The Sound of Silence

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were extraordinarily talented performers!!

Their first big hit in 1965 as Simon & Garfunkel was The Sound of Silence. While the radio played in the background, I was sitting at the kitchen table and talking to my mother as she prepared supper when I first heard the song. Paul Simon’s ability to compose and arrange, their vocal harmonization, and their talent with the guitar have made them popular music legends. Many of their songs are now pop standards. As a matter of fact, I heard The Sound of Silence again on the Highlands, NC, radio station a few days ago. It was the inspiration for this article.

Since the initial news a month ago (December 10, 2012) of the accrediting agency SACS putting Erskine College & Seminary on “warning” status, not a word has been heard out of Radio Due West. Mum has been the word from the directors of the EC Foundation and the so-called Alumni Association, and nothing has been reported in the ARP Magazine and the local papers. The sound heard so loudly is the sound of recreant silence. Is this surprising to you?

As noted, it has been a month since Erskine College & Seminary was put on “warning” by SACS. Where is the transparency promised by the Erskine administrators and board leaders? Where is the open communication with the ARP Church promised by Erskine administrators and board leaders? The sound we are now hearing is recreant silence! And the recreant silence is deafening!

In Erskine’s continuing story of spiritual and academic decline, there are only two substantive sources regarding the SACS disaster: (official SACS responses and the letter from SACS to Erskine below) and Dr. Norman’s cryptic letter to the Erskine community. The Erskine academic community once sought to walk in step with Davidson, Furman, and Presbyterian; now, according to SACS, Erskine is mired in the mud of “warning” with the following: Memphis College of Art, Tennessee; Mid-Continent University, Mayfield, Kentucky; Interdenominational Theological Center, Atlanta, Georgia; Louisiana College, Pineville, Louisiana, Emmanuel Christian Seminary, Johnson City, Tennessee; Georgia Perimeter College, Decatur, Georgia; Navarro College, Corsicana, Texas; Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, Orangeburg, SC; Southwest Virginia Community College, Cedar Bluff, Virginia; Texas College, Tyler, Texas; University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia; and Wytheville Community College; Wytheville, Virginia.

Erskine now stands academically with gnats (UVA excepted, which is a bona fide academic giant, but ran afoul of SACS because of conflict between the president and board)! Erskine grads must be proud! However, President David Norman says this is but a small thing and no cause for worry. It is but a flesh wound. I wonder if President Norman has ever seen the following clip?

Indeed, the SACS “warning” is not just a “flesh wound”!! In contrast, in an interview on public television last month, the President of Presbyterian College understandably crowed that 90% of Presbyterian’s grads go on to grad school.

It may be impolitic and not nice, but is it unreasonable to ask why so many of the participants in this train wreck have not spoken out and taken responsibility for the “warning” by SACS? Where is the voice of former Preside Randy Ruble? In the last ten years, was his tenure as President not the longest? Did not the secular alums bless him for his wisdom and academic leadership? Were they mistaken? Instead, was he sleeping in his Belk Hall office? For a man who spent a goodly portion of his time after retirement from Erskine Seminary participating as an auditor for ATS and SACS, how is it he failed to attend to the necessary PAPERWORK and protocols?

As impolitic and not nice as it may be, is it unreasonable to ask what former Acting Academic Dean of the College Gid Alston was doing with his time? Was he more focused on the “critical thinking” controversy involving former English professor Bill Crenshaw than on faculty evaluations? As a coach and head of the Athletic Department, was his time more occupied with recruiting athletes than on evaluations of staff members? Are these inconsequential questions? Are these not noncompliance issues noted in the “warning” by SACS?

And since the SACS report includes Erskine Seminary, what is former Executive Vice President of the Seminary Neely Gaston saying? Has anyone stood watch in Due West longer than he in the last ten years? What does he say now? He boasted he would do what he wanted and did not care what the academic auditors thought. And what does Dr. Robby Bell say now? Was he not Dr. Gaston’s Academic Dean of the Seminary for most of Dr. Gaston’s tenure? Was not Dr. Bell’s Deanship marked by recreant silence? What was he doing? Why is he continuing in his silence? Are these men now saying “This is not my concern!”?

