Feb 27, 2013 | Comments 19
(Editor’s note: The official Erskine report can be read HERE. A detailed report on the meeting of the board is not the norm for the Erskine administration and board. Usually, an oral report is given by President Norman at a “Town Hall Meeting” in Due West.)
With a “G-O-L-L-Y!”, a “Shazam!”, and a “Sur-prise! Sur-prise! Sur-prise!”, we have traveled back in time to the Andy Griffith Show, the mythical town of “Mayberry”, and Gomer Pyle: U.S.M.C. Gomer Pyle may not have been the oddest of Andy Griffith’s characters, but he is the one whose words best describe my response to the February meeting of the Erskine board: “Sur-prise! Sur-prise! Sur-prise!” Without a doubt, the Editor of ARPTalk was SUR-PRISED! A spark of hope still burns for the reformation of Erskine!
What was remarkable enough to give the Editor of ARPTalk renewed hope for the reformation of Erskine College and Seminary? It is the work of the SCONE (the Sub-Committee on Nominations for Erskine). They chose seven nominees who are loyal to the evangelical Christian mission of Erskine. It is the overwhelming adoption of the seven nominees presented by the SCONE by the Erskine board. It is the board’s recommendation of these seven to the Committee on Nominations. Remarkably, Charles W. Wilson affirms this list!! Remarkably, with the expected approval by and recommendation of this list of seven by Synod’s Committee on Nominations and their affirmation by Synod in June, there is an evangelical majority on the Erskine board for the first time in over 40 years. That is, for the first time in over 40 years, a majority of the Erskine board will be trustees who both understand and affirm the stated mission of the institution and our definition of “Evangelical Christian.” Only time will reveal whether these folks are able and reformist enough to work together in efforts to transform Erskine into an educational institution known openly and proudly as evangelically Christian – an educational institution combining both academic excellence and Christian fidelity. Indeed, let us hope!
With these new leaders, perhaps Erskine can begin catching up to North Greenville University (NGU). Derisively referred to as the “hillbilly Bible College” by some Erskine professors and secular alums, on February 20, “CBS News released the latest ‘Best Professors’ list, which is compiled by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity,” and the professors at NGU were ranked number TWO in the nation. “Shazam!”
Dr. Richard Taylor and others on the Erskine board are asking, “What can we do to silence Chuck Wilson?” Yes, indeed, what can be done to shut down ARPTalk and the truth-telling by Charles W. Wilson? Here is the answer: missional fidelity, ecclesiastical fidelity, and Biblical fidelity at Erskine! With the seating of these seven trustees on July 1, missional, ecclesiastical, and Biblical fidelity are finally in reach at Erskine. In spite of obfuscations and clever scheming, THE FIRST STEP TOWARDS SILENCING CHARLES W. WILSON HAS BEEN TAKEN BY THE ERSKINE BOARD. And the heart of Charles W. Wilson is gladdened by this step! :-)
In my last e-mail and posting, “The Sound of Silence”, I predicted the following regarding the February meeting of the Erskine board:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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!!
- 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 bylaws. 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.
- 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.
Well, let us see how the Editor of ARPTalk did as a prognosticator.
Regarding #1. As expected, the board was assured the SACS audit issues are under control. Really?? That was the story before Erskine was placed on “warning” by SACS. The words of former President Reagan ring true here: “Trust but Verify!”
Regarding #2. There were electronic conversations with numerous consultants. However, all the consultants in all the world are of no help if there is continuing dissonance between what Erskine presently is and missional fidelity (what Erskine should be!!).
Regarding #3. The situation at the seminary is grave. As one board member puts it: “With the numbers we saw, I don’t see how the seminary is going to make it!” Well, I think I have seen the same numbers he saw. I agree with the assessment.
Regarding #4. As expected, the discussions between the board’s Ad Hoc Committee and Synod’s Moderator’s Committee are ongoing. As long as Mr. Conner is the board chairman, do not look for a resolution agreeable to the Synod on the bylaws.
Regarding #5. Surprise!! Chairman Conner changed the discussion on language from “agency” and “institution” to “covenant” (see discussion below at the ‘*’).
Regarding #6. As Gomer Pyle would say: “G-O-L-L-Y!”, “Shazam!”, and “Sur-prise! Sur-prise! Sur-prise!” With the Erskine board having voted overwhelmingly to sustain the recommendation of the seven nominees of the SCONE to Synod’s Committee on Nominations, if they are recommend by the Committee on Nomination and approved by General Synod as expected, Chairman Conner is then left without a reasonable argument for not seating the seven new trustees in July. Did he get blindsided by his board? Did he miscalculate? Did he overstep? As I read the guidelines of SACS, attempting such an action now would bring Erskine into further “noncompliance” with SACS. Amazingly, in spite of emotional outbursts by Ms. Lisa Senn and Ms. Nan Campbell, and theirs and Dr. Richard Taylor’s negative votes, the board affirmed the nominees. The Rev. Kyle Sims, spokesman for the SCONE, is worthy of a hearty thank you. He ably presented the choice of the seven nominees in the face of a storm of emotional criticism. At the meeting of Synod last year, Mr. Sims said he was a voice for reformation at Erskine. He has flown his colors proudly and kept his word! Thank you, Mr. Sims!
Regarding #7. According to reports, all indicators at both campuses of the seminary are down. Morale among the seminary faculty members is low. Dr. Norman’s continuing restructuring of the seminary is not inspiring confidence in his leadership among most of the faculty members. Dr. Jim Meek, the new seminary VP, seems qualified. The questions: (1) Will Dr. Norman and the board allow him to lead? and (2) Can he regain the confidence of the ARP Church?
