ARPTalk 140 – Drain the Swamp!

 

drowned ratRecently, a number of folks have asked me when I was going to write another article for ARPTalk. Well, the time is now!

There are a number of reasons I have been slow with my words — and especially with regard to Erskine: (1) a time of silence was needed; (2) I wanted to give Acting President Rob Gustafson time to implement a vision — an opportunity to succeed; and, (3) as I was reading Isaiah, I came upon verse 42.3 (which is also found in Matthew 12.29) which speaks of not breaking a bruised reed or quenching a smoking flax.

At this time, my operating principle regarding President Gustafson is he is a genuinely good man who measures up to the challenges of the job before him. He is also an Associate Reformed Presbyterian who loves the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.

When Donald Trump was campaigning for the presidency of the USA, one of his campaign mottos was “Drain the Swamp!” Now that Mr. Trump is President Trump, can he do it? Well, I hope so!

The situation in Due West for President Gustafson is similar to the one in Washington. That is, there is a swamp which is in need of and overdue for draining. The difference is the Due West swamp is much smaller than the Washington swamp. This also means the opportunity for a successful swamp draining is much greater for President Gustafson. The number of personalities involved are well intrenched but not so many as to be dauntingly impossible. So, can President Gustafson drain the Due West swamp? I hope so!

February Board Meeting

The February meeting of the Erskine Board was interesting but not too eventful. The following recounts some of the significant items which were before the board.

ONE, the ad hoc committee which was appointed by former President Paul Kooistra (and which was supposed to consider the separation of the seminary from the college) was dissolved. This was a positive move! The hidden agenda behind the formation of the ad hoc committee was the closing of the Due West campus, moving the seminary to Columbia, and denuding the seminary of the Due West faculty. Nevertheless, the questions of moving the seminary to Greenville and the separation of the seminary from the college are ongoing. I know of no one at the seminary who is openly in favor of the seminary remaining in Due West.

TWO, it was reported the discount rate at the college is 74%, an all-time high. When I was on the board (1998-2004), we were doing cartwheels and summersaults over a discount rate of 50%. We heard dire warnings of troubles with SACS and possible collapse of the institution. Well, a discount rate of 74% is an existential threat to Erskine’s existence. With a discount rate of 74%, Erskine will never get away from the scrutiny of the auditors of SACS. The discount rate of 74% is not President Gustafson’s making; however, having inherited it from his predecessor (and from the folks on the “Leadership Team” he also inherited), it is his challenge to resolve.

THREE, as to be expected, the FTE is down to about 580. Certainly, it is now general knowledge the idea of a football program is dead, resulting in the loss of a number of students. The changes and challenges now of moving from an athletic model of recruitment and returning to an academic model will be painful for several years; nevertheless, the return to an academic model portends health for the future.

FOUR, from Freshman to Senior, the retention rate is about 60%. The remedy for this is recruiting students who can do more than simply read and write, add and subtract, and play a sport. The remedy is recruiting students who are both an academic and mission fit. By the way, the good news is the folks involved in the Presidential Scholarship program report the ACT and SAT averages of applicants are significantly better this year.

FIVE, in early February, the Endowment was reported at about $32,000,000. I am sure when most of the folks at Erskine woke up and discovered Donald Trump was POTUS the atmosphere in Due West was funerally. However, since the “Trump Rally” of the DOW, I am also sure the folks who are dealing with investments are singing “Happy days are here again!” I do not know what the endowment is today (3.1.2017), but, if it is not up significantly, the people charged with managing Erskine’s investments should be fired and run out of town on a rail.

SIX, (appointed by President Gustafson at the first of the year) Provost of the Seminary Dr. Leslie Holmes reported the seminary has a 20% increase in the seminary’s FTE for this spring (that is, 17 students over the spring of 2016). At first glance, this increase does not seem significant. Remember the seminary was left unattended by former President Paul Kooistra. Advertisement and recruitment for the seminary were assiduously avoided by Kooistra and Cliff Smith, the Vice
President of Communications. One can expect to see this changed immediately by Dr. Holmes. He will promote the seminary widely and find resources for advertising. Dr. Holmes is a minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Dr. Holmes loves the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Dr. Holmes does not just work for Erskine Seminary, he loves Erskine Seminary. We can expect many positive changes.

SEVEN, as per an arrangement with former President Paul Kooistra, Dr. Brad Christie has resigned his position as Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs (that is, Academic Dean) and has taken a well earned sabbatical. In a reconfiguring of the office of Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Christie has been replaced by Dr. John Basie, who, on March 13, will assume his positions as the Provost of the College and Associate Professor of Philosophy and Ethics.

EIGHT, I am hearing there is a significant increase in interest from and applications by students who are Associate Reformed Presbyterians. I hope this continues, and, in the near future, I hope one is unable to cross the street in Due West without running into an Associate Reformed Presbyterian.

Provost of the College, Dr. John Basie

A week after the meeting of the board, President Gustafson announced Dr. John Basie is the new Provost of the College. I am a bit hesitant to speak well of Dr. Basie. I do not want to harm him. Nevertheless, Readers of ARPTalk are aware I know most of the people who are connected to the Associate Reformed/Erskine world. It is not a large community. And many of you are aware my motto is “Have Phone Will Talk!”

I knew Dr. Basie when he was a student at Erskine. (1) With a MA in philosophy and ethics from Biola University, (2) with a PhD in church-state studies from Baylor University, (3) as a former Dean of Enrollment Management at Columbia International University (Columbian, SC), (4) as an Affiliate Scholar with the John Jay Institute, (5) as a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, and (6) with his connection to Chick-fil-A as the founding Director of the Impact 360 Institute which is connected to Union University (TN), Dr. Basie’s credentials as an evangelical scholar and an up-and-rising leader in the evangelical world are impeccable. My concern for him is that his tenure at Erskine does not derail his career. With his church background as an Associate Reformed Presbyterian (and his expected return to the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church), he is a perfect mission fit.

