Longtime Advocate of Private Institutions Takes Up the Cause of Christian Colleges

Victoria Ruan

Edward O. Blews Jr.
February 18, 2013

The new president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, Edward O. Blews Jr., spent 28 years lobbying for private colleges in Michigan, where he was known for his sunny disposition, savvy political strategizing, and knack for doggedly but respectfully buttonholing lawmakers to talk about grant aid for students.

"He had an uncanny way of being anywhere you were going," recalls Tim Walberg, a former state senator and now a Republican member of Congress—be it lunch, the floor, "even the bathroom."

Mr. Blews, who took office last month, plans no less enthusiasm in his new role, in which he hopes to help raise the profile of Christian liberal-arts colleges on the national political stage and also promote "a great global movement for Christian higher education."

The council comprises 172 members, 115 of them based in the United States. Most are evangelical. Mr. Blews, who says he's been an evangelical Christian for most of his life, knows those institutions well.

Both he and his wife, Debra McKenna Blews, come from families of preachers and Christian-college presidents, deans, and faculty members. Like her husband, Ms. Blews is a lawyer by training. She will be a senior fellow at the council, an unpaid post.

Christian colleges, which integrate faith and learning, "play a very important role within the family of higher education," says Mr. Blews.

Many, however, face deep financial challenges. Most are tuition-dependent, "and our families are not wealthy families," says Mr. Blews. That means advocating for student aid will be a high priority for him here in Washington, as it was in Michigan. (His entreaties "for the kids" in that state were described in a 1989 Chronicle profile.)

Mr. Blews, who is 57, is familiar with his new territory. During his tenure as president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Michigan, he worked closely with national higher-education organizations.

Money for student aid won't be his only concern. Under Mr. Blews, the council expects to become more visible in policy debates that touch on the "religious liberties of our colleges." The council has previously objected to the mandates in the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to cover contraception in student and employee insurance plans. The group is "carefully studying the ramifications" of the modifications proposed by the White House this month.

Leaving Michigan wasn't an easy decision. Mr. Blews says part of the appeal of the new post was the chance to go global, to encourage the development of Christ-centered academic programs "in parts of the world where freedom is emerging and where one of the freedoms is the right to Christian higher education."

Still, as he good-naturedly acknowledged at his January inauguration—a luncheon capped with the singing of one of his favorite hymns, "Forward Through the Ages"—he spent a lot of time deliberating and praying before agreeing to take the job. He says he was praying to hear God's calling in his heart.

Just to hurry things along, Kim S. Phipps, chair of the council's presidential-search committee and president of Messiah College, called Mr. Blews one day while he was still considering the offer. "Ed, this is God," she intoned, "and she is calling you to the CCCU presidency." Shortly after, he accepted.