Dr. John Jackson, president of Jessup University, compares his busy schedule to that of a dentist with a day full of appointments. (Photo by Wes Davis)

The Way We Work: Jessup University President Dr. John Jackson

A glimpse into the daily life of the pastor and Christian university leader

Back Article Nov 8, 2023 By Jeff Wilser

This story is part of our November 2023 print issue. To subscribe, click here.

Dr. John Jackson grew up as a pastor’s kid, but he didn’t see that as his calling. “I told God in my own way, ‘I’ll do anything you want, except I’ll never be a missionary, and I’ll never be a pastor,’” says Jackson. So of course he became a pastor, launched a church in Nevada, earned a Ph.D. in educational administration and organization studies, and in 2011 became president of Jessup University, the Christian university with campuses in Rocklin and San Jose that serves 1,600 students.

Jackson took the reins at Jessup with the goal of making higher education “FDA”: flexible, distributed and affordable. “Jessup stands at the intersection of religion and spirituality, education, business and public affairs,” says Jackson. He pushed the school to add more programs, including in the arts and sciences, and the average student’s debt is 60 percent of the national average. (His goal is to drive this down to 33 percent.) How does he pull it off? Two words: dentist days. 

5-6:00AM – Every morning he’ll spend at least an hour on this routine: First glances at email (“delete, delete, delete”), reads The Sacramento Bee and The Wall Street Journal, then reads the Bible and prays. 

7:00AM – Gets ready, pours a cup of coffee, skips breakfast. Jackson is an intermittent faster and avoids food between 7 p.m. and lunch.

7:30AM – Spends time with Pam Jackson, his wife of 44 years.

8:00AM – Drives the six-minute commute from his home in Rocklin to the Jessup campus.

8:30AM – “Meetings, meetings, meetings.” Jackson divides his work week into two chunks. On Monday through Wednesday, he schedules back-to-back meetings — usually 30 minutes each, stacked the entire day — for operational topics. He calls these days of non-stop meetings “dentist days.” 

9:00AM – Next meeting, such as a sync-up with his chief academic officer. (Thursdays and Fridays are reserved for focused work and longer meetings on strategic objectives, such as his “big holy audacious goal” of one day serving 10,000 students with five nationally ranked programs.) 

9:30AM – The dentist day meetings continue, often with his direct reports, such as COO Judy Rentz, who’s in charge of all business operations from HR to security to IT. “She runs the whole place.”

10:00AM – More meetings, such as synch-ups with the head of athletics. “A common question I always ask is, ‘Tell me about the health and vitality of the people who report directly to you.’”

12:00PM – Most days he’ll have lunch with a colleague or donor, either in the Jessup cafeteria or nearby restaurant. 

1:00PM – The dentist day resumes. He insists each meeting ends on time — or earlier — to avoid a backlog. 

2:00PM - A meeting on “advancement,” aka fundraising. This is crucial. “Private donations account for 25 percent of our annual budget. It’s important that our fundraising goes really well.”

4:00PM – Catches up on emails (he receives 350 per day); it helps that he can read 1,000 words per minute. Some days for variety (and focus) he’ll go off campus and do this at a coffee shop. 

5:30PM - Heads home. Almost every night he has dinner with Pam, and occasionally with some of their five adult kids and five grandkids. 

7:30PM – Cracks open the laptop to work (often taming emails) while “some inane TV program” plays in the background, such as “Burn Notice.” 

9:00PM – Knocks out a quick workout, mostly running, situps and pushups.

9:30PM - For the first time all day he allows himself to check social media, which often consists of looking at photos of his kids and grandkids. Reads a book on spirituality or maybe a biography. 

10:00PM – Drifts off to sleep.  

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