As impolitic and not nice as it may be, is it unreasonable to ask what the various Chairmen of the Erskine board were doing the last ten years – particularly, Messrs. Scott Mitchell, Joe Patrick, and David Conner? Were they too busy undermining the ARP Church’s efforts to rein in a rebellious and rogue agency to look after the academic affairs of Erskine College & Seminary? Were they not attempting to frighten the timid ministers of the ARP Church with “the big bad wolf” of SACS over governance? However, on SACS’ comprehensive audit, where is a noncompliance mark regarding governance or the interference of the ARP Church? Did these men fail in their academic stewardship of Erskine? Instead, did “the big bad wolf” of SACS turn and bite them?

As impolitic and not nice as it may be, is it unreasonable to ask what board members, who are members, elders, and ministers in the ARP Church, were doing? Indeed, some were speaking out for the ARP Church and warning of an impending collision with SACS; however, what of those who joined hands with those who worked tirelessly to undercut the legitimacy of the ARP Church’s oversight of one of its agencies? When given the opportunity to revise the bylaws so as to recognize the legitimate role of the ARP Church, why did they refuse to do so? Why were they too busy trying to distance Erskine from the church that they failed to take care of business and see that Erskine maintains her accreditation? Have they served Erskine well?

As impolitic and not nice as it may be, is it unreasonable to question the thinking and direction set by those who supported the legal actions against the ARP Church after the 2010 “Snow” Synod? A goodly number complained the majority of the ARP Church “sinned” in the actions of the 2010 “Snow” Synod in our attempts to correct the ineptness and fecklessness of both the Erskine administration and board, but what do they say now? HAS NOT THE SACS AUDIT CONFIRMED THE FINDINGS AND WARNINGS OF THE MODERATOR’S COMMISSION? Did not the Erskine pundits decry the findings and warnings of the Moderator’s Commission as intrusive, insignificant, and unsubstantiated? What are they saying now? Why are they silent?

As impolitic and not nice as it may be, is it unreasonable to ask Erskine board trustee Richard Taylor and former trustee Parker Young to answer publicly regarding SACS’ “warning”? Were they not very outspoken in the courtroom in Newberry? Did not Dr. Young inform the world he was an expert on SACS, and Erskine was going to lose SACS’ accreditation because of governance issues? In addition, what are Dr. David Danehower and Ms. Mary Lou Grier Holmes saying? As the moderators of the two Facebook sites for the alums to chat, they are uncharacteristically silent. Do they realize both they and Erskine’s academic standing have been betrayed by anti-ARP Church administrators, board members, and faculty trustees they promoted as their champions? Is not the sound of recreant silence deafening?

Conversations now with Erskine administrators and anti-ARP Church board members are bizarre. Is President Norman taking pointers from former Executive Vice President of the Seminary Neely Gaston? Dr. Gaston described himself NOT as a servant of the ARP Church; rather, he was a servant of “the greater” church. Well, is this what President Norman is – “a servant of the greater church”? This is what he claims now! Regardless, was not President Norman hired to be a servant of the ARP Church? On more than one occasion, has he not spoken of himself as a servant of the ARP Church and thanked the ARP Church for the stewardship entrusted to him?

Nowadays, President Norman says he is concerned for the health of the ARP Church. He says the ARP Church is “splintered” and “unhealthy”. Well, if the ARP Church is in turmoil, is it not because the institution of which he is the President has created division by its recalcitrant rebellion and unwillingness to be “the servant of the ARP Church”? Is not theirs an attitude of “The ARP Church is the church of Erskine if it pleases us, and we lead in this dance – send us the money!”?

The sound of silence is about to be broken in Due West. The meeting of the Erskine board takes place next month. What will take place?

The Cliff Notes version of my predictions is as follows:

1. There will be much hand wringing over the SACS audit; however, the board will be assured all is well and under control by President Norman and Chairman Conner.

