History Buff Looks to the Future

By Carol Keochekian '81
Photo by Brian Stethem '84

Fortunate is the man who can integrate his favorite hobby with his professional life.

Such a person is Chris Kimball, Ph.D., CLU's Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. He absolutely loves baseball. He dotes on American urban history. And, he's avid about research.

Somewhere along the line, these three seemingly unrelated interests converged for Kimball, resulting in his unique area of expertise, the development of a course blending urban history with architecture (including baseball parks), and sufficient material for a soon-to-be-published book.

Linking Ballparks and Academia

Formerly Provost and Dean of the College at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minn., Kimball's scholarly work is in the field of American history, specializing in urban history and the history of sport, especially baseball. It was at Augsburg that the melding of his favorite things took root. He and a colleague, a professor of architectural history, devised an experiential class, which blended field trips to visit buildings connected to the history of the community.

One student in the class wrote her research paper on a prominent Twin Cities architect from the early 20th century. The student found that the architect had once designed a baseball park, the provost recalls, adding that this was an unexpected discovery — one that the teaching team had not considered. They were intrigued.

"From there, we started looking at other ballparks in the Twin Cities as a way of understanding urban change," Kimball says. One park led to another, and the two scholars have since located more than a century's worth of Twin Cities ballparks whose histories tell the story of architecture and history in ways that other books on ballparks in Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and Atlanta do not.

Achieving National Prominence

Kimball's ability to synthesize disparate ideas is serving him well as he begins his second year at CLU as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. An author and speaker on academic affairs, Kimball, who is tall, thoughtful and possesses a delightful sense of humor, has built a distinguished career as a teacher and scholar. Committed to the distinctive mission and excellence of Lutheran higher education, he has proven abilities as an academic leader and administrator.

California Lutheran University, not unlike history, is made up of many units, he relates. His dream is that each of these units will develop a national reputation for high quality, high expectations, high theoretical thought and for providing students the opportunity to apply those theories.

"All those things are achievable," Kimball believes. "Vision and commitment are very important. With vision and commitment, many colleges have been able to transform who they are." CLU, he continues, has high hopes, expectations and dreams. "It's delightful to see those are realizable. If anything, I underestimated what's here."

Anticipating Change

Although the needs of undergraduate and graduate programs may differ, Kimball believes that the programs should have a common basis, brand or footprint, which ultimately will be reflected through graduates' selection of careers and their desire to be of service. In the professional schools, work and service are embedded in the real world.

"Graduates of all programs should be able to articulate how the mission statement was reflected in their learning," he surmises.

"We have to be flexible and able to adapt," Kimball emphasizes. "The world is different now and what students need to prepare for is different. We need to consider what's the best structure for delivering what's new."

The deans are already in the process of developing programs across disciplines, he notes, but the faculty's departmental reviews will be the real driver for program change. Yet in the face of change, Kimball firmly supports education based on the liberal arts traditions.

The key to a university's success lies with its students and faculty. "I think the faculty here is terrific," the provost declares. "If I had a wish for them, it would be that they believe that they are as good as they really are and feel as appreciated by others as they deserve to be."

An alumnus of McGill University, Kimball received his Ph.D. from The University of Chicago. He is very impressed by CLU's students. As someone fairly new to campus, he views them as "a lot of high achievers, very articulate and thoughtful." He also appreciates the diversity of CLU's student body and the philosophy of the University to be inclusive.

CLU's Unique Challenges

In the past year, the history professor/administrator has become cognizant of the challenges that face the University. A major roadblock is the cost of living in Ventura County. "It has become much clearer to me now how difficult the housing market is in recruiting and retaining faculty and staff."

Another challenge is the distance to Los Angeles from Thousand Oaks. Coming from a school that was just a mile from the downtown of a fairly large city and being an avid proponent of experiential learning, Kimball soon realized that CLU's location raises some challenges to getting access to Los Angeles. Always one to look for solutions and interconnections, the provost notes that the experiential learning opportunities in Ventura County must be explored and utilized.

Exploring Ventura County, their new home, is also a goal for the Kimball family — wife, Liz; son, Glenn, 13; and daughter, Rachel, 9. Residing near the CLU campus in Thousand Oaks, the Minnesota transplants have found Californians warm and welcoming. Their dog, Henry, likes it here, too. He is especially excited about the local dog park.

As Kimball is learning his way around his new community, he is also looking forward to melding the strengths he sees at CLU into a future of boundless possibilities. "I knew it [CLU] was a good place on the move. A year later, I see it's a very good place definitely on the move with lots of opportunity."

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