Feb 26, 2014 | Comments 10
Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting different results.” Einstein’s definition is a perfect opening for a report on the February 20 and 21 meeting of the Erskine board.
However, before I report on the board’s February meeting, have you seen the following video?
This video was created and posted by folks at Erskine for the board’s Presidential Search Committee to use in recruiting presidential candidates. View the video carefully. Is this not “doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting different results?” Is this not an example of insanity?
As I have spoken with different folks, the following two responses have surfaced. One, secularists ask a question like this: were Conner and his video team attempting to film a promo in which “Christian” and “ARP Church” were spoken the maximum number of times? DISINGENUOUS GIBBERISH is my response! Like ObamaCare strapped to the backs of Democrat incumbents running for re-election, no one loves the Erskine video.
Indeed, the folks who put together the Presidential promo must be graduates of the Obama School of Spin. One walks away from the video with the impression ALL IS WELL at Erskine. The Erskine participants prattle about what a success Erskine has been and is. Chairman Conner is cheeky enough to tout the actions of the board he has chaired for two years as positive and successful – EVEN SOMETHING TO BE EMULATED. He says:
I believe that Erskine is poised for success. The trustees and administration have worked diligently over the past several years to ensure that success, and the incoming President’s role will be largely to build on these efforts.
Conner says nothing of the division he has fostered on the board, nothing of the distrust the General Synod has for his leadership, nothing of Erskine being placed on “warning” status by SACS, nothing of the collapse of Erskine Seminary during his watch, nothing of a looming financial disaster before Erskine, nothing of the warning from administrators at SACS that Erskine will be placed on “PROBATION” this December, and nothing of his role in the departure (that is, firing) of former President David Norman.
Conner’s statements are insane. He has lost touch with reality. Why would a sane new president want to join Conner and a failed administration in their tried and proven path to failure?
The list of nonsensical statements continues. As though the “relational dimension” does not exist on the campuses of other colleges and universities, both Ms. Tobe Frierson and Dr. Ashley Woodiwiss speak of the “relational dimension” attracting students to Erskine. Frierson says, “One of the common reasons why students choose to attend is the relational nature of the school.” Well, in her role as Director of Institutional Admissions, does Frierson realize the discount rate at Erskine is over 70 percent? Even when I was on the board (1998-2004), we openly acknowledged a discount rate over 50% was “buying students” instead of “recruiting students.” Does Frierson not realize the main reason students attend Erskine is because they are paid to attend?
For me, the most breathtaking comments were spoken by Erskine Seminary professor of Systematic Theology Dr. Mark Ross. Ever speaking with apodictic certainty, Ross declared, “Erskine is a gospel enterprise.” Then speaking regarding Erskine Seminary, one gets the impression all is well instead of crumbling, student-deprived, and faith-betraying (see the report on the seminary below).
According to Ross, at Erskine they are prepared to “face the hard questions.” Well, I have three hard questions. One, in the last forty years, when was Erskine a “gospel enterprise?” There is a difference between what one desires and what is. Two, is Erskine Seminary presently a crumbling wreck? Were not classrooms filled with students fifteen years ago? How has it come about that a professor’s office is large enough to accommodate the number of students in a class today? Three, why is Erskine Seminary again the training ground for non-Christian clergy? Does such a dreadful thing make the seminary a “gospel enterprise” or a betrayer of the Erskine mission and an enabler of false teachers in their careers?
Sanity directs we acknowledge to presidential candidates the sad state of affairs at Erskine: THE ERSKINE BOARD, ADMINISTRATION, AND FACULTY HAVE FAILED! Sanity directs we seek a new president with the courage and conviction to severely prune the administrative and faculty trees and the vision and knowledge to lead Erskine out of the spiritual, academic, and financial wasteland of the feckless Erskine failedocracy.
The insane message of the video to presidential candidates is this: help us in our failed path as educrats to do the same things over and over again and again for we will not change; nevertheless, enable us in our insanity by securing new revenue streams in order to save our jobs and homes.
Well, the Erskine board met last Thursday and Friday, February 20 and 21. Did sanity or insanity prevail?