2. The word on the street in Due West is a consultant (who is an expert on matters regarding SACS accreditation) has been (or will be) retained to guide the Erskine administrators in their REMEDIATION process with SACS. Why is this necessary? Are these folks unable to follow directions, meet SACS’ nitpicking requirements and schedules, and write a long report? According to the December 10, 2012 SACS report in which Erskine was put on “warning,” the administrators at so-called “Fundy schools” (Anderson University, North Greenville University, and Shorter University) succeed where Erskine administrators failed.

3. As noted above, the SACS audit also involves Erskine Seminary. Whereas ATS granted the Erskine Seminary Columbia Campus degree-giving status, is this now the case with SACS? From SACS’ public documents, this does not appear to be the case.

4. The board will be informed the discussions between the board’s Ad Hoc Committee and Synod’s Moderator’s Committee are ONGOING. After both the request by General Synod for the Erskine board to write General Synod back into Erskine’s bylaws (2011 Synod) and the assurances of Erskine administrators and trustees this could be done at the meeting of Synod, the discussions are ONGOING almost three years later! Is this because of Chairman Conner’s obstruction? Why do we in the ARP Church countenance such obstinate rebellion?

5. Chairman Conner will attempt to differentiate between “agency” and “institution.” He will inform trustees Erskine is an “institution” like the ARP Church. Apart from historical ties and the money the ARP contributes as the institution’s largest contributor, Erskine is separate from, equal to, and not an “agency” of the ARP Church. The only tie is the appointment of trustees. Well, would someone be so kind as to explain what it means for Erskine to be the “arm” of the ARP Church in college and seminary education?

6. Whether publicly or privately, look for discussions regarding July 1, 2013, when seven new trustees are slated to be seated, and, if the new trustees are obviously loyal to the ARP Church, this will be unacceptable to the present majority and plans will be drawn up for NOT seating the new trustees. Chairman Conner will take this as a grand quest!!

7. With Dr. Tim Watson’s resignation from the board, President Norman has appointed Rev. Andy Putnam as the new chairman of the Seminary Committee. Mr. Putnam was one of the authors deleting the ARP Church from the Erskine bylaw. His appointment may not bode well for the seminary of the ARP Church. Dr. Watson instituted an “open door” policy for the representative of the seminary. Will this policy continue? Rumor has it there is little enthusiasm for this appointment.

8. In addition, a litany of woes will be read regarding recruitment, retention, budget, a rising discount rate, and development. But do not despair there is good news: Erskine is the safest college/university in South Carolina.

Why do we ARPs have this debacle in Due West? Is it because we have sinned with a high hand? Most ministers in the ARP Church will not officiate at a wedding if one of the couple is a Christian and the other is not. We call this being “unequally yoked,” and we will quote numerous texts from the Bible why this is both sin for the couple and the officiating minister. How is it we see this so clearly, and how is it we have missed it in setting up the Erskine board? The problem on the Erskine board is a collision of competing world views – one Christian and the other secular or non-Christian. Why do we expect Erskine College and Seminary to reflect evangelical Christianity when half of the trustees are uncomfortable with and not committed to the evangelical Christian faith of the ARP Church? Why are we silent on this? Why have we not rectified this? Has this sin so deluded us we are now embracing the infamy of judgment as a blessing?

“Moving forward” is one of President Norman’s favorite phrases. The wreck of Erskine is not going forward built on the “sand” of an unequally yoked board. The efforts of those who desire the reformation of Erskine into a decidedly and distinctively evangelical Christian college are going to fail for they are attempting to build on a foundation of sand (Matthew 7:24-29).

What is God doing in all of this? A minister in another denomination who is familiar with Erskine recently observed:

It’s passing strange that intelligent people miss the obvious implications of distancing the college and seminary from its historic constituency and financial base. It brings that one Jeremiah text [Jeremiah 34:17] to mind. “We want our freedom . . . from the ARP! We want to be free from ‘denominational interference’ and accountability to some old Fundies!” God says, “I declare to you ‘freedom’ to decline, to go bankrupt, to wander in a dry wasteland of modernity and unbelief.”

