A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

 

If you have never seen “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” you need to put this 1966 movie adaptation of the Broadway musical on your “must-watch” list. Anything staring Phil Silvers is hilarious and a feel-good experience. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” aptly describes the experience of President David Norman as he was on the way to the October 17 and 18 Erskine board meeting at Due West. In a number of conversations prior to the meeting, President Norman said he was relieved the agenda indicated this meeting of the board was going to be uneventful. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the board meeting.

President Norman and Academic Dean Brad Christie restructured the MEDCOM DMin program at Erskine Seminary for Army chaplains. Consequently, Dr. R. J. Gore, the originator, the maintainer, and the liaison of the program, resigned and left the program without anyone with military experience to give guidance to the program. One can only speculate as to what Drs. Norman and Christie were thinking and seeking to accomplish that would elicit such an uncharacteristic reaction from Dr. Gore. Well, at the board meeting a funny thing happened on the Seminary Committee. The members of the Seminary Committee voted to instruct President Norman to do whatever was necessary to see that Dr. Gore reconsidered his resignation and continued as the liaison of the MEDCOM DMin program. At this writing, Dr. Gore has reconsidered his resignation and has resumed the responsibilities of liaison. Furthermore, Dr. Gore has also been asked to oversee and direct the establishment of an off-campus site at Fort Bragg for Army chaplains. Another funny thing happened at the board meeting. The vote to reinstate Dr. Gore is the equivalent of a vote of “no confidence” in President Norman’s leadership of the seminary, and President Norman lost.

Other matters were addressed at the October meeting of the board. Some interesting and important agenda items are described below.

  1. The new auditing firm reported the books are in good order. There are two concerns: (1) the financial agency managing Erskine’s funds requires 50 million dollars in total assets, and Erskine’s total is about 53 million dollars and moving perilously close to jeopardizing the relationship; and (2) the board was warned the negative cash flow must be reversed.
  2. The “Ain’t-That-a-Hoot” award for this meeting of the board goes to trustee Dr. Richard Taylor. As the reader recalls, Dr. Taylor is one of the trustees who sued the ARP Church after the “Snow Synod.” Furthermore, he is one of the alums concerned for Erskine College’s academic reputation as though becoming a truly committed evangelical college, as the ARP Church desires, would impede academic excellence. Dr. Taylor asked the auditors if they handled the books of other “Christian” colleges nearby. They answered they did. Then Dr. Taylor, noting that these are hard times financially, asked the auditors if they knew of “Christian” colleges that were doing well. They answered: Liberty University (independent evangelical), Charleston Southern University (Southern Baptist), Columbia International University (independent evangelical), and Anderson University (Southern Baptist). Of course, Erskine wants to keep her elitist academic reputation and does not want to emulate the anti-intellectual ways of these “Fundamentalist” universities. Indeed, with only a 69% retention rate of last year’s small Freshman class, Erskine must not emulate the ways of these successful Fundy schools.
  3. As reported above, the retention rate for the Freshman class last year is reported at 69%. It is reported the Freshman class this year is about 135. There are also about 35 transfers. For the Due West, Columbia, and other seminary sites, the FTE (Full Time Equivalency) for Erskine Seminary is reported at 88. But this number was only reached after an eleventh hour phone calling campaign by professors and administrators.
  4. The new Administrative Vice President of the Seminary is Dr. James Meek. Dr. Meek comes to Erskine Seminary, having earlier served at Covenant Theological Seminary as Academic Dean. A minister in the PCA, Dr. Meek is also a New Testament scholar with considerable teaching experience. Dr. Meek brings to Erskine Seminary considerable expertise in academic leadership. Will he be allowed to lead?
  5. A very large budget deficit was addressed by a revision of the budget. After cuts, the remaining deficit in the budget will be balanced by transferring monies from Endowment and Scholarship funds.
  6. After President Norman gave his report to the Seminary Committee, it is reported the Seminary Committee went into executive session for more than an hour to hear a letter(s) from the seminary faculty expressing their concerns. Whatever the content of the letter(s), it must have been a super whooper to warrant the kind of secrecy surrounding it. Does the seminary faculty lack confidence in Dr. Norman’s leadership?
  7. There was a meeting between the Erskine representatives making nominations for new trustees to the Erskine board and the General Synod representatives making nominations for new trustees to the Erskine board. The Erskine and alumni representatives were reminded that General Synod still chooses the trustees of the board. The Erskine and alumni representatives were informed the Nominations Committee of General Synod will follow the wishes of General synod.
  8. Two requests from Chairman David Conner on behalf of the Erskine board have been sent to the Executive Board of General Synod. (1) CHAIRMAN CONNER’S FIRST REQUEST IS THAT THE EXECUTIVE BOARD OVERTURN THE ACTION OF GENERAL SYNOD ON TRUSTEES. Specifically, he asks the Executive Board temporarily to suspend items 6 and 7. Mr. Conner, a lawyer, knows he is playing a lawyer’s trick and asking for something that is unconstitutional. Smoke screening this request under the “emergency” clause is disingenuous. This is just another ruse to avoid and erode the authority of General Synod. Furthermore, the Executive Board is not the Supreme Court of the General Synod. General Synod may overturn itself; however, the Executive Board does not have the prerogative to overturn Synod. These people, and especially Mr. Conner, are loath to recognize the authority of the General Synod over Erskine. (2) MR. CONNER’S SECOND REQUEST IS ON BEHALF OF THE ALUMNI ASSOCIATION AND, PARTICULARLY, ON BEHALF OF MS. NAN CAMPBELL, THE PRESIDENT OF THE ALUMNI ASSOCIATION. The Alumni Association, a quasi or make-believe organization of secular alums that has no existence apart from Erskine College’s alumni department, has come up with the idea of a meeting composed of 13 representatives from the administration, faculty, alums, and Synod in which to discuss “our differences.” When this was presented to Moderator and board trustee Dr. Steve Suits, he declined to participate in a meeting that was not authorized by General Synod. Obviously, Moderator Suits understands he is not the Bishop of the ARP Church who has legislative authority. Now, Mr. Conner, the author of last year’s Erskine Ad Hoc Committee’s erroneous and misleading report regarding bylaw changes reflecting Synod’s policy for the removal of trustees, is once again attempting to manipulate, mislead, and short-circuit the process of General Synod and is pushing forward the agenda of Ms. Nan Campbell for the Alumni Association. Therefore, Mr. Conner is asking the Executive Committee to override the decision of the elected Moderator of General Synod on this matter for the sake of Ms. Nan Campbell and the secular alums who have no regard for the ARP Church and no distinct standing as a legal organization. What is Mr. Conner thinking? Mr. Conner is a member of the Session of the Greenville ARP Church. Where is his loyalty to the church that ordained him as an elder?

