May 31, 2016 | Comments 12
Football at Erskine is dead — again!! It was a “butt fumble” by President Paul Kooistra and Vice President for Athletics Mark Peeler (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82RIfy-gRa4&feature=youtu.be). In the meeting of the board’s Committee on Student Services, Kooistra and Peeler were aggressive and demanding (if not belligerent). Their message was delivered in this manner: “Football! Football! We want football! Give us football or we die!” The committee’s recommendation to the board was “No football!” and the board voted 17-3 to cease and desist on a football program, in spite of Board Chairman Ron Vigus’ desire to postpone the vote until the August meeting of the board. The result: Erskine football is no longer “undefeated since 1951.”
I am told Kooistra and Peeler are “smart.” Well, if they are smart, how did they miss the obvious? A survey of board members was recently conducted in which they were asked to rank a number of ideas for growing Erskine. Football was dead last (with only one trustee ranking football as the highest priority). The highest priorities were (1) the historic mission of Erskine as Christian and liberal arts, (2) re-embracing the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, (3) moving Erskine away from the athletic model and back to the academic model; and (4) re-focusing recruitment on Christian school graduates and homeschool students.
Though overwhelmingly defeated at 17-3, the vote on football is not as overwhelming as it might have been if the votes of trustees who were absent were included. Four trustees were unable to attend the meeting; however, they e-mailed their statements of disapproval of football to their fellow board members. In other words, the real vote is 21-3.
Nevertheless, President Kooistra stubbornly persisted in his pursuit of a football program. Clearly, he has no other plan for Erskine. Kooistra said he would have to think about his future as the president of Erskine. He is reported to have said an Erskine without football will fold, and he did not want to be remembered as “Kooistra the Closer” [my phrase]. If remembered at all, I think he will be remembered as “Kooistra the Krazy!”
Furthermore, to rub salt in Kooistra’s wound, the board then passed a motion limiting the number of athletes. Presently, with an open enrollment model of “any ol’ dude will do,” athletes outnumber non-athletes by 2 to 1. The result is clearly seen in the difference between recruitment and graduations. Kooistra brags the Freshman class will be in the 240s and the total student body will be in the 640s this Fall; however, as I noted, the real measure is the number of graduates in May. Since I rolled off the board in 2004, the number of seniors graduating remained static at about 100.
How Kooistra does not realize the no vote on football is a NO CONFIDENCE VOTE in his leadership is beyond me. It is reasonable to say his leadership is rejected. The board is offering him the opportunity to leave Due West gracefully. He can say he was able to get Erskine off probation by SACS. He is wise not to allow his Dutch stubbornness to persist to the August meeting of the board.
Essentially, the no vote on football was a piece-by-piece dismantling of the April 2014 Cabinet Plan (http://www.arptalk.org/cabinet-meeting-with-trustee-leadership-2014-04-22/). The Cabinet Plan and the leadership of all who signed it are now rejected. All the Jesus-Jesus-talk Kooistra could muster was not enough to stop the board from putting an end to this Due West Tom Foolery.
A Tale of Two Petitions
Kooistra and his athletic braintrust pulled out all the stops in their full-court press for football. Chairman Ron Vigus attempted to postpone the vote until the August meeting of the board. He failed.
A student petition demanding the board’s full support of Kooistra’s leadership and the board’s condemnation of ARPTalk was presented (http://www.arptalk.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/NicholsBrownLetter.jpeg). It was ignored.
With regard to the petition, the authors of the petition are allegedly Aaron Brown and Destin Nichols. Destin Nichols is the nephew of Kevin Nichols (Head Baseball Coach/Assistant Athletic Director). The story on campus is Mark Peeler (Vice President for Athletics) is the actual author of the petition. Nevertheless, compare this 2016 student petition with the SAFE petition from 2009 (https://gairneybridge.wordpress.com/2009/06/05/erskine-students-speak-out/). One petition is a plea for an Erskine focused on athletic programs; the other petition is a plea for a mission focused and Christ-centered Erskine.
