Celebrating 10 Years of transformative leadership
TULSA, Okla. — On September 20, 2013, Dr. William M. Wilson was inaugurated as the fourth president of Oral Roberts University (ORU). Since taking office, Wilson has piloted the largest campus expansion in the University’s history, raising more than $175 million that has and is funding six new buildings (debt-free without tuition dollars). This has also included substantial renovations to existing structures on campus, including the Mabee Center, the Global Learning Center, the Fenimore & Fisher College of Business, the Nursing and Engineering Complex, the new ONEOK Sports Complex (for track and field and tennis), a new home for the biology department, and the establishing of the David and Barbara Green Centre for Global Leadership. In addition, millions of dollars have been raised for scholarships with a special emphasis on assisting international and first-generation students.
During Wilson’s tenure, ORU’s enrollment has grown annually, attaining the largest year-over-year recorded percentage growth in over 25 years. This fall, ORU achieved a record semester enrollment of 5,365 and exceeded 6,000 students for the first time in history during the academic year 2022-2023. ORU’s student population represents all 50 states and over 150 nations, earning the ranking as one of the top 25 most diverse universities in America. In June 2023, Wilson accepted the offer from the Board of Trustees to lead the University for another ten years, while the average tenure of a college president is just over 5 years.
On the 10th anniversary of the inauguration, Dr. Wilson was asked to share some reflective insights about his leadership tenure at ORU and how the University continues to achieve historic growth during a challenging period for higher education.
Q. You are known as a student’s president and a champion of Generation Z. What is the attraction and appeal you have to this generation of students?
A. Generation Z is amazing. They are industrious, technologically proficient, authentic, and serious about their spirituality. It is an honor to serve this generation as a university president. I believe that they are the greatest generation in the history of the world, and they will make a greater difference in the world than any previous generation. They are under spiritual attack, but in many ways, this is only reverse confirmation of their importance and potential impact. Yes, this generation spends a lot of time on the Internet and social media, but they also love personal interaction. My wife Lisa and I treasure the moments we have pouring into them because we know our energies will not be wasted. The students of ORU will be world changers.
Q. As a global influencer, what are some key leadership lessons you’ve learned that have helped you persevere as a university president?
A. Teamwork makes the dream work. We have a great team at this University. I could not do all the things I do at ORU and beyond without a strong President’s Cabinet and great managers of the many areas of the University. Energy management is another concept that has helped me immensely. Several years ago, I moved from time management to energy management in my scheduling. My immediate team is tasked with helping me manage my energies so that I am at my best energy-wise when it means the most to the University. A college president’s life is filled with high-velocity meetings and events, so practicing Sabbath and managing my energies is important. Each summer, I take some time away by myself to write, think, pray, and reflect on the direction we are taking at ORU. These focused moments of dreaming have produced huge benefits in my leadership. Every major initiative at ORU has come from these times of prayer and reflection.
Q. University leaders face complex challenges. What challenges have you overcome to make ORU the globally recognized university it has become?
A. On my first day as President of ORU, June 1, 2013, I launched the Task Force on the Globalization of ORU. This was a think tank to help ORU become more globally oriented. Because of this work and the University’s embracing this direction, we have had more than 150 different nations in attendance at ORU over the last four years. While many universities have suffered significant enrollment declines over the last several years, we have enjoyed 15 consecutive years of enrollment growth. This has been accomplished by penetrating international markets, working on student retention and success, and adding new, attractive programs. This growth is somewhat unprecedented among private, Christian higher education institutions. We are grateful for God’s blessing in this.
We have had many, many other challenges during this first decade. The pandemic brought significant tests for us at ORU. When the COVID-19 disruption occurred, we were able to quickly move to virtual delivery for our students because we were already committed to technology and online education. Then, by working together within our community, we were able to return to in-person instruction sooner than other institutions, which really helped us.
There is never a dull moment as a college president in 21st-century America, but through it all, our teams have remained united and continued to become healthier. I have said numerous times in the last ten years that when teams are not healthy, they make mountains out of molehills, but when teams are healthy, they make molehills out of mountains. We have been through many challenges, and with our teams working together, we have continued growing and expanding through it all.
