and collaborative pianist, known particularly for performances of new music and for multi-media worship events, Pauls has also undertaken research projects focused on the interface of studies in music theory and performance with those in memory, physiology, liturgy, and cultural expression.

Pauls’ administrative and leadership gifts have been recognized and utilized throughout her time at CMU. From 2000 to 2007 she served as coordinator of the music department, and played a key role in program development. Since 2008 she has been chair of the Shaftesbury Campus and member of the President’s Council. Her keen sense of performance resulted in her regularly playing a lead role in planning major public events.

The search committee for the new president, led by Chair Ron Loeppky, began its work in the fall of 2010, saying it cast a wide net, advertised extensively, and received interest from across North America. “We’re absolutely delighted with Cheryl Pauls’ qualities, enthusiasm, energy, and vision,” says Loeppky, who noted her nomination came from multiple sources.

“She was recognized both internally and externally for her special gifts and abilities in leadership. Given her commitment to the institution, her passion for what CMU is and can become, her vast talents, and the personal leadership gifts she brings, our committee feels she is well positioned to serve this institution.”

Gerbrandt plans to take a year off after he retires to write a commentary on Deuteronomy and also to do some travelling in Jerusalem. After his year off, he plans to return to CMU to teach, because CMU has a policy that retired professors can return for five years to teach at one-third time.

—with files from Dick Benner and Nadine Kampen.

Cheryl Pauls takes over as CMU president on Nov. 1.

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