What is this sound of silence we hear? Has God now given Erskine the freedom to wither, to go broke, to sink into insignificance, and finally to become only a heartbreaking memory? Is this the Romans 1:21-28 principle in action? Is He handing Erskine over to delusion, judgment, and destruction? Is God removing Erskine from our sight?

These are my thoughts,

Charles W. Wilson


Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
http://www.sacscoc.org
Disclosure Statement Regarding the Status of
ERSKINE COLLEGE
Due West, South Carolina
Issued December 20, 2012, by SACS Commission on Colleges

The following publicly available information is provided by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) concerning the accreditation of Erskine College. Information presented below is in accord with the Commission’s disclosure policy; staff of the Commission cannot comment further on questions specifically related to Erskine College. The institution has reviewed this statement prior to public posting.

Action by the Board of Trustees of SACS Commission on Colleges took place on December 10, 2012, and the institution’s next review is December 2013.

WHAT IS THE ACCREDITATION STATUS OF ERSKINE COLLEGE? Erskine College is accredited by SACS Commission on Colleges; however, the institution was denied reaffirmation of accreditation and placed on Warning for 12 months following its comprehensive decennial review. Prior to the institution’s next review by the Commission in December 2013, a Special Committee will conduct an on-site evaluation of its compliance with the Principles of Accreditation—the accreditation standards of the Commission. The Commission’s accreditation includes all components of the institution—all programs, branch campuses, off-campus sites, and distance learning programs as reported to the Commission; thus, the Warning status applies to the entire institution.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE DENIED REAFFIRMATION AND PLACED ON WARNING? Warning imposed by the Commission’s Board of Trustees at the time of an institution’s comprehensive decennial review follows a determination of significant non-compliance with the Core Requirements, Comprehensive Standards, or the Federal Requirements of the Principles of Accreditation of the Commission; failure to make timely and significant progress toward correcting the deficiencies that led to the finding of noncompliance; or failure to comply with Commission policies and procedures. The maximum total time during one monitoring period that an institution may be on Warning is two years. In December 2013, Erskine College will have been on Warning for 12 months. For additional information about sanctions, see the Commission’s policy entitled “Sanctions, Denial of Reaffirmation, and Removal from Membership” that can be accessed at http://www.sacscoc.org/policies.asp.

WHY WAS ERSKINE COLLEGE DENIED REAFFIRMATION OF ACCREDITATION AND PLACED ON WARNING? Erskine College was denied reaffirmation of accreditation and placed on Warning because the SACSCOC Board of Trustees determined that, at the time of the institution’s decennial review, it had failed to demonstrate compliance with Core Requirement 2.5 (Institutional effectiveness), Comprehensive Standard 3.2.10 (Administrative staff evaluations), Comprehensive Standard 3.2.13 (Institution-related entities), Comprehensive Standard 3.3.1.1 (Institutional effectiveness: educational programs), Comprehensive Standard 3.3.1.2 (Institutional effectiveness: administrative support services), Comprehensive Standard 3.3.1.3 (Institutional effectiveness: academic and student support services), Comprehensive Standard 3.3.1.5 (Institutional effectiveness: community/public service), Comprehensive Standard 3.3.2 (Quality enhancement plan), Comprehensive Standard 3.5.1 (General education competencies), Comprehensive Standard 3.5.4 (Terminal degrees of faculty), Comprehensive Standard 3.7.2 (Faculty evaluation), and Comprehensive Standard 3.12.1 (Substantive change) of the Principles of Accreditation. The cited standards expect an accredited institution to provide evidence that it (1) engages in ongoing, integrated, and institution-wide research based planning and evaluation processes, (2) identifies outcomes, assesses their achievement, and uses results for improvement, (3) has sufficient terminally qualified faculty, (4) evaluates faculty and administrators, (5) identifies general education competencies and their attainment, and (6) reports substantive changes requiring approval. (To read the full statements for the standards cited above, access the Principles of Accreditation at http://www.sacscoc.org/principles.asp.)