Q. It has been said there is no place on Earth like ORU. What makes the ORU community distinctive and special?
A. This is very true. Our student population, staff, and faculty are all amazing. ORU is a place where we embrace academic excellence and spiritual passion. We are committed to great academics at ORU in an environment filled with God’s presence. We do all of this through a whole-person concept that includes mind, spirit, and body. This quest for wholeness on campus produces a wonderful, upbeat, supportive, encouraging, and dynamic environment where students can pursue their education. We are one of the most diverse universities in America and one of the top 15 national universities for international students. At ORU, campus diversity happens in an environment of unity, making things feel a bit like “Heaven on Earth.” Of course, we are not perfect at ORU, but we are pursuing a culture of honor, respect, and encouragement for all our students. The ORU campus pulsates with purpose. Our students are here for a reason: to become leaders who impact the world. This creates a dynamic that all who serve at ORU enjoy. What an amazing place to serve!
Q. ORU has become one of the leading arts institutions in Oklahoma and will soon open the new 78,000 sq. ft. Media Arts Center. Also, ORU Athletics has experienced national success, with recent visits to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Sweet Sixteen and the College World Series. Building on this success, ORU recently opened the Mike Carter Athletic Center. How do you see ORU continuing this historic momentum?
A. We presently have great momentum at ORU, but we are just getting started. We are committed to the arts because artists impact the world, and great storytellers will always be in demand in the marketplace. We are committed to a great athletic program at ORU because we believe athletics is a wonderful way to learn leadership skills that impact the world. Our athletic teams use every platform they have to bring Glory to God, and God has given them numerous opportunities to do this over the last few years. Many other areas of the University are also flourishing, which helps our students pursue their purpose to become Whole Leaders for the Whole World. Our vision is for a future that will be even greater than our successes today.
Q. Serving alongside you, your wife, First Lady Lisa Wilson, plays an integral role in student life and student experience. As a couple, what campus activities do you enjoy the most?
A. Simply put, we love the students! We love interacting with students, whether at a special event, in the classroom, in our home, or during an ORU game. In many ways, we see ourselves as “spiritual parents” for the students on campus, or, I guess at our age, “spiritual grandparents.” We want to show our students that you can have a great marriage, raise your children to serve the Lord, and be excellent at whatever you are called to do. Though we are here to share with and serve the students, the truth is we get much more than we give. Their energy, love, sincerity, and optimism are huge blessings to us. Living around young people keeps us young on the inside, and that is a delight.
Q. The number of alumni and supporters has greatly increased under your tenure. What is attracting this immense support for this growing university?
A. I believe several things have influenced this. First of all, ORU has strong roots. Oral Roberts had a good vision and a Godly vision to build a university committed to great academics in a strong spiritual environment and to use Whole Person Education to form impactful leaders. Alumni love that after all these years, we are still committed to those early principles of ORU. And they love it as parents, too. This year, we had the largest number of legacy freshmen ever in ORU’s history. These are students who had at least one parent who attended ORU.
Our alumni and our friends also love the progress happening at the University. They have joined us in our vision to build for the future and invest in our students. The strongest attraction for people to get involved with ORU is the quality of our students and graduates. Over the last few years, ORU’s placement rate averaged over 99%, which means students graduating in the spring either have a job or are in grad school within six months. The national average has been around 85%. ORU exceeds this in such a large way because our graduates are exceptional employees and are ready to make a difference on day one. This reputation makes it easy for people to support today’s ORU.
Q. The University has expanded and transformed during your tenure yet remained true to its core values and mission. How has this been accomplished?
A. Communication between all the constituencies of the University is vitally important. We have a shared governance team called the University Planning Council that helps plan ORU’s future. This includes the Board of Trustees, faculty, and administrators working together on plans for ORU. We have a 5-Year Adaptive Plan that is refreshed and reviewed yearly with Key Performance Indicators given for each fiscal cycle. This year, we have 200 of these indicators that we are united in accomplishing.
My relationship with the Board of Trustees has been key in my continuing leadership. The Board of Trustees serves as my supervisor and has ultimate authority. I am grateful that I have had wonderful relationships with the board chairs and the board as a whole. Our board has a sub-group called the Committee on the President to ensure Lisa and I are healthy and taken care of. This group has been a Godsend and lifesaver during my first decade. I am so grateful for their loving care and wisdom. Across the University, our governance is strong, our goals are set high, and our vision for ORU’s future has been well-planned. This is how we stay true to ORU’s core values and mission: by working as one toward the goals of a Spirit-empowered university and by thinking intentionally about God, values, and culture when we plan for tomorrow.
