The univeristy was founded in 1899 as Central Mennonite College, an institution to educate the young people of the Middle District of the General Conference Mennonite Church. Soon related groups in the United States and Canada were included in its constituency. Today Bluffton University is one of five Mennonite colleges affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Although Bluffton is a Mennonite institution, from the very beginning it has been “open to all worthy students irrespective of sex, color, nationality or church affiliation.” Now, as in the past, the university adheres to this policy and, in fact, the majority of Bluffton University students represent faiths other than Mennonite.
In the early years the school functioned primarily as an academy. Courses on a junior college level were introduced and by 1915 the first baccalaureate degrees were conferred. Meanwhile, in 1914, Central Mennonite College was reorganized as Bluffton College. A theological seminary was added as a corporate part of the college, and from 1921 to 1931, it functioned on the campus as an independent institution, Witmarsum Theological Seminary. In 1995, Bluffton began offering graduate programs. On August 1, 2004, Bluffton College was renamed Bluffton University, in reflection of its evolving educational program.
The institution has had eight presidents: Dr. N.C. Hirschy, 1900-1908; Dr. S.K. Mosiman, 1910-1935; the Rev. Dr. A.S. Rosenberger, 1935-1938; Dr. L.L. Ramseyer, 1938-1965; Dr. Robert S. Kreider, 1965-1972; Dr. Benjamin Sprunger, 1972-1977; Dr. Elmer Neufeld, 1978-1996; Dr. Lee F. Snyder, 1996-.
Bluffton's Mennonite heritage
The Mennonite people originated in the Anabaptist movement of the Reformation period. The early leaders, including Conrad Grebel in Switzerland, 1525, and Menno Simons in the Netherlands, 1536, sought to recover a New Testament view of the church and the Christian life. The Anabaptists and their Mennonite heirs have been at one with other Christians in the great affirmations of the faith: God becoming human, the lordship of Christ, the power of the Gospel of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit, the authority of the Scriptures.
The Anabaptists viewed the Bible as central to their lives. From this flowed convictions that: 1) the church is a community composed of believers; 2) the essence of Christian life and faith is discipleship, apostleship, servanthood; and 3) the ethic of love should control all relationships. In the Mennonite heritage this has led to distinctive emphases. The Christian is called to a life of love, reconciliation and peacemaking. Life is to be lived with material simplicity. Nature is considered a gift of God and to be cherished with a sense of gratitude and stewardship. One cannot separate faith from life. Loving, sacrificial service is the highest expression of faithfulness to Christ.
These and other convictions have shaped the minds and the lives of many who serve and have served Bluffton University as teachers, students and friends. The convictions of other Christian traditions also are valued in the college's life and thought. While it is not assumed that all faculty, staff and students will be of one mind on all issues of faith and practice, it can be expected that the Christian church and the affirmations of Christian faith and life will be addressed seriously, responsibly and with conviction.
The most recent systematic expression of faith for Mennonites is the “Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective,” adopted in July 1995. For more information on various Mennonite position statements, see www.bluffton.edu/~mastg/pacifism.htm.
Faith lived out at Bluffton University
While Bluffton University aims to help Mennonite students grow in an appreciative response and commitment to the fundamental elements of this heritage, it also believes that the Christian insights in this heritage have value for people of other backgrounds. It aims, therfore, to make its program and facilities equally available to all scholastically qualified students who accept and respect its objecitves and standards.
Bluffton's motto is taken from the words of Christ in the Gospel of John: The truth makes free. On a daily basis, this truth finds expression at Bluffton through the four enduring values of discovery, community, respect and service.
- Discovery embodies the explorative nature of our academic offerings and cross cultural requirements, the development of new relationships and experiences, and the uncovering of personal spirituality and faith.
- Community represents the rich collaboration between faculty, students and staff, the residential and intimate nature of our campus, and the importance of the shared experience for discerning direction and meaning of life.
- Respect encompasses and symbolizes our sensitivity to diversity within our community, and to our commitments to peaceful resolution of conflict and to environmental stewardship.
- Service personifies our heartfelt community outreach to meet the needs of others, and offers a means for helping to achieve a more fully reconciled, peaceful world.
Bluffton affirms directly and indirectly in countless ways its heritage and faith. Its affirmations are made in both word and action by everyone who comprises the campus community: students, faculty, staff, trustees and friends. Sometimes affirmations are tarnished in practice. This is not to deny the value in stating expectations for the campus. Faculty and staff desire for Bluffton that it become an institution of higher education:
- Where Christian community is cultivated;
- Where there is deep concern for continuing growth in the quality of the program;
- Where members of the community take seriously the particular heritage of this college and the sponsoring church;
- Where students are invited to consider the great questions of faith, ethics and human destiny, and, having considered, to decide; where students are invited to consider their relationship to Christ; where faculty members are encouraged to share their deepest convictions;
- Where students are exposed to a variety of intellectual experiences – some bewildering, some stimulating, some disturbing; students, however, are expected to grow in their ability to reason critically and to find, with the help of others, satisfying answers to their questions;
- Where the community exhibits a capacity to expect and accept student questioning, doubt and confusion – retaining, however, a concern and a confidence that students will find their way through to meaningful decisions involving integration of reason and faith;
- Where students have opportunity to prepare for vocations related to the concerns of faith;
- Where channels of mutual dialogue and support are opened between the college and the church;
- Where encouragement is given to faculty and staff to be actively engaged in the program of local churches and the wider ministries of the church; and
- Where there is an earnest desire to be faithful to God’s purpose.
These and other expectations which might be submitted are less a description of Bluffton University as it is than as it might become.