Dallas and Death

 

The news coming out of Dallas at the meeting of SACS is calamitous for Erskine College. Erskine’s accreditation has not been renewed! However, the news coming off the obituary page  is more positive, for Erskine if not for the deceased. I am told Erskine administrators in Belk Hall can be heard humming “Praise God for timely departures!”

1. Dallas

On Tuesday, December 11, while attending the meeting of SACS in Dallas, TX, President David Norman wrote the following in an e-mail to board and faculty members: “I regret to bring you some disappointing news from Dallas, where I am attending the annual SACS meeting. I don’t have details yet, but I was just informed that the SACS commission met last night and decided to continue our accreditation without re-affirming for the next twelve months.”

According to President Norman, “the reason for the surprisingly disappointing action was Core Requirement 2.5, which reads”:

The institution engages in ongoing, integrated, and institution-wide research-based planning and evaluation processes that (1) incorporate a systematic review of institutional mission, goals, and outcomes; (2) result in continuing improvement in institutional quality; and (3) demonstrate the institution is effectively accomplishing its mission. (Institutional Effectiveness)

Dr. Norman added:

“It was because we had known deficiencies regarding this Core Requirement that we expedited our strategic planning process last year.”

The story coming out of InsideHigherEd confirms this. The InsideHigherEd article reports Erskine has been put back on “warning status.” One thing is for certain: this is the recruiting season, and this news bodes ill for those bedraggled employees attempting to recruit students for next Fall’s freshman class.

Interestingly, as bad as the financial situation is at Erskine Seminary, ETS passed the ATS audit this year with flying colors. But the Erskine personnel preparing for the ATS audit were more experienced. Were they also more competent? Why were they not enlisted to help with the SACS audit?

Notice, one, the reason for the continuance of SACS’ “warning” status has nothing to do with Erskine’s longstanding conflict with the ARP Church. The reason is the administrative incompetence by two Erskine Presidents: Randy Ruble and David Norman.

At the 2010 “Snow Synod,” the members of the Moderator’s Commission warned General Synod of possible systemic failure at Erskine in the areas of finance and academic administration. In spite of loud nay-saying by Erskine administrators, board members, and others who claimed the warning of the Moderator’s Committee was alarmist rhetoric, all were warned Erskine was “at risk” in these areas. Clearly, a recent audit by an independent financial agency warns that significant fund raising must be accomplished now. The red warning flags are flying high. This time, however, the warning does not come from a Moderator’s Committee but from an independent financial agency. Even Ms. Nan Campbell, the voice of the so-called Alumni Association, acknowledges the legitimacy of the warning of dire consequences of the independent audit.

The genesis of the warning by SACS comes from the administration of former President Randy Ruble. He failed to prepare the college for the impending audit by SACS. One of the priorities of a college president is to make sure the college is prepared to deal with the periodic audits by the accrediting agencies. Because of the extensive nature of these audits, preparation has to be an ongoing process. It seems President Ruble’s way of preparing for the inevitable was to appoint Coach Gid Alston as Vice President and Academic Dean to deal with the matter while Dr. Ruble sat in his office in somnolent indifference. In other words, knowing he was about to retire and the audit would not occur during his watch, he kicked the can down the road.

Notice, two, the culmination of this disaster is the presidency of David Norman. As a young man with no extensive experience in running an academic institution, Dr. Norman’s first real job (not counting a brief stint with the small Trinity Forum) is the Presidency of Erskine College and Seminary. Only with the Erskine board and in Due West is such a fool thing possible!

The new and inexperienced President then appoints Dr. Brad Christie as Vice President and Academic Dean. It was touted Dr. Christie had the experience to deal with accreditation issues. Well, what happened to the experience?

According to Dr. Norman, the fracture line is in the strategic plan (a draft copy can be viewed here). For those who have read the strategic plan, they are not shocked by the news coming out of Dallas. Indeed, when the Editor read the document his response was: “Where’s the plan?”

Collectively, Dr. Norman and the members of his administration have failed College Administration 101. SACS has given them a failing grade. It is remediation time. Dr. Norman and the members of his administration will now have until this September to take College Administration 100 for “no credit”.

Dr. Norman has assured us he is omni-competent. When he was introduced before Synod, we were informed he went through his Ph.D. program at the University of Edinburgh “on the fast track.” Now he and his brain trust will have to slow down. They will have to learn academic leadership involves attention to hard reality, rather than arcane philosophical-theology speculations about whether the human soul can have conscious existence apart from the physical body. Accrediting agencies expect educational institutions to present a vision for the future, coherent strategic planning on how to get there, and detailed assessment of plans and programs. Has Dr. Norman’s administration provided this? Have Dr. Norman and his brain trust failed their own “thriving” and “flourishing” tests?

