Dr. Dan Johnson, president emeritus at the University of Toledo in Ohio, has done some incredible things at many universities in the U.S. and even opened a billion dollar campus in the Middle East. He has met several world leaders over the years and helped government officials with economic development projects.
But Johnson may have never even gone on to college, had it not been for his years at Canyonville Bible Academy, now called Canyonville Christian Academy.
Just by pure coincidence, Johnson’s family, who lived near Phoenix, Ariz., happened to be going through Oregon on vacation one summer, not long after the name of the town had come up in conversation at home.
During his sophomore year, Johnson’s sister was dating a guy that had a sweater on, that had CBA on it and he learned the letters stood for Canyonville Bible Academy. After that, he looked into it, and when they went through Canyonville that summer, the family stopped to take a look.
“Dad Shaffer (Rev. A.M. Shaffer, the founder of the school) and some people were having a picnic across the street from the school, so we stopped. I just fell in love with the place and I said this is where I’d like to go,” Johnson said.
So he enrolled in CBA for his junior and senior years and that’s where he learned about discipline.
“Oh yeah, that came from Dad Shaffer, if you got caught smoking or drinking or anything like that, he put you on the bus and sent you home. I was strongly influenced by the presence of Dad Shaffer,” Johnson said.
After college, he and his wife came back to Canyonville for one year and he was dean of boys while his wife taught music.
“It’s just one of those places that for some strange reason had a profound effect on me,” he said. “I don’t think I’d have even gone on to college if it hadn’t been for Canyonville.”
Johnson was a very average student and had to work to help the family be able to pay the tuition, so studies were not high on his list of priorities.
But Johnson said Dad Shaffer and some of the faculty members somehow got the idea that he could go on to college so he thought he would give it a try.
“One of my buddies, Al Copeland from Prineville, wanted us to room together at a church college that had just opened in Missouri. I went, but he never showed up,” Johnson said.
His journey led him to several schools, finally getting his master’s degree at Texas Christian University and then his doctorate at the University of Missouri.
His jobs included stops at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois, and Columbia College girl’s school in Columbia, Missouri. Two years later he went to Wichita State in Kansas. There were also stints at Virginia Commonwealth University where he was hired to direct a doctoral program in social policy, and then on to the University of North Texas where he was a dean of students.
Johnson was later hired as provost for the University of Alaska-Anchorage and was responsible for three community colleges and education centers for native Alaskans in wilderness locations.
The University of Toledo asked him to be its president in 2001. While he was there he brought about the merger of a free-standing medical school and the university, which he said was probably his biggest accomplishment.
“It gave us instant elevation among research universities and with the combined research strength of these two institutions, we became the third largest public university in the state of Ohio,” Johnson said.
He retired from UT in 2008, but the adventure wasn’t done yet.
He got a call from Dubai, asking if he would serve as chief operating and academic officer for a new national university that had a campus in Dubai, but they wanted to build one in Abu Dhabi.
“So not having any idea where the United Arab Emirates was, I looked it up on a map,” he said.
He and his wife talked about it and decided to go.
“During that time, we built a billion-dollar campus. That didn’t include the landscaping, so it was quite a bit more than that,” Johnson chuckled.
Johnson has met sheiks and princes. He has also met President George W. Bush, and even Mikhail Gorbachev, the final leader of the Soviet Union. Johnson said it’s been an amazing journey for him and his wife Elaine Johnson, who’s gone along willingly to all the places he’s been, and now he wants to do more for his old high school.
Dan Johnson spoke last year at graduation at the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls and afterward, drove to Canyonville to visit with Roger Shaffer, whose family founded the school in 1924. Roger Shaffer was a student when Dan Johnson was the dean of students at the school and they’ve stayed in contact over the years.
“He expressed his appreciation for the school, and that he still had a heart for the school,” Roger Shaffer said. “We’re trying to get Dan interested in being involved with us and he’s quite interested.”
In fact, Dan Johnson plans to come back to Oregon after Thanksgiving to help with the strategic planning process and long-range plans for CCA.
“There’s a real concern for small private schools like CCA, that don’t have endowments, and they are really living year-to-year,” Dan Johnson said. “I asked if they had ever done that (strategic planning) and if they ever decide to do it, I’d be glad to help.”
There were very few international students when Dan Johnson attended in the late 50s, but they were able to build a reputation. For a lot of countries, it’s highly desirable to send your kids to an American university, so going to a high school in the U.S. was a way to get the language skills down and get an understanding of American society and culture.
“I think Canyonville represents a residential place where they’re prepared to house the student and I expect this will continue to grow if China and other countries continue to take advantage of our higher education system,” Dan Johnson said.
Roger Shaffer said the school nearly closed a few years ago, but began to look more at the foreign student opportunities, and that turned its fortune around.
“There was always a handful of international students,” he said, “And they’re now the majority of students on campus.”
Now with the help of distinguished alumni like Dan Johnson, the school is hoping it can continue to draw the international as well as the domestic students to keep the school financially fit.