A Prayer Meeting Called
Finally, an e-mail was sent out by Scott DeCiantis to college personnel (but not to seminary personnel) asking for a prayer meeting in the Moffat Dinning Hall during the board’s meeting. And who is Scott DeCiantis? He is an ATHLETIC TRAINER who is also the Academic Dean. That is, ATHLETIC TRAINER/ACADEMIC DEAN Scott DeCiantis! Only at Erskine! And only at Erskine a coach calls for prayer! One can only ask, did DeCiantis and company receive the board’s decisions regarding football and Kooistra’s leadership as answers to their prayers?
A Personal Note
With regard to the so-called petition by the students, let me remind the authors of the petition and those who signed it, the Editor of ARPTalk is not surprised they are offended by what he writes. The truth is often offensive. However, if what the Editor writes is incorrect, the Editor has a record of correcting errors when they are demonstrated as such to him. The petition calls for certain punitive action to be taken against the Editor by General Synod. If they want to take this path, it is obvious they do not know what they are doing. The Editor is happy to help them file their charges in order for the charges to be properly before the appropriate church court for action. However, there is a thing called “discovery” involved in the procedural process. The Editor looks forward to a discovery process. The authors and the signers of the petition may not want to see what the Editor has in his files. Nevertheless, the Editor is not offended by this petition; he sees it for what it is: SOPHOMORIC BLUSTER!
Erskine Theological Seminary Is Vanishing!
Confusion, uncertainty, distrust, and division were apparent in the board’s actions regarding the seminary. The seminary is slowly being drained of life by Kooistra’s administrative neglect.
The April 2014 Cabinet Plan called for the separation of the college and seminary, Kooistra is on record for the separation, the seminary faculty petitioned for separation, and the board’s Seminary Committee concurs with the seminar’s faculty’s petition, but Kooistra is now backtracking on the idea. The members of the board are confused. They are gentle people who are dismayed by the depth of the Byzantine nature of Belk Hall. They are slowly coming to terms with Kooistra’s administrative style of neglect.
The details are a bit convoluted. The following represents the Editor’s efforts to organize and analyze the events.
One, the Erskine budget for next year is $31 million. That is, the college budget is $29 million (and growing), and the seminary budget is $2 million (and static). The seminary’s part of the total budget is 6.45%. However, Kooistra contends the 15% for institutional services the seminary pays to Belk Hall is a deal for the seminary. Amazingly, Kooistra says this and ignores all other narratives as though they did not exist. It is the story of “what belongs to the college, belongs to the college, and what belongs to the seminary, also belongs to the college.” Well, the seminary must have enough that Kooistra and the Belk Hall Looters do not want to lose it.
Two, the actions of the Seminary Committee (particularly, the separation of the seminary) were referred to the ad hoc committee on the seminary which is to take up a strategic plan for the seminary. However, Board Chairman Vigus did not appoint a single member of the seminary to the committee. What was Vigus thinking? Rather, was he thinking at all or simply following Kooistra’s directives? Obviously, Vigus is either in-over- his-head or has joined Kooistra in a plan to kill the seminary by inaction and silencing knowledgeable voices. It is well known that both SACS and ATS expect all key stakeholders to be involved in strategic planning, and it is hard to make the case that the members of the seminary faculty are not key stakeholders.
Three, Kooistra was cautioned to be careful in dealings with the seminary faculty while the ad hoc committee does its work. That is, Kooistra is not to storm over to the seminary and fire people he does not like. Well, is this not the equivalent of taking the president out to the barn and hogtying him? Clearly, Kooistra is not welcome in Bowie Divinity Hall. And, amazingly, Kooistra claims he spends 50% of his time on the seminary. Well, I enquired if there were Kooistra sighting at Bowie. The answer was no. He claims he is often in Bowie but is rarely seen.
Four, a motion was made and passed calling for an independent audit of the shared services and the state of the seminary’s endowed monies. This means Kooistra and Haselden are not trusted.
Five, chairmanships for board committees are appointed by the Board Chairman and approved by the board. In spite of the seminary faculty’s unanimous request for Peter Waid to continue as the Chairman of the Seminary Committee, Board Chairman Vigus (probably acquiescing to Kooistra’s request) appointed Gordon Query. It was forcefully argued by many that the Chairman of the Seminary Committee needs to be a minister and graduate of a seminary instead of a layman. The appointment of Gordon Query failed, and Board Chairman Vigus, in a huff, failed to appoint someone else. Therefore, since Waid was not replaced, I suppose he remains the Chairman of the Seminary Committee until the August meeting of the board. Well, our seminary still has one strong voice advocating for it.
