written by special contributor Lance Fleming

“May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,

Wherever He may send you.

May He guide you through the wilderness,

Protect you through the storm.

May He bring you home rejoicing

At the wonders He has shown you.

May He bring you home rejoicing

Once again into our doors.”

Each year since becoming Dean of the College of Business Administration in May 2016, Dr. Brad Crisp (’93) has sent December and May graduating seniors into the world with the words of that favorite Celtic blessing spoken over them.

“The prayer points to the blessings of God’s presence in all circumstances,” Crisp said, “as well as the hope that our students will remain connected with us, telling the stories of what God has done in their lives.”

That excerpt from the prayer also offers peace and a reminder that home – and the relationships that go with being home – are always available to everyone. It’s appropriate that Crisp would choose a lyric about coming home as the blessing he would speak over students. If Crisp’s eight-year tenure as the Dean of COBA is marked by one thing, it would be how much he values relationships.

Relationships with students. Relationships with colleagues. Relationships with graduates, donors, and friends of the university. Relationships with family. It’s who he is, and it’s been his lighthouse during his eight-year tenure as Dean. 

“Brad has kept us focused on relationships,” said Tim Johnston (’80), Assistant Dean of COBA. “We want to engage our students while they complete their studies, but we need to help each other for a lifetime. I like the blessing he always shared with our graduating students because it demonstrates his kind pursuit of relationships.”

Crisp delivered the blessing over graduating seniors one final time as Dean in early May before beginning a year-long sabbatical. ACU will name a new Dean of COBA sometime this summer before Crisp returns in 2025-26 as a full-time faculty member.

The fifth Dean of COBA since it became a college in 1981, Crisp leaves the post with a long list of accomplishments, but just as long a list of people influenced and relationships created. Those are part of what has made his tenure as Dean a success.

“Brad carries himself with dignity, honor, and a spirit of Christ-like humility,” said Andy Little (’97), Associate Dean of COBA and Associate Professor of Business Law. “He constantly reminds me to elevate my perspective, see the good in others, and treat people as worthy of our highest respect. I’ve been blessed to have a handful of good professional mentors, but none have had Brad’s exceedingly rare combination of kindness, wisdom, intellect, patience, and faith. We will miss his influence on the college dearly, but he deserves a sabbatical and time to reflect and recharge. I look forward to being his colleague and friend on the faculty for many more years.”

The list of accomplishments during his tenure is long and has COBA positioned to continue its rise when the new Dean steps in later this year. During his eight years, Crisp has hired more than one dozen new faculty members plus key administrative staff, overseen a complete renovation of the Mabee Business Building, moved COBA into the world of online education, successfully integrated technology into the core curriculum, and led the charge to require internships. He has overseen successful accreditation processes for the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) and the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).

Many of these accomplishments resulted from the college’s completed 2022 Strategic Plan, which built on the strengths he inherited and positioned COBA to reach new heights through the college’s new 2026 Strategic Plan. The college’s endowments grew by more than $50 million during Crisp’s tenure, advanced significantly by a $29 million gift to COBA from the Dukes family in 2022. Crisp also directed new scholarship funds to attract and retain residential business students.

He’s done that without letting go of his belief in the vision set out for COBA: to connect, inspire, and equip Christian business and technology professionals, who honor God and bless the world.

Brad is steady, and he quietly makes progress on the plans we have set out,” Johnston said. “He has stayed focused on the goals at hand and helped us take the right next step. That helped us keep moving, and we steadily made progress. Brad is a scholar dedicated to teaching and scholarly work. He poured into actively engaging with AACSB, serving on many site-visit reviews. He garnered insights that guided us through successful AACSB re-accreditation processes. He took to heart the desire to advance our college with continuous improvements.

“Brad has navigated the difficulties of attracting talented scholars to ACU and our mission,” Johnston said. “He did that at a time when online education has been a driving force for all business schools across the country. All new hires would have to be capable of teaching our residential and online students. The drive to help all faculty build the skillset to teach with multiple modalities is a critical accomplishment. A snapshot of the faculty in each program – many of whom Brad hired – will show everyone an impressive lineup of credentials and people of character who are moving the mission and our vision forward.”

Crisp recognizes that much of his success stems from his deep history with ACU, having been immersed in the ACU culture since he was young. His father, Don Crisp (’64) was Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and his father-in-law is former ACU president and current chancellor, Dr. Royce Money (’64).

And he’s following in the footsteps of men like, among others, Dr. Bill Petty (’64), Dr. Jack Griggs (’64), and Dr. Rick Lytle, who taught and mentored thousands of students over the years, including Crisp.

“Being the dean of this college is about legacy and relationships because you’re following in the footsteps of people who’ve done this and shown the way and built a foundation for what you’re doing,” Crisp said. “I’m fortunate to have important, ongoing relationships with those men. I also have relationships with so many peers, donors, and other people who love this place and want to figure out how to help the current students in what they want to accomplish.”

Crisp will leave the job having positioned the next dean for success but knowing that a new set of challenges awaits whoever is next to lead COBA.

“Our students are coming from different perspectives within and outside the Christian world,” Crisp said. “We can’t make the same assumptions about who they are and what they know. We must create opportunities for them to engage their faith as they acquire the skills needed to become the professionals we want them to be. And at the end of the day, they’re going to be the ones that decide who they want to be and how they live.

“But we’ve got a tremendous opportunity to put them in connection with other people who are going to give them a vision for what their life could look like as a Christian business or technology professional,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve finished that process at all. We are wrestling with how we do that. I hope the next team will help us push that forward in some important ways, just as we started online conversations before I became dean. And we settled some of those things. So, can we build on that? Can we put new processes and structures in place and maintain that as a primary focus of who we are and what we do?”

Crisp said he plans to use his sabbatical to recharge his batteries, re-tool for research and teaching, travel with his wife Jennifer (’93), visit family, and await the arrival of a second grandchild. He’ll return to the classroom at ACU in the fall of 2025, where he will again engage with students daily, helping lead them in the direction that best fits their skills.

“I’ve always enjoyed the engagement with students,” Crisp said. “I’ve got 15 students in the one class I’m teaching right now, and the first assignment was a cover letter and resume, so I’m helping them think from day one about who they are and how they want to present themselves professionally.”

The relationships with students and faculty as colleagues excite Crisp about the next season of his life.

“I will miss the opportunity to engage with as broad a group as I have had the last eight years,” Crisp said. “The relationship is different when you manage people instead of working alongside them as colleagues. I have certainly had to have some hard personnel conversations, but these can be holy times, too. I’ve also had the chance to walk with people through hard times, helping them work through issues, and those moments are special. Some of my free time will allow me to create opportunities that keep me engaged with people inside and outside ACU. I don’t know exactly where my focus will be, but I know I’ll want to do more than be in the office 9 to 5 and then be done.”

With a focus on doing what he finds most important: building relationships.