A Lady of Integrity; A Double-Minded Board

 

Who would have thought it?! Ms. Jane Green’s letter of resignation on July 29 was a surprise. Ms. Greene was the Interim Director of Seminary Development at Erskine Theological Seminary (ETS). When the Editor of ARPTalk obtained a copy of Ms. Greene’s letter and read it, surprise became astonishment.

Below is a copy of Ms. Greene’s letter.

David Earl, Vice President of Advancement:

With a very saddened heart I do hereby tender my resignation as Interim Director of Seminary Development effective August 1, 2012. The opportunity to work with the alumni team of Buddy and Ann as well as the Advancement team, Dena and you, has been one of the highlights of my career.

When I came to work for the Erskine Theological Seminary under the direction of Dr. Steve Lowe, tears of joy flowed in the first week here. That week held the graduation of students I referred to as the old hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers” being put into action. Our Seminary was sending Christians forward to many places in this world. Dr. Lowe personified the leader of those Christian Soldiers. This was where I felt strongly with much prayer that God wanted me to be planted and to serve.

Dr. Lowe shared with me problems EC & ETS had with the now named “Snow Synod”. Obstacles to be overcome, challenges to be met but with the leadership now in place he felt we would move forward and be victorious for the good of the school, its employees, faculty and ultimately the students.

When you were hired as VP of Advancement we were all greatly heartened over your strong Christian principles, genuine humility, determination, this is about “doing well for the students” and “we can do this” attitude. I will miss sharing your goals, dreams of a better, more transparent environment for students in which to grow and prosper. It has become increasingly apparent to me that there will be no growing and prospering and certainly no transparency.

The ETS no longer functions as a seminary. It is gradually being dismantled. We are seeing personnel demoted, fired, salaries cut, and personnel leaving as if fleeing a sinking ship. It has become a rudderless, compass impaired, non-directed floating wreck headed for the rocks engineered by leaders who are playing checkers with the lives of “God’s Warriors” and students enrolled for a sound Christian-based education.

Having been in my position for 14 months I have been appalled over and over at decisions made and a Board that has looked the other way while the ship became weakened by egos and unnamed agendas. The final blow came when three seminary students were told the scholarships given to them by former Vice Presidents would not be honored and would be rescinded and any balance due became their responsibility; over $800 for two of those students.

As a serial and very successful entrepreneur, I know and understand fiscal responsibility and the need for it to enable a business to maintain and grow. To cut salaries, decrease matching benefits by 2%, increase employee insurance costs, withhold raises for staff for three years, fire and intimidate an already defeated staff and faculty is disheartening. To elevate to even higher positions those already in the highest positions of the administration is not fiscal conscientiousness; it is an abomination, an insult to those who are trying to keep this ship afloat. There is a diminished number of fall enrolled students which are the lifeblood by which the school exists. What happened to the huge increase in enrollment we paid an outside firm to provide with no guarantee of success regardless of their colossal payment? Where have all our participating alumni gone? Were it not for the excellent work of the Alumni office there would be even a further degeneration in alumni. Fewer donors are trying to keep this ship afloat while those who have given Erskine Theological Seminary Scholarships are wondering what is going on with “their Seminary.”

When we look on our current lives we know when we leave this earth for our heavenly home all we leave behind in legacy is our integrity. I cannot in good faith look at our donors and say this is where you should entrust your dollars. For me to keep my integrity intact, I must leave Erskine. I feel great sadness for our students, fellow employees and faculty because we all will miss the family that was once Erskine Theological Seminary.

God’s blessings on you and the Advancement team,

Ms. Greene is an entrepreneur who has started, grown, and profited financially in at least two businesses. She has also worked in development at Clemson University where she is spoken of highly. Fourteen months ago when she was hired, she came on board at ETS with a record of success and a sterling reputation for industry and integrity. Now, consider the reasons she lists for her resignation.