At this point, there needs to be a word of explanation regarding Gordon Query. Query is a former Moderator, he was a member of the Moderator’s Commission at the “Snow” Synod, he is a genuinely good man, and we still call each other “friend.” He is caught in a conflict regarding the training of ministers. The board acted wisely. The Chairman of the Seminary Committee needs to have ministerial credentials and experiences, particularly, in a time such as this.
Six, the relationship between Kooistra and the seminary’s faculty and the Chairman of the Seminary Committee is strained with Board Chairman Vigus listening only to Kooistra and ignoring Waid and the voices from the faculty. Kooistra claims Chairman Waid will not listen to him, and he says he does not want to work with him. Waid sees Kooistra as a bully, and he is adamant in his decision not to follow Kooistra in the dismembering and destruction of the seminary of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Waid says his allegiance is to the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and not to Kooistra. Also, because of (1) Kooistra’s personal heavy-handedness with the seminary’s faculty, (2) his continuing unwillingness to provide leadership for the seminary, (3) the financial misunderstandings (real or perceived) regarding money management and allocations, (4) Kooistra’s unwillingness to sit down with the faculty and articulate his plans for the seminary, and (5) his unwillingness to be reconciled with a faculty he has greatly offended, means the faculty is not in a mood to follow Kooistra’s leadership. My prediction: by August, this situation will worsen! The seminary will be drifting like a ship without a rudder.
Seven, with many objecting, Kooistra announced he is appointing Max Rogland of the Columbia campus as Dean to replace Acting Dean R. J. Gore whose resignation as Acting Dean is effective on June 30. At this point, it is not clear whether Kooistra appointed Rogland as “Acting Dean” or “Dean.” If Kooistra appointed Rogland as “Acting Dean,” it is in his authority to do so; however, if he appointed Rogland as “Dean” apart from the proscribed search procedure, he is in violation of both the protocols of Erskine and the accrediting agencies (ATS and SACS). Since it seems Kooistra is often ignorant of procedures, it will be interesting to see what transpires. We can be sure of his response: “I will check into it and see what the procedures are.” Whatever takes place from this point, Rogland’s life is going to be very different. Once he was an Old Testament academic who wrote commentaries; he is now an administrator whose commentary writing days are over. One can only hope his administrate skills are as topnotch as his commentary writing skills. He can expect long days and a world of frustrations. I wish him well, for his success is the seminary’s success.
Unfortunately, the board failed to thank R. J. Gore for his work as Acting Dean of the Seminary for the past 21 months. Gore did the work of Acting Dean for NO pay. In the past 21 months, he wrote and oversaw six successful audits. Because of Gore’s work, the accrediting agencies are not at Kooistra’s door. Perhaps, the board will remedy this oversight at its August meeting. Kooistra continues as his misanthropic self!
By the way, Loyd Melton has been the Director of the DMin Program for the last 21 months with NO pay. Perhaps, the board will also remember him in August. Kooistra will keep his praise to himself! It is not in his DNA to thank people for anything!
The following is my analysis. (1) The only reason the seminary and college are not presently separate institutions is because the seminary is the college’s golden-egg-laying goose. (2) The seminary needs an identity which is distinct from the college’s identity which is toxic to the seminary. (3) The seminary needs its own board that focuses on seminary issues and is not consumed with decisions regarding athletics and other such matters which are irrelevant to a seminary. (4) The seminary needs its own President, its own TRUSTED CFO to watch over its monies, its own admissions director and recruiter, and its own development officer. (6) The cost of a seminary independent of the college is not that exorbitant. One needs to remember the initial cost projections of two million dollars in 2014 were the cost projects of CFO Haselden, and his loyalties and management of seminary funds and allocations are suspect.
Continuing to Fib and Obfuscate
For the readers who are Associate Reformed Presbyterians, do you remember the promise to General Synod regarding the MEDCOM DMin program? Since the MEDCOM program was in violation of the seminary’s mission, the board voted to have the program placed under the college. What did the administration do?
