Aug 21, 2013 | Comments 7
Three years ago the following question was put to the Editor of ARPTalk: “Wilson, can’t you write anything good about Erskine?” The answer was: “Give me something good to write about, and I will write about it with gusto – GREAT GUSTO!”
Finally, there is something good to write. At the August 15th and 16th meeting of the Erskine board, the Erskine board embraced Erskine’s historic evangelical and reformed Christian heritage. It demonstrated faithfulness to its evangelically Christian documents of governance, and faithfulness to the ARP Church. Below is a short summary of the board’s actions.
- With regard to whether Erskine College and Seminary is an “agency” of the ARP Church or independent of the ARP Church, the board put the “agency controversy” to rest by voting overwhelmingly to affirm Erskine College and Seminary is indeed an “AGENCY” of the ARP Church.
- The 2013 General Synod asked the Erskine board to study the separation of Erskine Theological Seminary and Erskine College with the creation of a separate board for the seminary. In response to the request of General Synod, a committee was formed to do this study.
- The 2013 meeting of the General Synod voted to ask the Erskine board to consider the following document to be the board’s charge to the Presidential Search Committee:
In its search for a new president of Erskine College, the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church strongly encourages the Board of Trustees of Erskine to search for and hire an individual whose qualifications include a personal profession of faith fully and enthusiastically in line with Synod’s Definition of an Evangelical, subscription to the Standards of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and the educational qualifications, experience, personal skills, and fundraising background to accomplish the stated mission of the institution.
By a large majority, the board voted both to adopt and strengthen the recommendation of General Synod. Below is a copy of the Erskine board’s charge to the Presidential Search Committee.
In its search for a new president of Erskine College, the Board of Trustees charges the Search Committee to search for, identify and recommend an individual whose qualifications include a personal profession of faith fully and enthusiastically in line with Synod’s Definition of an Evangelical, the ability to communicate a Biblical World and Life View and the application of it in undergraduate liberal arts and graduate theological education, an affirmation and articulation of the doctrine of inerrancy as embraced by the Board of Trustees and as stated by the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, agreement with the Philosophy of Christian Higher Education with a clear vision of implementing it into the life of Erskine College and Theological Seminary, subscription to the Standards of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and the educational qualifications, leadership experience, personal skills, and significant fundraising background that demonstrate the competencies necessary to accomplish the stated mission of the institution.
A sidebar: do not expect the present Presidential Search Committee to be able to implement this charge. In my opinion, the committee’s theological and ecclesiastical diversity is too great. I hope I am wrong!
- As most of the readers of ARPTalk are aware, Erskine has been placed on “warning” status by SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, that is, the accrediting agency). There were twelve (12) violations cited by SACS. Eleven (11) of the violations are internal, and, though they are troublesome, they are not insurmountable. The most worrisome violation involves the “outside influence” of the EC Foundation. Despite the efforts of some current trustees to lead the board in a direction to make the EC Foundation a part of Erskine College and Seminary, by an overwhelming majority, the board voted to clarify to SACS there is NO relationship between Erskine College and Seminary and the EC Foundation, that is, the EC Foundation exists apart from and independent of Erskine College and Seminary and, therefore, has no influence in the governance of Erskine College and Seminary. The board also voted to request the directors of the EC Foundation to refrain from representing the EC Foundation as connected to Erskine College and Seminary. Now, this question needs to be asked: does the presence of Ms. Sarah Brice on the Presidential Search Committee constitute “undue influence” for SACS’ auditors? When the chairman appointed Ms. Brice, she resigned as a director of the EC Foundation. Does this make for a sticky wicket with SACS?
- By a large majority, the board voted to enact a “transparency rule,” that is, the Executive Committee is no longer to meet and conduct business without the knowledge and participation of ALL board members. All board members are to be informed of the Executive Committee’s meetings. With voice but no vote, board members who are not members of the Executive Committee are invited to meet with the Executive Committee if they are so inclined.
- A committee was formed to study the roles of the Alumni Association’s representative and Moderator of General Synod as formal trustees of the board. Presently, according to the bylaws, trustees are vetted by the nominating process, nominated, and appointed by the General Synod. Neither the Alumni representative nor the Moderator is a part of the process. Their presence on the board as voting members is in conflict with the charter, and, if discovered by a SACS audit, is probably a violation waiting to happen. This does not mean the Alumni representative and Moderator are excluded from the board; rather, their roles could be advisory. They can be welcomed with voice but no vote.
At this point, all ARPs should be standing and cheering with me. As has been noted, there is now a faithful majority on the Erskine board, and it is blessed with capable leadership.
Lasting until 3:00 PM, the meeting was long, intense, and exhausting. Nevertheless, there were a number of other items of interest. For example, the student body presented a request for Erskine College to be a “wet” campus. The request was sent to committee to die. The trustees are not going to be excited over the legal issues and liabilities such a policy would entail.
The number of new students is expected to be about 220, and this is problematic. 60 of the students are baseball players, and the baseball team this spring will have about 85 players. 70% of the new students are athletes. Only about 65 students are non-athletes. The discount rate is at least 70% for this class (about $31,500 out of $45,000). Such success is financially dangerous. As one administrator stated, this is not sustainable. The retention rate for this class next year is expected to be low.
The average SAT score for Erskine College last year was reported as 1018. This puts Erskine College behind Anderson University (1020), Columbia International University (1095), and North Greenville University (1155). The SAT average for this year is expected to be lower than last year. The halcyon days when Erskine administrators spoke of competing academically with Clemson University (1235), Furman University (1220), and Wofford College (1210) are long gone. There is much remedial work to be done.
The situation at the seminary continues to be dire. In a conversation with a professor, I asked, “How many students do you have in your classes?” There was a long pause, and he asked, “What is a “student?” Indeed, there is much remedial work to be done.
The big question now is this: what will the “Olde Erskine,” former majority members do?
With the Synod-Erskine agreement on trustee removal this year and the clear affirmation Erskine is an “agency” of the ARP Church, the board of Erskine College and Seminary is now working to heal the divide and move forward in renewal.
The “Olde Erskine” members of the former Board majority misunderstood and miscalculated the emerging evangelical Christian majority and its desire for reformation, renewal, and faithfulness to the mission of Erskine College and Seminary as a distinctively evangelically Christian educational institution. At the August meeting of the board, it was evident that they were not leading but the room was leading them. Do they have the wisdom and humility to recognize how out-of-step they are with the current board? Do they possess the grace to join the renewal or will they continue as obstructionists?
These are my thoughts,
Charles W. Wilson
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