May 12, 2016 | Comments 4
Presently, the situation at Erskine is a Turkish bazaar of the kooky. In the words of Patrick McManus, it is “a fine and pleasant misery.”
As readers of ARPTalk are aware, I have not been restrained in criticism of President Paul Kooistra’s leadership. How he has managed to mangle Erskine College & Seminary in the short span of 18 months is a jaw-dropping wonder. Without a running start, it is simply not possible to accomplish the level of mayhem due to Kooistra’s gauche oversight. Someone prepared the way. There is a guiding hand in the background.
Who Actually Runs Erskine?
The Lord Chancellor of the Exchequer in Due West is Greg Haselden. He is the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Erskine College & Seminary. He is the one constant on the Erskine administration for the last 15 years. Presidents have come and gone, but Haselden remains. Four presidents and two acting presidents have now served under him. Ensconced in his office in Belk Hall, he is protected by the bylaws of the board. He serves not at the pleasure of the board but at the discretion of the president.
Interestingly, as I have researched the career of President Kooistra, this actually explains the course of Kooistra’s tortured tenure at Erskine.
When Kooistra came on board as president, he clearly stated to the board he was not a visionary. He said he was a manager.
Nothing could be clearer. What is Kooistra’s vision for Erskine? He has not brought a vision forward. Rather, he has attempted to implement a rejected plan (http://www.arptalk.org/cabinet-meeting-with-trustee-leadership-2014-04-22/), attempted to maintain a trajectory of athletics over academics, and attempted to increase the Annual Fund (while watching total giving decline). However, to be fair, we must acknowledge he was able to arrange for SACS to rescind its sanction of “probation.”
In the past, Kooistra had good people with whom to work — people like himself. Particularly, as his CFO, he had Roger Kooistra, his brother.
When he arrived in Due West, Kooistra made a fatal mistake. He chose to trust longtime Erskine CFO Greg Haselden as he did his brother.
Haselden, however, is not like Roger Kooistra. Haselden is a Roman Catholic who says he is an “evangelical.” Yes, most of us who understand a little theology realize Roman Catholicism and Protestant evangelicalism are as compatible as water and fire. Changing the metaphor, it is akin to calling oneself a bird-fish hybrid. The creature cannot fly or swim.
From many Erskine sources, Kooistra has made it clear he trusts CFO Haselden as he trusts his brother. That is, Kooistra trusts a man (1) whose theological perspective is incompatible with Reformed and evangelical faith and the evangelical vision of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church for Erskine, (2) whose answer for the ills of Erskine is football, (3) who promotes the separation of the college and seminary (if not the closing of the seminary in order to seize the seminary’s assets to launch a football program), (4) whose accounting of funds and expenses (whether to the college side of the ledger or the seminary side of the ledger) is questioned by many on the board and in Due West as prejudiced against the seminary, (5) whose disdain for the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is near legend (and as one Due Wester puts it, “Haselden chortles at the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church as a bunch of semi-retarded and inbred ignoramuses who do not need a college or seminary and who are too pious and ignorant to protect their property from a determined squatter”), and (6) whose monetary leadership has seen the near financial collapse of Erskine in the last 15 years.
A manager maneuvers and coordinates people and things in response to directives; a leader dreams and envisions, and then builds a team to manage the accomplishment of his vision. Unfortunately, Kooistra is a manager.
As I describe it, Haselden has given Kooistra an insatiable case of “football itch.” No physician has a balm powerful enough to relieve his itch.
At the last meeting of the board’s executive committee, board members refused to scratch Kooistra’s itch. Kooistra announced he and Athletic Director Mark Peeler had found a candidate for “Head Football Coach” who exceeded all expectations. According to Kooistra, God dropped this opportunity out of heaven on Erskine. Well, in spite of the heavenly manna, members of the board were offended. They asked Kooistra by what authority he was interviewing candidates for the position of “Head Football Coach.” They stated, the board had not approved a football program, and they make it clear the president did not dictate policy to the board.
I have also been told the candidate has no experience in college football. I can only say such a scheme is crazy! If Kooistra and his athletic braintrust are going to launch a football program, why would they not do everything possible to maximize the success of the program? Why has there been no survey of the stakeholders? Has the faculty been asked if they are on board with the idea? Have the alumni been asked if they want a football program? Has a study been done? Where are the results of a study? And why on earth would Kooistra interview a candidate for Head Coach who has no college football coaching experience?
The Chairman of the board recently sent out a survey. On the survey there is a list of alternatives to football (for example, a return to academic excellence in Liberal Arts). The members of the board were asked to rank various items — including football. I do not know anyone on the board who ranked football as a top priority — perhaps, with the exception of the alumni representative.
The same day of the executive meeting, the following came out from WYFF: “Clemson University students may have to pay fee for athletics” (http://www.wyff4.com/news/clemson-university-students-may-have-to-pay-fee-for-athletics/29708694). That is, with a 72 million dollar athletic budget, the number two football program in the nation last year, did not earn enough revenue to break even on Clemson’s athletic program. Well, what makes Kooistra, Haselden, and Peeler think little Erskine can achieve what Clemson is not achieving? Are they not aware the cost of an Erskine education is already astronomical?