Obviously, the above is an endorsement. However, as John will attest, he knows what it is to look across a table and debate me. We do not always agree. John knows what it is to face me as an adversary. We have walked away from each other upset and in disagreement. Nevertheless, I honor and respect Dr. John Basie. May God give him convictions framed by the Truth of the Scriptures, wisdom gathered from the Proverbs, a backbone of steel, and a heart filled with the Holy Spirit.

Erskine Seminary

Over the years, the conjoined relationship between Erskine College and Erskine Seminary has proven unhealthy for both. The only thing a college and a seminary have in common is they are both educational institutions. In the last 20 years, the college has been bolstered by financial resources out of the seminary’s treasury. Year-after-year, the seminary has sent $600,000 or more to the college for auxiliary services and received very little in return. Six hundred thousand dollars to the college for auxiliary services is outrageous.

For example, when I was on the board, we spent an extraordinary amount of time discussing a climbing wall. During the climbing wall discussions, (as I remember) the only one to ask how the climbing wall would benefit the seminary was me. Among the students at the seminary and the faculty members, I did not hear anyone asking for a climbing wall, nor were congresses of prayer formed pleading to God for a climbing wall. Nevertheless, the consensus of the board was “Build That Wall,” and we built that wall. To this day, I ask: how did that wall benefit the seminary?

Once again, the conjoined relationship between the college and seminary is harmful to both. As soon as possible, Erskine Seminary needs to relocate to Greenville, SC. As soon as possible, Erskine Seminary needs its own board, President, and administration. As soon as possible, the seminary needs to be reorganized and reconfigured as the seminary of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.

The Erskine financial guru CFO/COO Greg Haselden says the college cannot survive without monies from the seminary. Such a statement from Haselden is odd, for he seems to have acted in concert with Kooistra in attempting to close the seminary. How is it Haselden now says the college cannot survive more than two years without the seminary? Will the real Greg Haselden stand up!?! Nevertheless, I partly agree with Haselden. The college as it is now configured athletically with a 74% discount rate needs the resources of the seminary.

Nevertheless, there is a new spirit at the seminary: (1) the Provost of the Seminary is an Associate Reformed Presbyterian who knows how to lead; (2) the Erskine President is a friend and not an enemy of the seminary; (3) Dr. Dale Johnson has been restored to the faculty; (4) efforts are underway to rectify the draconian slashes in salaries which were imposed by Kooistra; (5) the seminary now has it own people in charge of recruiting; (6) monies have been allocated for advertising; (7) classes are scheduled for this summer in Greenville at the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Center; (8) plans are under consideration for moving the seminary to Greenville; (9) the faculty desires a closer relationship with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church; (10) (and lest I overstate) most of the members of the faculty desire the relocation of the seminary to Greenville and separation from the college; and (11) the seminary’s financial status is improving (and would improve considerably faster if a fairer cost for auxiliary services was re-negotiated with Belk Hall).

Draining the Swamp

It is time to drain the Due West swamp. It has sat stagnant long enough!

A well-known secret in Due West is most of the folks at Erskine College have no love for or loyalty to the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. As one Erskinite said to me: “Chuck, don’t you know they hate the church.” Well, if they are so good and so smart, why do they not get another job with an institution to which they can love and be loyal?

What do we know about the Due West swamp? Who is responsible for the financial crisis? Who is responsible for jettisoning the academic model of recruitment for an athletic model of recruitment that has seen academic integrity fall like a rock off a cliff? Who is responsible for Associate Reformed Presbyterian parents of college age students losing confidence in Erskine and looking elsewhere for a college for their children? Who has sat idly by and watched the distrust of and divide with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church continue and grow without attempting to ameliorate the situation?

I do not hold President Gustafson responsible; he is new to his job. I do not hold Provost of the Seminary Dr. Leslie Holmes responsible; he was hired in January. I do not hold Provost of the College Dr. John Basie responsible; he does not assume his position until March 13. I do not hold Chairman of the Board Mr. Sam James responsible; he has been Chairman for less than a year.

Who are the denizens of the swamp? Who are those with longevity in Due West? Who are those who speak ill of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church? Who are those who work against the mission of Erskine as it was set by the
Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church? Who are the swamp rats? The swamp rats need to go! Where there is a swamp filled with swamp rats, the environment is not healthy! The swamp needs to be drained!

Let me state the obvious: (1) the President of Erskine is an Associate Reformed Presbyterian and is decidedly evangelical; (2) the Provost of the Seminary is an Associate Reformed Presbyterian who is decidedly evangelical; (3) the Provost of the College was an Associate Reformed Presbyterian (and will be so again and soon) and is decidedly evangelical; (4) the Chairman of the Board is an Associate Reformed Presbyterian and is decidedly evangelical; and (5) the Erskine Chaplain is an Associate Reformed Presbyterian and is decidedly evangelical. Gentlemen, it is time to drain the swamp and get rid of the swamp rats!!

These are my thoughts,

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Charles W. Wilson

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  1. 6 (a) He’s got a delightful Ulster brogue. The Rev’d Dr Holmes is a good man.

    All of them seem to be, which portends good things.

     
  2. Chuck Wilson says:

    Dear Drew Collins,

    Thanks for the comments.

    Yes, Drew, they are good men who are “churchmen.”

    As they say in sports, the ball is now in their court! Shoot, boys, shoot!!!

    Regares,

    Chuck Wilson
    ARPTalk

     

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