Why has the Erskine board not revised their bylaws to reflect the General Synod’s policy on the removal of trustees? Why do members of the board not hasten to conform to the wishes of General Synod? Did not the representatives of the Erskine administration and board acknowledge at the 2011 meeting of Synod this could be done? What is the delay? Why the equivocation? In Luke 19:14 we read the words of the rebellious: “We will not have this man to reign over us.” Is that the issue? Is all this about the Erskinites’ determination not to have the ARP Church reigning over them? If that is the case, then let us give them Erskine so they can turn Due West into another South Carolina ghost town like nearby Cokesbury! We have wasted too much time, money, and effort on an ant hill built on top of a cow pie in the middle of a dung heap!

These are my thoughts,

Charles W. Wilson

 

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  1. R J Gore says:

    Chuck
    Some clarifications on the MEDCOM issue. First, let me state that I am not the “originator and maintainer” of the MEDCOM program. I was on point for the establishment of the Ft Jackson program back in 1998, but that is another matter.
    Second, my role as liaison (at times officially so-designated, and at other times unofficially so without portfolio) has been to serve as interpreter of academic requirements and policies to the MEDCOM and, in a similar fashion, help ETS to understand the relevant language and policies of the Army. I have not been involved in the contracting process and by Army regulations cannot be involved since there are rubrics against any conflict of interest- even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
    Third, for the reason stated above, I cannot lead any effort to establish an extension site at Ft Bragg, though I certainly will share with the Erskine administration my experience in establishing other extension sites in the past.
    Fourth, as for the timing of all these things, I have been told that the decision to assign me to teach the initial class in the MEDCOM program was made several days before the board meeting.
    Finally, I think it is a mistake to view any decisions made re the MEDCOM, a small part of the overall institutional budget, as anyone’s referendum on President Norman. There are mechanisms in place to evaluate administrators, including the president, on an annual basis. The annual evaluation of the president involves both board members and subordinates and should provide a fair, comprehensive evaluation of the president. This annual evaluation provides data that is much more useful than an inference drawn, as in your article, from unrelated actions of the seminary committee.
    Please note that I am not speaking on behalf of Erskine. I have not been in a position to do that for years. In the words of a famous blogger, “these are my thoughts.” –RJ Gore

     
  2. Scott cook says:

    Chuck,

    I think Dr. Gore has a point. There are formal means for evaluating the head of an institution, and then there are questions about specific policy implementation that might reflect a disagreement on a particular issue rather than a wholesale “vote of no confidence.” Is there more here than meets the eye in the issues over MEDCOM?

    Scott

     
    • Dear Mr. Scott Cook,

      Thanks for the comment. It’s good to hear from you again.

      You ask a good question. Indeed, as both you and Dr. Gore have noted, there is a formal evaluation system in place; however, there is also an informal evaluation that is probably more significant than the formal evaluation.

      As a former board member, I can tell you the most important evaluations are the ones occurring during the various board meetings, and, particularly, during the committee meetings. When the direction of a President is challenged in a committee and then the challenge is upheld in the regular board meeting, it is time for a President to rethink his policies. When the direction of a President is reversed and then the reversal is upheld in the regular board meeting, that is a vote of “no confident.” It may be informal; however, at that point, a President may want to dust off his exit strategy. Remember the old maxim: a college president arrives leaving.

      Scott, I did not get my information from Dr. Gore. I am privy to information he does not have. Specifically, the Seminary Committee went into an executive session for nearly two hours. During that time a letter or letters from seminary faculty members were read expressing serious reservations regarding Dr. Norman’s stewardship of and direction for the seminary. The net results are as follows: (1) leadership of the MIDCOM program was reversed or restored; (2) teaching responsibilities were changed; and (3) a subsequent meeting with President Norman was scheduled.

      The following quote from a source reflects the frustration and confusion in the Erskine community: “I don’t understand what Norman is doing, but it seems to me he is attempting to close the seminary.” I disagree with that assessment. I think he is floundering. I think this is now becoming clear to all the members and political sides of the board.

      As I said earlier, the informal occurs before the formal. The informal has taken place.

      Regards,

      Chuck Wilson
      ARPTalk

       

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