Q. As university presidents shorten their tenure, you have agreed to lead ORU for another ten years. What is your long-term vision for the future of the University?
A. Last academic year, we had just over 6,000 students enrolled at ORU. This is the largest the University has ever been, but I believe we are headed toward an enrollment of 10,000 students. We have a stated goal that in the decade from 2020 to 2030, we will have at least one student from all 195 nations in the world studying at ORU. We are already over 150 and on our way to 195. ORU will also expand our global footprint in a variety of ways over the next several years. Our principal constituency is Spirit-empowered Christianity, which includes Pentecostals and Charismatics. This grouping of Christianity is the fastest-growing movement on earth, and our goal at ORU is to serve this movement in a way that will help it continue to grow and reach the world. The growth of this movement is fueling ORU’s growth, and we are glad for this.
I also see our academic offerings continuing to expand with cutting-edge programs that will help our students prepare for the future. All six of our colleges are presently discussing program expansion and new academic directions for the next decade. It is a very exciting time on campus. We are also in Phase II of the Whole Leaders for the Whole World. This part of the campaign will include a new dining/student residence complex on campus. This is going to be very exciting for our student population.
At a recent faculty gathering, I shared 10 Lessons I have learned in 10 years of university leadership and 10 aspirations I have for the decade ahead. We are still dreaming, and I am more excited about leading ORU than I was ten years ago.
Q. Finally, as you mark this 10-year anniversary of your inauguration, what would you like to convey to the ORU community?
A. First of all, I want to say that I am incredibly honored to serve as president of this amazing institution. I love what I get to do and love coming to work every day where I can serve our students and staff. The love, prayers, and support of our community have been such a blessing in my first decade of leadership.
As I begin this second decade of service, I need your support more than ever. God has given us incredible momentum, but much more is ahead of us. Our continued plan is to expand enrollment, physical structures, and spiritual impact. ORU is needed in our world today even more than it was in the mid-1960s when the University started. Thank you for joining me on this journey and for your prayerful support in the days to come. God goes before us and is calling all of us to join Him in impacting the world with His light, voice, and power. If we continue to say yes to Him, then our future will be very bright.
ABOUT DR. WILLIAM M. WILSON
As President of the historic, globally recognized Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, Dr. William M. Wilson is leading the mission to develop Holy Spirit-empowered leaders through whole-person education to impact the world.
With over four decades of executive leadership experience, Wilson is recognized globally for his unwavering ethics in leadership and as a champion for new generations of Spirit-empowered leaders. Through his unique ability to foster global partnerships, Wilson is instrumental in uniting leaders from various cultures, ethnicities, and spheres of influence.
Wilson served on the ORU Board of Trustees as Vice Chair for five years until his election as the fourth President in June 2013. Since taking office, Wilson has piloted the largest campus expansion in the University’s history. Under his leadership, ORU opened the Global Learning Center, a re-engineered 54,000 square-foot television studio that features augmented/virtual reality learning and supports global instruction. Wilson also spearheaded a campus improvement plan that included the contemporary $10 million apartment-style student housing Niko Njotorahardjo Hall. Wilson was responsible for the visionary purchase and transformation of a 100,000 square-foot venue into ORU’s Nursing and Engineering Complex and oversaw the completion of the ONEOK Sports Complex, one of Tulsa’s top collegiate track and tennis facilities. These improvements were funded in part by the University’s $50 million 50th Anniversary campaign, one of the President’s successful efforts to expand ORU while remaining debt-free.
Most recently, President Wilson completed Phase I of the “Whole Leaders for the Whole World” campaign, raising $77 million for scholarships, three new buildings including a campus Welcome Center, Media Arts Center, the J.D. McKean Library, and the David and Barbara Green Centre for Global Leadership. An additional $5 million was raised for the new Fenimore & Fisher College of Business, which includes a fully operational Capital Markets Trading Floor. In addition, $21 million was raised for the Mike Carter Athletic Center and a substantial renovation of the Mabee Center Arena, including new blue seating, a spectacular concourse, and additional suites.
Phase II of the “Whole Leaders for the Whole World” campaign is underway, raising $50 million for a new dining hall, residence halls (one each for men and women), EMR/Claudius renovations, Quest First Scholarships, and Quest International Scholarships.
