Mission Statement

PLU seeks to educate students for lives of thoughtful inquiry, service, leadership and care—for other people, for their communities, and for the earth.

Approved by the Board of Regents, January 22, 2011.


Pacific Lutheran University was founded in 1890 by a group of Scandinavian Lutherans from the Puget Sound area. They were led by the Reverend Bjug Harstad, who became PLU’s first president. In naming the university, these pioneers recognized the important role that a Lutheran educational institution on the western frontier of America could play in the emerging future of the region. They wanted the institution to help immigrants adjust to their new land and find jobs, but they also wanted it to produce graduates who would serve church and community. Education—and educating for service—was a venerated part of the Scandinavian and Lutheran traditions from which these pioneers came.

Although founded as a university, the institution functioned primarily as an academy until 1918, when it closed for two years because of complications produced by the creation of the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America in 1917, regional collegiate rivalries, and World War I. It reopened as the two-year Pacific Lutheran College, after merging with Columbia College, previously located in Everett. Further consolidation occurred when Spokane College merged with PLC in 1929. Four-year baccalaureate degrees were first offered in education in 1939 and in the liberal arts in 1942. The institution was reorganized as a university in 1960, reclaiming its original name. It presently includes a College of Health Professions, College of Humanities, Interdisciplinary Studies, and Social Sciences, College of Natural Sciences, College of Professional Studies, and both graduate and continuing education programs.

PLU has been closely and productively affiliated with the Lutheran church throughout its history. It is now a university of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, owned by the more than six hundred congregations of Region 1 of the ELCA.

Many influences and individuals have combined to shape PLU and its regional, national, and increasingly international reputation for teaching, service and scholarship. A dedicated faculty and staff has been an extremely important factor. The school has enjoyed a strong musical tradition from the beginning, as well as noteworthy alumni achievements in public school teaching and administration, university teaching and scholarship, the pastoral ministry, the health sciences and healing arts, and business. At PLU, the liberal arts and professional education are closely integrated and collaborative in their educational philosophies, activities, and aspirations.

Contributed by Philip A. Nordquist, Professor Emeritus of History, February 2011.

Pacific Lutheran University and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

Pacific Lutheran University traces its roots to the ancient Greek academy, Jewish study of sacred texts, the Roman law court, to monastic libraries and medieval urban universities, and the schools of the Renaissance. In one of those Renaissance universities, established in Germany at the beginning of the sixteenth century, Martin Luther, a professor and priest, launched the reform which would eventually take his name, a reform which spread to other countries and grew in various ways. As a university professor, Luther’s reform was shaped by the freedom of conscience, the need to engage one’s society in pursuit of a humane future, the liberating capacities of a liberal arts curriculum, and the vocation of service in the world.

Pacific Lutheran University stands within this living tradition of Lutheran higher education, one that it shares with the 26 colleges and universities of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Steeped in the Lutheran commitment to freedom of thought and insistence on questioning, the university serves both church and society by welcoming faculty, students, and administrators from many cultural, ethnic, and religious traditions. Such diversity of viewpoint and methods in study rests at the heart of a theological tradition, which counsels humility and honesty in the pursuit of truth. In contrast to some church-related universities, the colleges and universities of the ELCA enjoy a supportive relationship with the many congregations who expect their schools to protect academic freedom, encourage disciplinary expertise, foster faithful criticism of cherished assumptions, and prepare their students for lives of service in the world. Indeed, the cherished hallmark of the Reformation – freedom – remains linked to its corollary – mature responsibility – to others, their communities, and this earth. Thus, the faculty of Pacific Lutheran University enjoy the support of a religious community committed to liberal learning at the service of a just, peaceful, and humane future.

Contributed by Samuel Torvend, Emeritus Professor of Religion.