After more than 30 years at Union College, Dr. Barry Forbes has decided to resign his position as professor and chair of the Division of Business and Computer Science due to lingering effects from his ongoing battle with brain cancer.
Dr. Lisa Forbes, his wife and fellow business professor, will transition to the role of division chair over the rest of this semester. She has taught business, accounting and finance at Union College since 2002 and currently holds the Adventist Health System Endowed Chair of Business Administration.
Under Barry Forbes’ leadership, the Union College business and computer science programs have an outstanding record of success—more than 90 percent of graduates find jobs in their field or are accepted into graduate or professional school. Currently, more than 60 graduates serve as C-suite executives at hospitals and health networks across the United States while countless more hold leadership positions in companies around the world.
“We are thankful for the many years of outstanding leadership Barry Forbes has given to Union’s business and computer science programs,” said Dr. Frankie Rose, vice president for Academic Administration. “I believe that Lisa Forbes and her team of faculty will continue to grow their programs and provide a high-quality educational experience that produces graduates who are highly sought by employers all across the country.”
The challenge of his life
In July 2017, while on a family vacation in Nova Scotia, Forbes started experiencing low-grade headaches and mild confusion. A visit to his doctor confirmed the presence of a two-inch tumor in his brain. A week later, doctors removed the tumor and ascertained that it was glioblastoma, an aggressive form of cancer with no known cure.
Forbes recovered well physically, but he dealt with lingering aphasia. Still, he followed his calling, jumping back into teaching. Over the summer of 2018, however, additional development within the brain tissue made his aphasia more pronounced and he started experiencing short-term memory issues.
Ever focused on his students, Forbes felt that the changes made it harder for them to get what they needed from him and his classes, and he made the difficult decision to retire. “Overall he’s doing really well,” shared Lisa. “We’re taking it a step at a time, trusting God day by day and living in the moment.”
A legacy of leadership
Forbes graduated with an MBA in December 1988, skipping graduation so he could immediately step into the role of bookstore manager at Union College. The following year he became an adjunct professor in the business division. Then, his dream position opened up in fall 1991, and he became a full-time professor.
In 2007, when then-department chair Arlie Fandrich retired, Barry was asked to take the helm. While it wasn’t a role he’d sought, his fellow business division professors knew it was the right move. “Barry has a talent for making people feel heard and at ease,” said Lisa. “He’s a very good listener and manager, and these qualifications make for good relationships with everyone in the division. These attributes were the biggest factors in the team asking him to become chair.”
Since then, the department has continued to flourish under his guidance. But Barry doesn’t consider committee appointments, strategic planning, or other departmental duties his biggest contributions. Instead, like his career and life, it’s all about the students.
“For him, those key accomplishments have to do with people and their stories,” Lisa said. “Student success in a variety of work and life situations is what he’s most proud of.”
The Forbeses recall a student who used his marketing skills to astronomically grow his church, another who used her managerial skills to become the youngest manager of a national car rental company, and the large number of graduates currently serving as hospital CFOs and CEOs.
“We’ve had the pleasure of watching some of those individuals walk around their hospitals and greet everyone by name, from the janitorial staff to nurses and doctors, and Barry is super-proud of who they have become,” Lisa said.
Other graduates have started companies or managed million-dollar-plus investment portfolios; some have chosen to stay home with their children, finding a balance between family and career.
Barry also brought new direction to the department, creating a conflict management course to teach students how to positively deal with personal and professional conflict, and Life after College, formatted to help non-business majors transition from college to the workforce by demystifying finance, HR and other issues. He also started using Capstone, a business simulation often not done until the master’s level, which many students credit as having better prepared them for graduate school.
Barry has always maintained that he’d be proud to put Union graduates up against those from any other college in the nation. “One of our graduates went to work in a big corporation where most of his colleagues were Ivy League graduates,” Lisa said. “Both he and his father told us that he was better prepared for that position than his colleagues and they felt very good about the education he’d received here. That made us feel even better about our program, and it proved what we already knew.”
Barry lists his interactions with students among his favorite memories. He coached students in SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise, now Enactus), including at regional and national competitions, taking home the regional trophy four times. He also mentored Associated Student Body financial vice presidents for 28 years. And he fondly recalls the book discussion groups he started with students and, eventually, staff.
The Forbeses are working to ease the transition. While he’s stepping away from his positions as professor and chair, Forbes will still bring his beloved voice and presence to campus and students. “As long as he’s able, Barry will be in an advisory role with the division,” Lisa Forbes confirmed. “He won’t be directly teaching classes, but he will be available to answer questions and support students.”
Lisa says she’ll continue fostering the same spirit that Barry brought to the department. “I’m committed to finding and keeping professors who care about developing students as individuals and professionals,” she said.
In fact, like her husband, she is invested in maintaining the reputation the department has for employing professionals who have had great experience in the workplace and bring practical experience to students. “It’s also key that we find individuals who care deeply about student development. That, at the core, is what our division is about,” she said. “Our mission statement says that as a division, we’re preparing professionals for Christian service in business, and that’s still the guiding light. The Lord is the head of this division, and students will still see a division that cares about student development first and foremost.”
New scholarship to honor Forbes
A student scholarship has been set up to honor Dr. Barry Forbes and his service to Union. If you would like to contribute to this scholarship fund for students majoring in business or computer science, please visit our giving page and select Barry Forbes scholarship from the pull-down menu.