1. SANITY: Goodbye, Chairman Conner, goodbye!
Not trusted by many on the board, unable to lead the board, and oblivious to the new direction of the board, Mr. David Conner will relinquish the chairmanship on July 1, 2014. The Chairman-elect is Rev. Bill Cain. The Vice Chairman-elect is Mr. Bobby McDonald.
Conner may now hold the INFAMY AWARD of being the only chairman not to be re-nominated to the chairmanship of the board with board service remaining (two years). Conversely, Cain has the distinction of being the first ARP minister to serve as chairman of the board in at least 60 years.
In my opinion, Conner is a man without honor. I would have announced my immediate resignation from both the chairmanship and the board at the end of day on Friday. Nevertheless, I am content he is remaining on the board. Up close and personally, he will have the opportunity to see everything he has accomplished reversed. His remaining two years are going to be very frustrating for him.
However, between now and July 1, I expect Conner to do everything he can to obstruct and impede the direction of the board.
2. SANITY: Times, how they have changed!
The Editor of ARPTalk has been informed he will sing the doxology and shout hallelujah when the names of the new class of board members are announced by Synod’s Nominating Committee. Now, ain’t that a marvel! I do not think either the phony Alumni Association or the secular alums are going to be comforted with this news.
3. INSANITY: An unsustainable financial policy!
Erskine is not “flourishing” financially. The auditors met with the board, administrators, and other Erskine people for six hours. When the auditors finished their report, no one walked out of the Moffatt dinning room with an appetite! No one was celebrating Erskine’s 175th anniversary! “How near are we to the end?” was the question being asked.
At the “Snow” Synod in March, 2010, the spokesman of the Moderator’s Commission, Mr. Ken Wingate, warned both Erskine and the ARP Church with these words: “The financial practices at Erskine are unsustainable!” The response to Wingate and the Commission by many on the board and administration was, “They’re lying. Don’t listen to them. They are mean and hate Erskine. You know us; trust us.” Soon thereafter, then-Chairman Scott Mitchell, then-trustees David Chesnut and Parker Young, and present trustee Richard Taylor, instead of busying themselves in addressing the deficiencies pointed out by the members of the Moderator’s Commission and instead of embracing the solutions of the Moderator’s Commission, ran to the civil court and filed an injunction against the ARP Church in order to defeat the actions of Synod and the Moderator’s Commission. Then they and other alums joined in a campaign to malign the members of the Moderator’s Commission for their honest and accurate report. Following suit, ARP ruling elders of the Due West ARP Church who are former Erskine administrators and educrats whose failed policies have contributed to Erskine’s perilous dilemma, formed the EC Foundation in order to raise funds to finance the legal actions against the ARP Church. Consequently, one of the major reasons contributing to SACS putting Erskine on “warning” status is the existence and meddling of the EC Foundation.
The gist of the report of the auditor is this: “You are on the cusp of a financial disaster! A gift of 20 million dollars will not cure your problems with SACS. It will take someone writing a check for 30 million dollars.”
Moreover, the auditor said, “You have dug yourself into a deep financial hole, and the first rule for getting out of a hole is stop digging.”
At this point, an explanation is needed. The policies of Erskine CFO Mr. Greg Haselden are being called into question. Haselden was hired (about 2003) during my tenure on the board (1998-2004). Presently, the Erskine Endowment is approximately 39 million dollars. It seems unds are being taken out of the Endowment faster than they come in. In other words, according to the auditors and the representatives from SACS, the Endowment should be about 70 million dollars if it had been carefully husbanded and not raided.
However, Haselden is not alone in responsibility for Erskine’s crumbling financial state. Particularly, the last three board chairmen, Scott Mitchell, Joe Patrick, and David Conner, were clearly informed and aware of what was taking place. Why did Mitchell, Patrick, and Conner not address this matter? Instead, Mitchell, Patrick, and Conner have put Erskine in peril. In 2010, Erskine board members spoke loudly and often about their fiduciary responsibility. Is this fiduciary responsibility?
Over the years, Erskine reports to General Synod have spoken of “balanced budgets.” However, the fiction of a balanced budget was achieved by digging into the Endowment. SACS’ regulations allow for a 5% draw from the Endowment. The Erskine draws have been up to 10 percent – double the allowance by SACS.
At this point, in order to come into compliance with SACS’ expectations, the folks at Erskine will have to raise $4,000,000 a year in the foreseeable future. If past efforts are an indication of future success, this will not happen.
