Dr. Paul Wright Named President Emeritus
by Dr. Oliver Hersey, President of Jerusalem University College
In 1997 Dr. Paul and Mrs. Diane Wright moved with their two children, Jessica and Benjamin, to Jerusalem, Israel, from the midwestern plains of the United States. Dr. Wright had been appointed to serve as Vice President of Academics for the Institute of Holy Land Studies, which had just changed its name to Jerusalem University College. They made their home at first in Mevaseret Zion, a neighborhood located on one of the western mountain ridges on the outskirts of a quickly changing Jerusalem.
Paul was already a product of JUC, having been profoundly shaped by the method and insights of Jim Monson, Carl Rasmussen, and the late Anson Rainey z.l. Now, poised to continue his scholarship, he proceeded to explore the land, teaching new generations of students how gaining a solid grasp of the historical geography and culture can serve to open up the world of the Bible. Joining an expert faculty, Dr. Wright went on to lead thousands of students through an immersive and dynamic experience, helping them connect the Bible to the land through a careful reading of the text, map markings, horizon lines, and engagement of local cultures. At the same time, he enthusiastically supported the other curriculum areas of JUC by fostering a learning environment in which both faculty and students could thrive.
The journey for the Wrights was not easy. After moving their family to Israel, the University College was rocked at the turn of the millennium by the Second Intifada and events surrounding 9/11. Over the course of 18 months, the school witnessed a catastrophic 90% downturn in both enrollment and revenue. This was a painful time in the history of the school as several faculty and most of the staff lost jobs; meanwhile, leadership turned over in rapid succession, creating an overall unstable situation, to a point that the Board of Directors reluctantly considered closing the doors altogether.
But the Wrights were not the type of people to be easily rocked. With the support of the Board and the Jerusalem Advisory Council, the Wrights began revitalizing JUC while Dr. Wright was named the school’s 10th president. His entire family pitched in by cleaning, cooking, repairing, gardening, and taking care of many more tasks as they collectively worked to keep the school open in the early 2000s.
Undoubtedly fueled by a calling and sense of commitment to the mission of our founder Dr. G. Douglas Young z.l., the Wrights brought the school back to life. Diane’s attention to detail and willingness to give tirelessly to the administrative matters, coupled with Paul’s expertise in the field of historical geography and managerial prowess to lead, simultaneously propelled enrollment back to self-sustainable levels in just a few years. This resolve and tenacity also helped the Wrights strategically navigate a number of challenges endemic to leading a school overseas, including the pandemic that bookended their tenure of leadership. As the pandemic swept over the globe, Dr. Wright led the administration to empower faculty to take JUC’s unique in-residence courses and make them available online for students around the world.
In the November 2022 JUC Board Meeting, it was unanimously agreed upon that Dr. Paul Wright be honored as the first President Emeritus of Jerusalem University College. His twenty-year tenure remains the second longest behind our founder, Doug Young, who served for 21 years. Today, Dr. Wright continues his services to JUC as a member of the faculty, teaching students online and in-residence for short-term programs. Some of his publications, including his recent Holman Illustrated Guide to Biblical Geography, written with the JUC audience in mind, have become part of the school’s curriculum. As President Emeritus, Dr. Wright also serves on occasion to mentor and advise the leadership and administration at JUC, for which I am grateful!
Dr. Oliver Hersey, 11th President of Jerusalem University College