  • Though not specifically stated, the not too subtle manner in which Dr. Steve Lowe was maneuvered out of his position as Interim Vice President of the Seminary is a reason. This interesting back story is yet to be told.
  • As reported in “Erskine Theological Seminary – R.I.P.”, ETS no longer exists. Ms. Greene was asked to do development for ETS; ETS no longer exists. In her words, “ETS no longer functions as a seminary. It is gradually being dismantled.” Actually, Dr. Norman’s restructuring plan collapses the seminary into the college as a graduate department – a graduate school of religion, Bible, or theology. For the want of a better term, the Editor has used the designation of “Graduate School of Religion” (GSR). In other words, this is a betrayal of the institution for which Ms. Greene was hired to raise money. In an interview she lamented: “After 175 years, the seminary is gone.
  • Ms. Greene’s descriptions of the activities of Erskine administrators and board of trustees are SCALDING. She writes that Erskine has become a “rudderless, compass impaired, non-directed floating wreck headed for the rocks engineered by leaders who are playing checkers with the lives of ‘God’s Warriors’ and students enrolled for a sound Christian-based education.” She is “appalled” by calamitous decisions by members of the administration “AND A BOARD THAT HAS LOOKED THE OTHER WAY WHILE THE SHIP BECAME WEAKENED BY EGOS AND UNNAMED AGENDAS [my emphasis].” Indeed, the board’s history is to avoid dealing with the seminary. In the six years the Editor was a member of the board, seminary issues were not discussed. The seminary was simply a passing concern – if that! At a meeting of the board in those days, 10 or 15 minutes were spent of the seminary.
  • The specific event precipitating Ms. Greene’s resignation was the rescinding of scholarships to three students. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated event. The Editor knows of three other breeches of promise similar to the one mentioned by Ms. Greene. In this particular case, a gracious donor paid the students’ debt.
  • According to Ms. Greene, a lack of “fiscal conscientiousness” prevails on the administration. She calls it an “abomination.” She notes a declining enrollment portending a threat to “the lifeblood” of the institution, while asking what happened to the promised increase in student enrollment projected by Miller and Cook who was paid somewhere between 140 and 200 thousand dollars “with no guarantee of success.”
  • Finally, Ms. Greene states she cannot maintain her “integrity” and ask donors to contribute to Erskine Seminary. She has concluded in order “to keep my integrity intact I must leave Erskine.”

Who is Ms. Jane Greene? She is a very successful businesswoman who does not need a job and who is known for her eleemosynary activities. She has no direct ties to Erskine. That is, she in neutral on the ARP Church-Erskine controversy and has no “ax-to-grind”. She is an outsider who is a Methodist rather than an ARP, or as so many are pleased to tag the Editor, a “religious fundamentalist”. Ms. Greene is a lady of integrity who has loyally served and generously given to Erskine.

The most interesting thing about Ms. Greene’s letter is its resemblance to the conclusions of the “Snow Synod.” The conclusions of the “Snow Synod” were not particularly theological – they primarily chronicled the failures, disingenuousness, and ineptness of successive Erskine administrations and the lack of oversight and direction, fiduciary irresponsibility, and self-imposed ignorance of successive boards that turned their collective head to the problems and needs of Erskine College and Seminary. This has resulted in a dégringolade from which Erskine may never recover.

Next week the Erskine board meets for its August meeting. The agenda is full, and it is expected this meeting will be contentious. Will Ms. Greene’s letter of resignation be an item of discussion? If the “Same Ol’ MO” is used, Ms. Greene’s letter will be ignored or dismissed as the ranting of a disgruntled employee. The accusations regarding a lack of transparency, administrative incompetence, and lack of integrity on both the administration and board will be avoided. Witness how such things were ignored by the administration and board after the “Snow Synod.”

Well, what are some of the agenda items to be discussed or avoided at the meeting next week?