As one trustee said, “These people have not been forthcoming with us. I didn’t understand what was taking place. They tell us they have a balanced budget when they have balanced the budget by taking money out of the Endowment to make the budget balance. And then at the end of the year, when there is a deficit, they take even more money out the Endowment without acknowledging they have already withdrawn money from the Endowment.”
At some point in the auditor’s report, someone asked, “When we get a new President, is that like getting a new football coach? A new football coach brings his own staff with him. Will the new President bring a new staff with him?”
I am sure the faces of the present Erskine educrats were ashen.
The recommendation of the auditors was recruit more students, find more donors, and curtail spending. They also noted the Erskine discount rate is out of hand. In 2008/09, the discount rate was 56%; today the discount is 72%.
AMAZINGLY, 14 hours later, the Finance Committee and the administration appeared before the board asking for a draw of more than 9% in order to balance next year’s budget. This request was made in spite of an expected deficit of nearly two million dollars this year (1.25 million for the college and 650,000 dollars for the seminary).
INSANITY prevailed on the board. The board approved a motion for a draw of 8.5% (and, if the Endowment is 39 million dollars, that is $3,315,000); however, Haselden was told to do whatever was necessary to balance the budget. The conundrum here is SACS’ allowance of a 5% draw. Erskine is now far past SACS’ patience on this matter. Do you think SACS’ auditors will look kindly on this?
I wonder what is going to transpire.
When I was on the board, when we fussed and carped about the discount rate and the draw on the endowment, we were ignored by the administration. The next year the discount rate would be unchanged or larger and a draw on the endowment would have taken place. The response of the board was to fuss and carp again. We would do this over and over again and expect different results. We were insane.
4. INSANITY: Behold, the SACSman commeth!
Because of Erskine’s financial troubles, unless there is a miracle, Erskine will be moved from “warning” to the more threatening status of “probation” by SACS this December. Everyone agrees “probation” is inevitable.
In past years, when General Synod attempted to address issues at Erskine, an Erskine president, board member, or administrator would stand and caution Synod against jeopardizing Erskine’s accreditation with SACS. That was enough to frighten Synod into submission. Those were days when information was not easily obtained. This is the age of information availability. The protocols of SACS are readily available on the Internet. Lo and behold, the situation with SACS was misrepresented. Today at Erskine the cry is, “Woe is us, the SACSman commeth!” The financial policies of the Erskine board and administration have placed Erskine in peril.
5. INSANITY: From seminary to cemetery!
Erskine Seminary is a seminary looking for a mission, a constituency, a theological direction, a student body, and a benefactor – A REASON TO EXIST!!
According to the members of the Seminary Committee, Erskine Seminary may be looking for a cemetery plot.
At this time, the seminary is leaderless. Acting President Brad Christie says he cannot be 75% a college president and 25% a seminary president. Former President David Norman reconfigured the seminary into a graduate school of religion and transferred all seminary administrators from Bowie Seminary Building to Belk Hall and placed all administrative issues under the control of college agencies. Dr. Jim Meek, the Administrative Dean of the Seminary, is an academic who does not possess the charisma or skills to lead a seminary. In other words, the seminary is in freefall.
The FTE (Full Time Equivalency: explained at http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/glossary/index.asp?id=853) of students has dropped drastically:
Summer, 2010, FTE 91 ||| Summer, 2013, FTE 41
Fall, 2010, FTE 129 ||| Fall, 2013, FTE 71
Winter, 2011, FTE 57 ||| Winter, 2014, FTE 11
Spring, 2011, FTE 142 ||| Spring, 2014, FTE 66
Erskine Seminary has withered to a Sunday School class in a medium sized church!
At the meeting of Synod in June, Dr. Meek told me he had a balanced budget for this year. Well, he was wrong. As stated above, the expected deficit for this year is $650,000.
Incredibly, the Seminary Committee announced to the board that Erskine Seminary has once again matriculated non-Christian students through the DMin program for Army Chaplain – a Mormon and a Buddhist. This is insanity.
Two years ago, at the meeting of the 2012 General Synod, then-Erskine-board trustee and Chair of the Seminary Committee Rev. Ray Cameron apologized to General Synod for the presence and offense of non-Christian students in the DMin program. He said it was a fluke. He said it would not happen again. Well, Erskine Seminary now holds my Britney Spears’ Oops! . . . I did it again Award.