Currently, as I read the seminary’s catalogue, all that has been done is a name change on the diploma. The seminary still manages admissions. The seminary’s faculty still teaches the courses (and NO course is taught by a member of the college faculty). The seminary faculty still supervises the dissertations. The seminary is still credited with DMin income from MEDCOM. And the seminary’s budget will sustain the loss of the MEDCOM income beginning next year. Nevertheless, the diploma bears the name of the college.
Does this seem like “smoke and mirrors” to the reader? Is this obfuscation? Well, thankfully, this program will soon disappear. However, a lie never dies.
I wonder: is there enough outrage left in the members of the General Synod this year to be disgusted and scandalized at this lie? Knowingly and willfully, the Erskine administration has ignored the will of General Synod and the vote of the board. Well, I suspect President Kooistra will say he did not know about this; but, be at peace, he will check into it.
Potential NCAA Woes
When Kooistra took over the work of admissions, he said everyone quit on him. He says Kevin Nichols (Head Baseball Coach) is his real Director of Admission. No wonder! Nichols has been “the go-to-guy” after May when students are needed to fill beds in the dorms. Witness a baseball team with over 100 players.
This is an NCAA disaster waiting to happen.
NCAA regulations assume a regular admissions process and an athletic process which are distinct. Such separation is vital to maintaining the academic and fiscal integrity of a school. It is now common knowledge in Due West that the baseball coach is running Erskine’s admissions office. As I understand it, the previous Admissions Director was recently removed (and I suspect) because the Director was attempting to maintain the stated admissions standards of the college rather than admitting whoever coaches wanted to admit. Months later, no Admissions Director has been named and no search has been launched to fill the position. The reason is clear: in everything but name, the head baseball coach (Kevin Nichols) is the Admissions Director.
As I wrote, a disaster is waiting to happen! Indeed, if this is found out, it may bring an end to athletics at Erskine. So, let us pray it will be found out. Then Erskine College can become a Liberal Arts college again and re-embrace it mission.
Haselden! Haselden! Haselden!
Questions regarding the role and activities of CFO Greg Haselden continue to mount without unambiguous explanations and transparency.
Until this meeting of the board, the members of the board (including Chairman Vigus) were unaware of CFO Haselden’s conflict of interest statement. Kept a secret in plain sight, Haselden signed he had a conflict of interest on the requisite conflict of interest form. He and Comptroller Christian Habeger are partners in a business in which accounting matters are contracted out to their company on a no-bid basis. Since Erskine no longer has an IT department, it is also said IT operations are being contracted (or about to be contracted) out to another Haselden and Habeger company. This is done with the full knowledge and approval by President Kooistra. When Kooistra was asked if this violated Erskine’s policy, in characteristic fashion, he stated he did not know but would check into it.
Well, this looks like insider trading. Let it be heralded abroad: the “Good Ol’ Boy” network is still alive and well in Due West. When I was on the board (1998-2004), I was on an ad hoc committee charged to look into a similar situation. In those days, a VP and an employee of Erskine owned a construction company which did business for Erskine on a no-bid basis. We never knew when the owners of the company were working on Erskine’s time or on their time or on both. It was a sticky mess then! It is no less sticky and worrisome now!
The Maleficence of Some PCAers
The leadership influence of the PCA at Erskine is now palpable, and, in my opinion, it is often negative — a maleficence.
Clearly, Chairman of the Board Ron Vigus does not have the time or desire to oversee his chairmanship in these troubled days. He lives in Tennessee, and, from his back-porch, he cannot see the goings-on in Due West. As a member of a PCA congregation, he has no ties with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. As a hospital administrator, his work consumes his time. His actions reveal he trusts President Kooistra explicitly and is unaware of (or is unconcerned about) the conflicts in Due West and the tensions on the board. He has taken the side of the president and not the side of his board or the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.