WHAT WILL HAPPEN IN DECEMBER 2013? The SACSCOC Board of Trustees will consider the accreditation status of Erskine College following review of a First Monitoring Report submitted by the institution addressing the standards cited above for noncompliance and the report of the Special Committee that will visit the institution in fall 2013. The Board will have the following options: (1) reaffirm accreditation and remove the institution from Warning, without an additional report or with a Fifth-Year Follow Up Report; (2) deny reaffirmation of accreditation, continue accreditation, continue Warning and request an additional report; (3) deny reaffirmation of accreditation, continue accreditation, continue Warning or place the institution on Probation, authorize a Special Committee, and request an additional report; and (4) remove the institution from membership with the Commission on Colleges. Commission staff will not speculate on what decision might be made by the Commission’s Board in December 2013.

For additional information regarding the Commission’s accreditation process, access the Principles of Accreditation (http://www.sacscoc.org/principles.asp).

 

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  1. Wilfred A. Bellamy, Ph.D. says:

    Some Erskine Questions

    Is it not true that there was a time when Erskine College was firmly connected to the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the parent who brought her into being? And is it not true that young men and women graduated and moved on into graduate study and/or into their careers and excelled because they had been trained responsibly? And is it not true that there was a time when Erskine Theological Seminary taught and graduated stellar young men who moved on into ministry roles to uphold the Doctrines of Grace in which they had been trained? And isn’t it true that today the ARP Church can see many congregations still faithfully upholding the truth as their shepherds had been taught at Erskine?

    So perplexity says; “why this compulsive need to separate Erskine from its roots?” Why the need to sever an umbilical relationship? Why is there the strident voice that insists that there is a massive disadvantage to Erskine in being associated with the ARP Church? Have we not walked harmoniously together, supported one another, and yes, dare I say it, loved one another?

    If the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is no longer what it has always been, the proprietor of Erskine, its wholly owned subsidiary, and if there is a serious disadvantage to the college and seminary in being associated with the church, we are yet to hear this articulated dispassionately. Admittedly there is a “yearning to be free” in the expressions of Erskine, and her alumni, but no particularly convincing rationale for separation and disassociation.

    Certainly the specter of SACS no longer poses the assumed threat that has always been quoted. There was a time when this might have swayed some to believe that separation had merit, but that has gone away as SACS has directly, and without equivocation, informed us that Erskine’s administration is to be held responsible for its faults and not the church.

    So the major issue remains and must be satisfied. Who really, historically, legally and sustainably owns Erskine College and Seminary? A plethora of opinion will not serve to answer this cardinal question. The answer must be established under the authority of law. The church must decide its own position on ownership and declare it. If Erskine has a different opinion she too must declare it, in practical measurable terms. The outcome of such deliberation will settle matters once for all, for surely the owner of an entity has the right and responsibility to determine the conduct of its subsidiary and to dictate its modus operandi.

    • Scott Robar says:

      Dear Dr. Bellamy, I hope that you will be at Synod this year. I’d love to hear you say, in that context, the same words that you’ve said here.

      I believe I met you when I was given a tour of the ARP Center. I don’t know if you have attended Synod in the last few years; but I think it would break your heart to see how well-known and longtime ARPs vote in these matters.

      Again, I’d love to hear you speak to this issue in that context.

      Your brother in Christ,

      Scott

  2. Dear Dr. Wilfred Bellamy,

    Thanks for the comments.

    My article is entitled “The Sound of Silence”. I believe your comments should be entitled “The Sound of Reason.”

    Sadly, Wilf, reason long ago dropped out of this discussion. The story now is what the secular Erskinites can steal from the ARP Church. The bitter truth is Quislings inside the ARP Church have betrayed us, and we no longer have the will to defend what is ours. The only way the secular Erskinites can be stopped is for the ARP Church to fight them in civil court. If we were willing to do that, we would win; however, we no longer have a heart to do this.

    Ultimately, what you write so eloquently depends on honest partners; the Erskinites have demonstrated they are not trustworthy.

    Once again, thanks for the comment. It was a joy to follow the flow of your words.

    Regards,

    Chuck Wilson
    ARPTalk

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