The comment of the auditors in their report was that the folks at Erskine did not know who they were, what their mission was, and what they were about. This is doubly true of the seminary.
In the video made for the Presidential Search Committee (see above), Dr. Mark Ross says,
Erskine is a gospel enterprise. We are a mission of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. . . . I count it a great privilege to be in a place where we have the opportunity to serve not only our denomination but the whole Church of Jesus Christ.
What Erskine Seminary is doing now flies in the face of what Ross said about the seminary being “a mission of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.” The ARP Church has been betrayed again. Will Dr. Ross use his powerful and impressive voice to rebuke and oppose those who have betrayed the mission of Erskine Seminary?
Does the equipping of non-Christian chaplains to advance their careers square with Ross’ words? Does the equipping of the careers of non-Christian clergy square with the historic mission of Erskine? Does the equipping of the enemy of the church and Jesus Christ square with a “gospel enterprise” or “serve . . . the whole Church of Jesus Christ”?
The justification for this betrayal is (1) ATS regulations now allow it and (2) Erskine would lose the five year, 1.5 million dollar ($300,000 a year) DMin contract with the Army. And with regard to the contract with the Army, Erskine obtained it again by lowering the bid from what it was the last time. In other words, the folks at Erskine Seminary have purchased more bad publicity for less money. Erskine Seminary has become a hissing and a byword. And, in what must have been a tense discussion, the Moderator of General Synod Rev. Jeff Kingswood said, “We’re not discussing what we are, we’re quibbling over the price.”
We ARPs have cause to weep! The seminary of the ARP Church is now the Army’s tent-girl!
I call insanity on those on the board who argued this was a good way to expose non-Christians to Christianity. These folks who have oversight of Erskine Seminary’s DMin program do not even know what they oversee. The DMin is not about exposing professional clergymen to the gospel; the DMin program is about equipping professional clerics to advance their careers with an advanced degree. Besides, in the past, there have been non-Christian clergy in the programs at Erskine. Have any of them been converted to Christ as a result of their exposure to Christ at Erskine? The argument is sentimental nonsense that avoids the real issue: they are financially desperate and will do most anything for a dollar! Unable to recruit students for nondescript Erskine Seminary, they have turned to obtaining students through the Army where “diversity” and “multiculturalism” reign.
When Academic Dean of the Seminary Dr. Jim Meek was asked if he had spoken to Moderator Jeff Kingswood about the presence of non-Christian clergy in the DMin program in order to find out the reaction of General Synod, Meek replied that the Moderator of the General Synod was not in his chain of command. He also said he took “full responsibility” for the matter.” Well, I wonder if Meek has considered ranching in Montana!?! But there is another question: does not Meek answer to Chairman Conner and acting President Brad Christie? Ultimately, this decision rests in the laps of Chairman Conner and Acting President Christie. And, in the last two years, has not Conner made it crystal clear he does not care what the ARP Church thinks or desires?!?
In the interest of full disclosure, this matter was not voted on by the board. The board was not even warned of it. As per the MO of Chairman Conner who does not care what the ARP Church thinks, the board was bushwhacked. The matter was presented to the board as a fait accompli. Many of the board members were shocked by the audacity of Conner, Meek, Christie, and Rev. Andy Putnam, the Chair of the Seminary Committee. I wonder if sanity will prevail at the May board meeting. If I were a member of the board, I would be calling for an emergency board meeting to discuss this matter. Indeed, this is bad publicity for the seminary. This will not help with recruiting evangelicals. Having already apologized once to Synod for such a policy, to do this again is insane. Are these people purposefully putting Erskine Seminary in peril?
By an overwhelming vote, the 2013 General Synod voted to ask the board to consider the possibility of separating the college and seminary. The board’s Seminary Committee recommended against it. They say it is too costly. However, I notice the members of the Seminary Committee did not bother asking for General Synod’s assistance. It seems they’d rather die than change.
The big recommendation of the Seminary Committee was that a chief administrative officer be hired to run the seminary. According to the Seminary Committee, the seminary is on the verge of folding by May. The plea was this administrative officer needed to be on the field by Monday morning, February 22. His responsibilities: (1) immediately recruit new students; and (2) immediately find new donors. What about immediately repair the breech with the ARP Church? Well, this story has gone from insane to OUTSTANDINGLY CRAZY.