President Kooistra, a member of the left-wing of the PCA, has no ties with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and no desire to make any. He disdains our General Synod. He ignores our mission for Erskine. Obviously, he is not interested in our definition of an evangelical. Clearly, he has attempted to engineer the demise of the seminary. Furthermore, and this reveals a great deal about the character of the man, Kooistra ignores or is ignorant of the protocols of the PCA. For example: a minister working out of the geographical bounds of his presbytery is required to inform the presbytery in whose bounds he works. Not a member of Calvary Presbytery (PCA), Kooistra has not informed the folks in Calvary Presbytery he is working in a ministerial capacity as the President of Erskine. And how do I know this? I asked. I wonder, will this catch the attention of my PCA readers in Calvary Presbytery? I hope so! If it does, Kooistra’s answer will be he does know about it but will check into it.
Dr. Max Rogland (not of the tribe of the maleficence) is now the Acting Dean/Dean (?) of the seminary. He is also a minister in the PCA. He is a certified Old Testament scholar. Now, we will see if Hebrew, Aramaic, and the writing of OT commentaries have prepared him for administering a seminary. I wonder, will he do this exhausting work at the same no-pay level as the former Acting Dean did?
Now, add to the list Cliff Smith who is VP for Communications and Strategic Initiative. Are there no Associate Reformed Presbyterians who can provide leadership to our college and seminary? Do not expect Kooistra and company to look for them!
A List of Questions I Would Ask
If I were a member of the board, below is a list of some questions I would pose to Kooistra.
One, Dr. Kooistra, is it true that on November 1, 2014, after declining to take questions, you abruptly walked out on a Curriculum Committee Meeting of the College? Why did you act in such an unprofessional manner?
Two, is it true that on December 11, 2014, visibly frustrated, you abruptly walked out on a College faculty meeting?
Three, there appears to be conflict between you and the entire seminary faculty which has resulted in the Seminary faculty seeking separation from the administration. How did you allow this crisis to develop?
Four, it is reported that at the February 2016 meeting of the Seminary Committee, you lost your temper and publicly chastised members of the Seminary Committee and the faculty in an unprofessional manner. How do you explain this?
Five, two highly qualified senior staff members (VPs) you appointed have resigned after brief terms of service and have expressed concerns regarding the financial leadership of the administration. How do you explain their narratives which conflicts with yours?
Six, Dr. Kooistra, after nearly two years in office, why have we have not received a stated vision, a strategic plan, or an enrollment strategy other than football?
Seven, the following is Board policy: “annually, the president shall report to the board at the first meeting of the new academic year an audit of the shared services to make sure that the correct balance of attention and work is being completed by the shared services personnel” (Board Minutes, May 30, 2014). Why has this not been done?
Eight, current and historic accounting practices of the CFO have created an environment of suspicion inside and outside of the Erskine community. Why have you not addressed this? Why have you not been transparent and forthcoming in this matter?
Nine, Dr. Kooistra, in spite of success in increasing the Annual Fund, why is overall giving continuing to decline?
Ten, Dr. Kooistra, when will you allow an assessment by the college and seminary faculties and administrators to evaluate your effectiveness as President of Erskine College & Theological Seminary? Since this required by the accrediting agencies, why has it not been done?
Will Kooistra Resign?
It is well known Kooistra stated to the board he would know when it was time to resign before the members of the board knew it. Well, maybe he knows and is unwilling to act on his knowledge.
So, what will Kooistra do?
I do not think Kooistra will resign at this time. Too much ego is involved. I think he has measured the psyche of the members of the board. He is prepared to say the things we want to hear, and we are prepared too often to believe a lie. He is aware Associate Reformed Presbyterians are conflict adverse. He knows ours is a culture of niceness. Niceness makes it difficult for tough decisions. Kooistra is pretty sure he is tougher than all the Associate Reformed Presbyterians on the board. He thinks he is safe as long as he wants the presidency of Erskine. Here is his attitude: “They can’t do better than me. They can’t find anybody else who will come to Due West!”
Well, for now, he may be correct! However, I do not think he has read the final chapter yet. If he is still president in August, the August meeting of the board will be nasty.
For now, the problem for Kooistra is the board’s NO vote on football which is a no confidence vote, and there is little he knows to do other than football. His leadership is a joke. If he continues in Due West, he is a public laughingstock — a byword for an old fool.
These are my thoughts,
Charles W. Wilson
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