On Hind's Feet
For rock climbers, reaching
the peak of a mountain and looking down at the rugged landscape they just
conquered is a moment of great triumph.
Dr. Justin Cooper '72 has
not scaled the face of any mountains, but when he looks back at the past
two decades, he acknowledges a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
In 1981, he was one of the
original administrators who helped start a Christian college in the Toronto
area. Now 22 years later, he is president of that same Canadian institution,
Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario.
"It's been a long, gratifying
journey," Cooper reflected. "So much has changed, but everything has unfolded
wonderfully. God has been incredibly gracious."
Before the ink was dry on
his master's degree in political science from the University of Toronto
in 1976, Cooper was elected to serve on the Ontario Christian College Association's
board of governors. Talk of founding a Christian college surfaced while
he was in graduate school, and he became involved in those initial conversations.
"I saw a possibility for
the Reformed worldview to merge with the evangelical perspective in a way
that was unique and very fresh," he said. "There was a vision of an institution
that was strong academically while also encouraging a grounded personal
faith. That potential intrigued me."
The group of administrators
worked with the Ontario government to obtain a charter for the school.
Cooper was integral in curriculum planning, faculty hiring, developing
library resources, and establishing facilities. After the government's
final approval, Redeemer College held its first classes in 1982 with 97
students and Cooper as its acting academic dean. While teaching political
science, he was also finishing his doctorate in that field at the University
of Toronto. He became Redeemer's academic vice president in 1986 and took
over as president of the college in 1994.
Before Cooper graduated from
Trinity with a degree in philosophy, he began laying the foundation for
a life in higher education. He was a member of the College's curriculum
committee as a student, and philosophy professor Dr. Calvin Seerveld made
a major impact on his future career path by modeling the inseparable connection
between one's faith and livelihood.
"Dr. Seerveld was a true
mentor to me in a lot of ways," Cooper affirmed. "He was humble and had
a very high view of Scripture. He showed me its relevance to every aspect
of my life and demonstrated how it related to scholarship and education.
"Trinity gave me a sense
of vocation as a Christian academic. I could picture the Lord using me
in this arena, and Dr. Seerveld helped me learn how to analyze other points
of view and hold fast to my Christian beliefs. That's a skill that has
been very useful for me in my academic and administrative work."
Cooper used that skill in
the mid-1990s when Redeemer sought to offer bachelor of arts and bachelor
of sciences degrees. The college would need the government of Ontario to
amend its original charter, which appeared to be an unlikely prospect.
Given his background in political science and his experience as an administrator,
Cooper was sufficiently equipped to deal with the concerns and resistance
of the provincial government.
"In Canada, most colleges
and universities are secular and publicly funded," he explained. "As a
small, private Christian college, we're swimming against the mainstream
to get academic recognition. It was a privilege to be used by God to persuade
the governing powers of the necessity for Christian higher education in
The amendment passed in 1998,
and, as Cooper described, "brought more legitimacy to our mission and opened
the door for more students to enroll." Two years later, the institution
was granted permission to rename itself Redeemer University College.
Cooper and his wife, Jessie
(Ellens ex'71), were married 33 years ago and settled in her native Ontario.
They raised two sons, Jeremy and Nathan, and have two grandchildren. The
couple now lives in Dundas, Ontario, and attends First Christian Reformed
Church of Hamilton.
As Cooper looks ahead, he
sees the next five to 10 years as a time of continued growth and success.
"There is a revival of Christian
higher education in Canada," Cooper noted. "Thirty years ago, there were
only three Christian colleges in the nation; now there are 12 and more
are on the horizon. Redeemer is at the forefront leading that charge. I
love the challenge and privilege of being a witness during this time. I
feel like an apostle in higher education making the case of Christ."
to Alumni Profiles