Without a doubt, the Editor has been harsh on Dr. Norman; however, let us not overlook Dr. Randy Ruble’s “ineptocracy.” His focus on his second retirement and his ethereal portrait in the Founders’ Room, and his failure to attend to business made success for President Norman highly unlikely. Also, the unwillingness and inability of successive boards to deal with this matter spotlights the fiduciary feckless ineptitude of trustees during and since the presidency of Randy Ruble.

2. Death

As reported in the first paragraph of this article, the obituary page of the Greenville News Online reported the death of Mr. Clarence Jan Westmoreland on November 8, 2012. Mr. Westmoreland was a graduate of Erskine College. After he retired from advertising and public relations with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals in 1993, he became active in the Erskine Alumni Association, even serving as President. He established the Westmoreland Performing Artist Program at Erskine. According to his obituary, he is survived by a sister, a niece and her husband, their children, numerous cousins, and “his partner of 33 years, ________ [male name deleted by Editor].” It is also reported Mr. Westmoreland has left a large bequest in his will to Erskine.

Since 1977, the publicly stated position of the ARP Church on homosexual behavior is as follows:

For all conditions of men and women, the renewing grace and changing power of Jesus Christ are freely offered. To those enslaved in the bonds of any sinful practice or thought pattern, Jesus Christ can bring freedom and release.

Today, many seem to be caught in the web of homosexual practices and thought-patterns. In Christian love we declare that God’s Word clearly forbids homosexual practice as a sin against God. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ we affirm our obligation to show Christian love and concern for homosexuals, and call them to repentance, cleansing, and deliverance in the saving power of Jesus Christ.

Erskine presidents, administrators, faculty members, and board members are bold to prate about their Christian faith. It is said presidents, administrators, board members, and faculty members have been asked if they can affirm the evangelical faith of the ARP Church, and they have so affirmed. However, this seems to be all talk and no substance. It seems we speak AT one another about two completely different formulizations of the word “Christian” which are as incompatible as Christ and the devil. Indeed, as President of the Erskine Alumni Association, Mr. Westmoreland served on the Erskine board. Did our position on homosexual behavior not precede his service by years? Did our position on homosexuality not preclude him from service on the Erskine board? Was he asked to affirm our belief system? Was he vetted as to his beliefs and practices? Did the president not know? Did the chairman of the board not know? Was a blind eye turned?

Erskine administrators and trustees have gladly received monies for an art program from one whose lifestyle is in conflict with the church Erskine is supposed to represent. Now, the President and trustees are excitedly anticipating receiving monies from the estate of one whose homosexual lifestyle is directly in conflict with the position of the ARP Church – whose view is the consensus of historic Christianity. This is not a question of what liberal American churchianity believes or tolerates. At stake is the Christian integrity of both the ARP Church and Erskine College and Seminary which is the ARP Church in higher education.

In the 1950s, a tobacco company offered to make a substantial donation to a Fundamentalist Baptist college. The spokesman for the company said he understood the position of the college prohibited all tobacco use; however, the gift could be given anonymously and with NO strings. According to the president at the time, the offer was eye-popping. The college needed the money. The president and the members of the board were greatly tempted to take the offer. Nevertheless, the gift was refused. The president of the college said: “We would have become a bunch of hypocrites if we had taken the money.” They held smoking to be sinful and incompatible with a Christian lifestyle. They valued their beliefs. They valued their integrity. They chose to trust in God who gives wealth. Today this college is prospering. The folks at Erskine trust in death from whom all blessings flow!

It seems integrity has long disappeared from the Erskine campus!

The Editor is aware his argument does not, as they say, “stand a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding.” Even many of you who normally agree with the Editor will part company here, saying, “Chuck, this is too far; this is impossible to police.” Well, whose money would you not receive? What are the boundaries of your integrity on this matter? Do the Fundamentalistic Baptists have more integrity than covenant confessing Presbyterians in the ARP Church? Are you of the cynical company of Ecclesiastes 10:19, “A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things [KJV]”? No wonder the ARP Church is pitiful, poor, and dying! No wonder Erskine College and Seminary is pitiful, poor, and dying! It can be said of us: “They trusted in money! And their god abandoned them!”

As the Editor said, he is aware his argument is going to fall mostly on deaf ears. He is aware accusations of intolerance are going to fall on him like rain. However, the Editor is reminded of the words of Psalm 119.32: “I will run the way of thy commandments.” What is the way in which the folks at Erskine run? Whatever it is, it has sent them leanness of soul and purse!

These are my thoughts,

Charles W. Wilson

 

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