I am reminded of the story in Aesop’s Fables of the frog who wanted to be an ox. The frog sucked in air until he became so large he achieved the size of an ox; alas, he also ruptured his skin and exploded out of existence. Kooistra should be careful lest he go bang!
Here is a maxim for Kooistra, Haselden, and Peeler: EVERY DAY SPENT ON FOOTBALL IS A WASTED DAY!
Throwing the Board Under the Bus
During the long discussion on football in the executive committee, Kooistra was silent. When the discussion was over, Chairman Ron Vigas asked Kooistra if he had anything further to add to the meeting. After a long silence (and some of the members thought he had hung up), he respond he did not. The participants of the meeting were surprised. There were a number of items left on the agenda, and they were not discussed. I wonder why Kooistra had nothing to say. Was he pouting, again?
That weekend was the meeting of the Alumni Board. As I listen to a recording of Kooistra’s talk, I was struck with his continued instance on football, even after his rebuff by the board’s executive committee. He said he wanted football; however, he also stated the board may not approve football.
The impression I got was this: Kooistra believes football is the answer to all of Erskine’s financial and recruitment ills, and he believes the board (as it is dominated by the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church) is the obstacle to success.
A College With Integrity: Not Erskine!
The following praises Covenant College. There is no room to praise Erskine College!
Whether one defines himself as broadly evangelical, strictly Reformed and Presbyterian, or non-religious, Covenant College is to be admired. The folks at Covenant College have the integrity to put into practice what they say on paper they believe: they forfeited the possibility of a tennis championship because the match was played on Sunday. Erskine, however, sends out an e-mail from the athletic department embracing and celebrating a tennis championship won on Sunday. Interestingly, both institutions say they believe about the same things in their documents. Well, as a committed Christian parent who is looking for a Christian college for your child, do you send your child to Covenant or Erskine?
One, read this carefully: http://erskinesports.com/news/2016/5/2/womens-tennis-champions-fleet-win-12th-title.aspx/
Two, contrast the above with this: http://www.chattanoogan.com/2016/4/16/322299/Covenant-Forfeiting-Women-s-Tennis.aspx.
Four, lastly, read this from World Magazine: http://www.worldmag.com/2016/04/sabbath_keeping_scots.
Once upon a time, we Associate Reformed Presbyterians were called “Sabbath-keeping Scots.”
This is for sure: the reporter at World Magazine is not writing about Erskine’s championship. The author is writing about Covenant College’s forfeited match and shining integrity. I am also willing to bet Covenant College is now experiencing an enrollment boost and donor increase because of their faithfulness!
By the way, I bet most of the readers of ARPTalk know who “the flying Scotsman” was, what Eric Liddell did, and why he is remembered and so honored by evangelical Christians of all stripes (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Liddell). Now, let me ask another question: who won on Sunday (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Abrahams)? Not many remember the name of Harold Abrahams. He only set a world record.
Perhaps the following will fit as a new motto for Erskine: CHRISTIAN IN NAME ONLY.
In the evangelical world, for years now, John Maxwell is the guru who authors the books on Christian leadership in the church (and the workplace) (https://books.google.com/books?id=yQxy0Csqg9IC&pg=PA142&lpg=PA142&dq=John+maxwell,+the+bob+principle&source=bl&ots=WP74qj6z73&sig=LGATC5riI6EE-5MSXuAv75Ln408&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiOvNvS1tDMAhVC34MKHV58CaUQ6AEIOTAE#v=onepage&q=John%20maxwell%2C%20the%20bob%20principle&f=false).
His “Bob Principle” is stated in this manner: “when Bob has a problem with everyone, Bob is usually the problem.” In other words, when Bob has a problem with John and Bob has a problem with Bill and Bob has a problem with Jane, it is Bob. Bob is the problem. “The Bob Principle” seems to shed light on the situation at Erskine.
As the President of Erskine College & Seminary, it is no secret Kooistra has problems with just about everyone. At the seminary, if Paul has a problem with Chris Wisdom and Paul has a problem with Rob Gustafson and Paul has a problem with Peter Waid and Paul has a problem with RJ Gore and Paul has a problem with Terry, Bill, George, Toney, Loyd, Max, Mark, Dale and Leslie, who is the problem? It’s Paul! Paul is the problem!
Today (May 10), the lead article in The Aquila Report was on Erskine Seminary (http://theaquilareport.com/erskine-seminary-faculty-asks-board-to-separate-the-college-and-the-seminary/). The article spotlights the breach between Kooistra and the seminary. The folks at Erskine Seminary attempt to flee Kooistra’s tyrannical leadership. That is, Kooistra broke the relationship, and, sadly, I do not think this rupture can be repaired. Regrettably, I think Kooistra has trusted and followed the advice of CFO Haselden, and this has led both of them off a cliff. The only question left is this: what else will fall with them?
Truly, the situation at Erskine is critical. This is not going to have a happy ending. President Kooistra, CFO Greg Haselden, and their athletic braintrust have lost control of Erskine College & Seminary. The May board meeting portends to be “a fine and pleasant misery.”
These are my thoughts,
Charles W. Wilson
Photo Credit: hjl
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