  1. Foremost on the agenda is the conflict between the ad hoc committee’s report and the report of the “Minority Report to General Synod” which were sent to the meeting of the 2012 General Synod. This is no longer a board concern. The General Synod voted for the Moderator of General Synod to appoint a committee also to look into the matter of changing the bylaws in order to allow for trustee removal according to General Synod’s removal policy. If these two committees present conflicting reports regarding this matter at next year’s meeting of Synod, the ensuring conflict will be disastrous for Erskine.
  2. A corollary issue to the ad hoc committee, “Minority Report to General Synod”, and the Moderator’s committee issue is the letter written by former board trustee, Rev. Ray Cameron, asking the board’s committee on trustees to investigate both the members of the ad hoc committee and the trustees who signed the “Minority Report to General Synod.” Rev. Cameron’s letter requests an investigation as to whether trustees’ actions were “consistent with the bylaws concerning conflict of interest” and “consistent with the statement on trustee responsibility.” Former Chairman Joe Patrick and Chairman David Conner, both who preside over a bitterly divided board, instead of filing this request in the nonsense file, allowed it to go forward. Is this another act of intimidation in what was identified by Second Presbytery and General Synod as “a culture of intimidation”? The language of the request is not aimed at the members of the ad hoc committee but at the trustees who signed the “Minority Report to Synod.” The words “conflict of interest” is code for “the highest loyalty must be to Erskine and not to the ARP Church or you will pay.” Not only is Rev. Cameron’s letter amazing, it is spectacularly astounding that an ordained minister in the ARP Church is asking for the investigation of trustees who have declared their highest loyalty is to the appointing institution, the ARP Church. Also, does Rev. Cameron’s letter mean that while he served on the board his loyalty to Erskine took precedence over his loyalty to the ARP Church?
  3. What is to be done about the budget? The budget for the college was established on an enrollment projected at 215. According to reliable sources, the incoming class is about 155 students (Freshmen and transferees). The difference between 155 students and 215 students translates into a shortfall of about a million dollars. Once again, the enrollment at the seminary/GSR is significantly down. The head count is presently at 149 students and this translates into a FTE of only about 60 students. Surely, such an enrollment cannot financially sustain two campuses and a faculty of 14 fulltime professors. This ominous news is the harbinger of a deficit like last year’s deficit of 460,000 dollars – or more. If this information is correct and the board faithfully exercises fiduciary responsibility, the necessary cuts at both the college and GSR are going to be ugly and bloody. Of note, the unduplicated head count at ETS 10 years ago was over 500, and the FTE was over 200. What has happened? Was the board watching?
  4. Is Miller and Cook going to be retained for recruiting this year? No is probably the answer. The recruitment office has produced a video for recruiting purposes. In the video, a new iPad is the promised reward to those who pay their deposits by December 31, 2012. Well, if history repeats itself, the cost of this idea should not be too dear; however, the 140 to 200 thousand dollars paid to Miller and Cook last year was very dear for the return. One wonders how Dr. Norman would answer this question: If a recruitment officer had proposed the idea to hire Miller and Cook and the results where what took place, would YOU retain the employee? By the way, that is a fair question!! The points of accountability for a college president are recruitment and fund raising. Where does Dr. Norman stand?
  5. Erskine College is now a “Jock College” – something like a Mississippi JuCo specializing in preparing football, basketball, and baseball players for the next level. Since the presidency of Dr. Randy Ruble, Erskine has developed what may be called a terminal case of jock itch. No longer are Christian commitment and academic excellence the draw at Erskine College. The opportunity to play a sport is now the draw. Indeed, the coaches have been called on to recruit students when other means failed. Why not be done with the charade and give the job of recruiting to the athletic department? They get the job done! Indeed, has anyone noticed Dr. Brad Christie’s recent announcement that Mr. Scott DeCiantis is the new part-time Administrative Dean of Erskine College? As such, he will retain his “faculty/staff status as Instructor of Athletic Training and AT Education Program Director.” Has the reader noticed that colleges and universities valuing academic excellence do not do such things as this? By the way, Mr. DeCiantis is a good man, and the Editor does not fault him for taking on a new job. Nevertheless, this is a strange way to run a college once known for academic excellence.
  6. Another question to be asked of President Norman involves his activities in fund raising for Erskine. How much money has he personally raised during his watch? How do his fund raising activities compare to the fund raising activities of Dr. Ruble and Dr. Carson in their first two years?
  7. The following was relayed to the Editor by two reliable sources. Individuals on the board identified as anti-ARP Church trustees argued that it is impossible to deal with both the failures of Dr. Norman’s presidency and the ARP Church at the same. Accordingly, issues involving the ARP Church were foremost. The General Synod must be put in its place. If Erskine dies in the meantime – well, the ARP Church will have been shown its place! In other words, a coup d’état regarding Dr. Norman can wait until later.
  8. Will the events of the 2012 General Synod be discussed? Funding from Synod is on the cusp of being lost. Separation of Erskine and the ARP Church is openly discussed and looms as a soon-to-be reality. Do the non-ARP board members understand the implications of a break with the ARP Church? Do they care?
  9. What is going to be done with the EC Foundation? The SACS report identifies the EC Foundation as a significant threat to Erskine’s accreditation. Will the particulars of the agreement with the EC Foundation be revealed and discussed with the trustees?
  10. What is the disposition of Dr. Bill Crenshaw’s suit against Erskine?
  11. Will the dissatisfaction of the alumni with Erskine be discussed? For different reasons, the alumni are as dissatisfied with Erskine as individuals in the ARP Church such as the Editor of ARPTalk.