Will this new administrative officer work gratis? Did not the auditors tell the board not to increase expenses? How will this new administrator do the impossible immediately? Is his name Jesus? Well, this is doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting different results. This is INSANITY!
6. SANITY: Flourishing as whole persons has wilted!
The Erskine mission states the purpose of Erskine is to enable students to “flourish as whole persons.” Board members were asking what “flourish as whole persons” means. The auditors said the Erskine mission statement was “obscure.” They said it was VAGUE, VAGUE, VAGUE! They said, “YOU CAN’T SELL VAGUE!”
Well, ain’t that the gospel truth?!? Over the years, Erskine has made an art form of VAGUE – vague on the meaning of “Christian,” vague on the meaning of “evangelical,” vague on the authority of the Bible, and vague on the relationship with the ARP Church. Now, they find the wages of vague is bankruptcy – and maybe death!
7. INSANITY: Dumb and Dumber is not just a movie!
It was announced the Presidential Search Committee may have a candidate to present to the board at the May meeting of the board.
WHAT? Are they mad? SACS has placed Erskine on “warning.” The financial situation is desperate, and the administration wants to increase spending. The seminary is near collapse – as they say, maybe by May. It is acknowledged SACS will put Erskine on “probation” this December. I know of three candidates who have withdrawn their names from consideration. The leadership of the board is going to change drastically on July 1. So, is a segment of the board going to attempt to push through a new president before the new board is constituted? If so, such an action is insanity. From what insane asylum are these people going to recruit a candidate?
The only sane thing to do is dismiss the current Presidential Search Committee and begin again with the seating of the new board. As constituted, the Presidential Search Committee is not trusted and probably unable to present a candidate to the board who will garner a majority large enough to allow him to lead.
8. SANITY: Brief moments of clarity!
Occasionally, brief moments of clarity broke out at the board meeting. (1) Even with the support of trustee Richard Taylor, the attempt by the President of the Student Government Association Daniel Prohaska asking the Committee on Student Services to request the board to approve an alcohol policy allowing drinking on campus failed to make it out of committee. (2) The attempt by Prohaska to influence the board to call a “summit” of interested parties regarding Erskine found no followers. When speaking with the Moderator of General Synod, Rev. Kingswood informed Prohaska he would be happy to speak with him or anyone at Erskine regarding Erskine; however, Kingswood made it clear his opinions were his, and he could not speak on behalf of General Synod. (3) Tuition was not raised. (4) The student retention rate from Freshman to Sophomore rose from 69% to 70 percent. (4) With at least half the student body on athletic scholarships of some kind, thankfully, the athletic department did not announce a new sport program was being added.
Finally, let me make a few observations and comments.
One, I was surprised the board did not address the reduction of professors at Erskine Seminary. Currently, Erskine Seminary is much smaller than RTS-Charlotte or Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (GPTS); however, Erskine Seminary has a faculty larger than either RTS-Charlotte or GPTS. There are redundancies of professors in Old Testament, New Testament, and Systematic Theology. Does Erskine Seminary need three Old Testament professors, two New Testament professors, and three Systematic Theology professors? This situation is not financially justifiable. However, since addressing this matter is considered “bad publicity,” the Seminary Committee seems to have ignored it. The courage and will to rectify the situation is not present. Nevertheless, the members of the Seminary Committee speak of impending doom as soon as May. Is the demise of Erskine Seminary “good publicity?”
I was surprised no attempt was made to address the makeup of the Presidential Search Committee. If the present board majority does not trust the Presidential Search Committee, would one expect an even more conservative board on July 1 to trust the committee? Time and effort are being wasted.
I am surprised no one was discussing the possibility of “financial exigency.” That is, pushing the “Restart” button before SACS does by withdrawing accreditation.
What is very clear is this: the curtain has been pulled back in Belk Hall, and the insanity of the educrat wizards has been exposed.
As I ponder the last four years, I am struck with this incontrovertible fact: THE MODERATOR’S COMMISSION ON ERSKINE WAS RIGHT ON ALL POINTS!
These are my thoughts,
Charles W. Wilson
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