During Wilson’s tenure, ORU’s enrollment has reached unprecedented and historic numbers. Since Wilson assumed office in 2013, ORU’s student body has grown annually. In the Fall of 2021, ORU achieved the largest year-over-year recorded percentage growth in over 25 years, with enrollment exceeding 6,000 students for the first time in the spring of 2023. As an international university, ORU has enrolled students from 150 nations in the last four years and, with its multicultural identity, has been ranked as one of the top 25 most diverse universities in America.
Beyond ORU, Wilson serves as the Global Chair for Empowered21 (E21), an organization influencing the future of the global Spirit-empowered movement. E21 is recognized as the world’s largest Spirit-empowered relational network, bringing together ministry leaders, scholars, evangelists, and next-generation voices who collectively represent over 650 million Christians worldwide. Since 2010, E21 has expanded exponentially with 14 regional cabinets around the world and numerous working groups, including the Global Evangelist Alliance (GEA), Global Prayer Alliance, NextGen Network, Global Network of Spirit-empowered Scholars, and the Global Worship Alliance.
Wilson has been instrumental in creating and communicating the EveryOne initiative – joining denominations, para-church networks, and evangelistic ministries from around the world, calling on the global church to make every effort to get the Gospel to every person on earth.
Amsterdam2023 gathered thousands from around the world to the Amsterdam RAI Convention Center and Olympic Stadium, mobilizing around a new era of evangelism and focusing on fulfilling the Great Commission through the power of the Holy Spirit by Pentecost 2033.
Wilson serves as Chair of the historic Pentecostal World Fellowship and as an at-large member of the board of the National Association of Evangelicals. He also holds leadership positions with the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, American Association of Presidents of Independent Colleges and Universities, Chair of the Summit League President’s Council, and the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce. Wilson served as the executive officer for the 2006 Azusa Street Centennial, which drew more than 50,000 people from 112 nations to Los Angeles. He forged a national ecumenical coalition with more than 250 denominations and parachurch ministries through the Awakening America Alliance, founding the national 9-11 prayer gathering, Cry Out America.
A sought-after Bible communicator, his weekly television program, “World Impact with Dr. Billy Wilson,” inspires and empowers viewers from a biblical worldview and can presently be seen in over 150 nations in multiple languages.
Wilson has authored several books, including Father Cry, A-Z Guide: Marriage Recovery, A-Z Guide: Sexual Intimacy in Marriage, The Parenthood Plan, The Exclusive Claims of Jesus Christ, Today’s Church: A Look at Yesterday’s Church to See Today’s Church More Clearly, Foundations of Faith, Fasting Forward, As the Waters Cover the Sea, (with Dr. Vinson Synan), Generation Z: Born for the Storm, and his latest work The Power of One.
A native of Owensboro, Kentucky, Wilson holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Secondary Education from Western Kentucky University, as well as a Master of Arts and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Pentecostal Theological Seminary. Wilson has also participated in numerous ongoing educational opportunities, including the Harvard Institute for University Presidents. He is an ordained Bishop with the Church of God, Cleveland, TN.
Wilson and his wife Lisa have two children. Their son Ashley and his wife Jamie have three children, and their daughter Sara and her husband Shaun have four children. The Wilson family resides in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
ORU is a Christian, Spirit-empowered, interdenominational university in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with over a decade of consecutive enrollment growth. Regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, ORU offers over 150 majors, minors, concentrations, and pre-professional programs at the bachelor’s level, ranging from business and engineering to nursing, ministry, and more. Under the leadership of President Dr. William Wilson, ORU is preparing students from all 50 states and 150 nations (from 2019 to 2023) to be whole leaders for the whole world.
The Wall Street Journal ranked ORU as the #8 university in the nation for student experience and one of America’s Best Colleges (2024). This new category rates the best colleges in the U.S. to have a great experience while attending. This ranking is powered by one of the largest-ever independent surveys of verified college students and recent graduates in the United States. Niche recognizes ORU as one of the most diverse colleges in America, the # 1 best Christian college in Oklahoma, and # 1 in Oklahoma for diversity. Princeton Review ranked ORU as the best regional college, and College Raptor ranked ORU as a Hidden Gem in the Southwest.
ORU has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as:
• #1 in Undergraduate Teaching
• #2 in Most International Students
• #3 in Best Value
• #6 in Best College for Veterans
• #7 in Best Regional Colleges in the West
For more information, visit www.oru.edu.
Oral Roberts University
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Religion News Service or Religion News Foundation.