Regarding #8: :-)
Like the US Congress’ handling of the budget, the hard issues of budget shortfall, rising student discounts, recruitment, student retention, development, and missional fidelity were kicked down the road to a future meeting of the board. But there was a bright word from Due West: the Erskine basketball team had its first winning season since 1993. “G-O-L-L-Y!” :-)
*Though an elder in the ARP Church (Greenville ARP Church), Mr. Conner’s term as Chairman is marked by strife with the General Synod. Flying in the face of the historical connection between the General Synod and its Erskine educational agency, at the February meeting of the Erskine board he proposed a redefinition of the relationship between Erskine and the ARP Church as a “covenant”: “OUTLINE OF COVENANT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE ASSOCIATE REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH AND ERSKINE COLLEGE AND THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY” (see URL: http://www.arptalk.org/covenant/ for the full text). Apart from Chairman Conner’s (1) liberties with the word “covenant,” (2) his misunderstanding of the historical record, (3) his glossing over the theological differences between Erskine and the ARP Church, and (4) his attempt to refashion and redefine Erskine from perpetrator of the of the conflict with General Synod to victim, he seems to have borrowed his ideas from a document presented to Second Presbytery last June 7, 2012 that redefined the relationship between Second Presbytery and Covenant Way Retirement Center (formerly the Due West Retirement Center). See “Covenant Between Covenant Way Retirement Center and Second Presbytery of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church,” pp. 11-13. Key players involved at Covenant Way Retirement Center (CWRC) and at Erskine have deep connections to the Session of the Greenville ARP Church. After reading Chairman Conner’s proposed “covenant” for the Erskine and the ARP Church and CWRC’s “covenant” with Second Presbytery, one cannot help but wonder if Chairman Conner authored or co-authored both documents!? They are strikingly similar.
In 1986 the General Synod gave oversight of CWRC to Second Presbytery. From the outset, the relationship was marked by ambiguities regarding the extent of Second Presbytery’s oversight and tensions regarding (1) the approval and appointment of trustees and (2) financial disclosure. With regard to questions about financial disclosure, the retort was one of “Trust us! Don’t you think we know what we’re doing!?” In the last two years, sharp conflict erupted between Second Presbytery and CWRC over CWRC’s insistence on having a certain individual as a board trustee and, once again, nondisclosure of financial documents. In response to Second Presbytery, the board of CWRC declared independence from Second Presbytery. However, the board seemed uneasy with their new-found freedom and the relationship between CWRC and Second Presbytery was recast as a “covenant.” Last June at the pre-Synod meeting of Second Presbytery, Second Presbytery acquiesced to the wishes of CWRC. Since then, the ongoing financial difficulties of CWRC have become painfully clear. According to the letter sent from the CWRC board, CWRC will be closed no later than May 15, 2013, when the bank seizes the property and assets. Regretfully, CWRC closes with many questions being asked about the board’s handling of monies – especially the “Life Lease” escrow account. Residents apparently stand to lose large sums of money that they or their estates were supposed to get back. Is this why the CWRC people were not forthcoming with financial statements?
At this point, we in Second Presbytery owe Dr. Rob Roy McGregor an apology. For years, he voiced warnings about CWRC. We shut our ears to his warnings regarding financial issues at CWRC. Second Presbytery also owes a letter of apology to General Synod. We have failed in the stewardship of oversight entrusted to us by General Synod in 1986. We have allowed a culture of secrecy, non-transparency, and non-accountability to thrive. Now we see the stark realities of a shattered dream, broken promises to vulnerable residents, and the reputations of trusted leaders questioned.
What direction does Chairman Conner desire for Erskine? Is he advocating the CWRC path? His arguments are baffling. His arguments about liturgy, worship, theology, and piety as directional rubrics ordering the relationship between Erskine and the ARP Church are nonsense. They are simply fatuous. Does Chairman Conner realize the absurdity of his arguments?! If implemented, his “covenant” map is a road to ruin for Erskine – as it was for CWRC! BY THE WAY, did I fail to say Chairman Conner’s “covenant” failed to pass muster with the board? The board was not prepared to join him in an act of covenanting! The “official” report from Erskine does not even mention Chairman Conner’s “covenant”.
In the words of Bob Dylan: “Times they are a changin’!” Are the days of the strife-makers on the Erskine board numbered?
Yes, there is a glimmer of hope for Erskine. With the recommendation of the seven nominees by Synod’s Committee on Nominations and Synod’s approval of the slate of nominees of the Committee on Nominations, on July 1, 2013, there is an evangelical Christian majority on the Erskine board! With five more faithful trustees in 2014 who understand and affirm the evangelical faith of the ARP Church and the mission of the college and seminary, there will be an overwhelming evangelical Christian majority on the board. At that point, reconstruction of Erskine in the manner our Southern Baptist brothers and sisters have achieved at so many of their colleges and seminaries is possible at Erskine – a true reformation. This is my prayer for those who have stood and labored so faithfully, who have hoped and prayed so long, and who have been marginalized and scorned so often in Due West.
Now I find myself in the land of quandary. I did not expect this. Should I rethink my thoughts about separation? “Sur-prise! Sur-prise! Sur-prise!”
However, before I close this article, let me give this warning: DO NOT BE SURPRISED BY ANOTHER LAWSUIT. Are ARPs prepared to fight for what is theirs? The EC Foundation has a war chest for this purpose. The folks who make up the ineptocracy of “olde Erskine” are infuriated by the board’s approval of the new board nominees.
(Editor’s Note: In case the reader is interested, the Editor of ARPTalk made numerous phone calls to both Chairman Conner and President Norman attempting to contact them for this article. Neither has responded.)
These are my thoughts,
Charles W. Wilson
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