Finally, two questions:

  1. Year-after-year, why do we in the ARP Church put up with this sordid mess which is as scandalous and shameful as something coming out of Washington, DC and
  2. Year-after-year, why do ARP ministers who know of the reprehensible goings on at Erskine vote to fund the Due West disaster when they would never countenance such highhanded sinful deeds and repugnant unfaithfulness in their congregations?

These are my thoughts,

Charles W. Wilson

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  1. Craig Mutton says:

    Rev. Wilson,

    In your article you state:

    “Though not specifically stated, the not too subtle manner in which Dr. Steve Lowe was maneuvered out of his position as Interim Vice President of the Seminary is a reason. This interesting back story is yet to be told.”

    It may help some of us not familiar with the inner political machinations at Erskine to know the back story to which you have alluded. Will you elucidate us?

     
    • Craig Mutton says:

      I should have said, “elucidate the matter for us.”

       
      • Dear Mr. Craig Mutton,

        Thank you for commenting on ARPTalk and asking your question.

        Indeed, there is a back story. If I’m a bit cryptic with my answer, I think you understand there are sources to be protected. However, it is no secret that many (if not most) of the old ETS faculty members are not excited about the restructuring of ETS into a GSR. There where hired to teach at a seminary. There are substantive differences between a seminary and a GSR. None of them can be happy about the restructuring and dismantling taking place.

        At this point, the concern in Belk Hall is not for the wants and needs of the ARP Church. The focus is the overall deficit – and the seminary/GSR is awash in red ink. In the short run, faculties are combined, reduplications in faculty removed, a headache is removed, a unified endowment (the college endowment) established and increased, and the deficit ameliorated – well, at least, an explanation of the deficit made easier.

        Expect to see more interesting things taking place. This restructuring is being made up on the fly. You don’t see such as this often. It’s an effort of desperation – an attempt to float a grounded ship.

        Regards,

        Chuck Wilson
        ARPTalk

         
  2. Will Anderson says:

    Unfortunately this too seems to point to the reality that the findings of the Commission on Erskine were, if nothing else, principally sound. They were and are honorable men who were not treated accordingly. May God give us all wisdom and courage.

     

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