ARPTalk 141 – Swamp Draining Underway!

 

Meeting last Thursday and Friday (May 25 and 26), the May meeting of the Erskine board was eventful, exciting, and promising. I pray it portends a bright future for Erskine. Certainly, the hearts of many board members were cheered by the events. As some described it: “It was the best board meeting I have attended — ever!”; “It is the first time I didn’t drive away from Due West frustrated and fearful for Erskine’s future;” and “I felt so good I stayed for lunch on Friday and didn’t get sick.” Well, it is a new day in Due West, and it is a good day for singing a song.

President Robert (Rob) E. Gustafson

Gustafson-at-commencement-17-cropDr. Rob Gustafson, who was confirmed as Interim President at the March meeting of the board, was elected Erskine’s seventeenth President. President Gustafson’s credentials as an evangelical Christian are impeccable. The only criticism I have heard is from a couple of cranky students who were in a lather of emotional dyspepsia: Dr. Gustafson forgot their names! Imagine the indignity!!! Well, many of us suffer from the malady of name-forgetfulness!

As I survey the landscape in Due West, my heart sings, and let me tell you why. First stanza of my song: President Gustafson is an evangelical Christian who embraces our Philosophy of Christian Higher Education, is a member of an Associate Reformed Presbyterian congregation, and is unashamedly an inerrantist when it comes to the authority of the Bible. Second stanza: Dr. Leslie Holmes, the Provost of the Seminary, is an Associate Reformed Presbyterian minister who whole-heartedly espouses the theological commitments of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and has dedicated his life to an evangelical renewal of Erskine Seminary which sees the General Synod reaffirming the seminary as “our seminary.” Third stanza: Dr. RJ Gore, the Dean of the Seminary, is an Associate Reformed Presbyterian minister who has soldiered faithfully and suffered much for an evangelical and orthodox renewal of both the college and seminary. Fourth stanza: Dr. John Basie, the Provost of the College, embraces our Philosophy of Christian Higher Education, knows the evangelical community well, (formerly an Associate Reformed Presbyterian) is planning to reunite with an Associate Reformed Presbyterian congregation as soon as he and his family settle, and can be expected to rebuild the college faculty to reflect clearly and embrace our Philosophy of Christian Higher Education. Fifth stanza: Mr. Sam James, the Chairman of the Erskine Board of Trustees, is a member of an Associate Reformed Presbyterian congregation and a solid evangelical who desires to see Erskine return to the mission the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church set for her (http://arpchurch.org/philosophy-of-christian-higher-education/).

The vote for the President was 18 FOR, NONE against, and 5 abstaining. I mention this because of the furor of indignation which erupted on the secular alums’ FACEBOOK site when a communiqué from Erskine resulted in the ARP News reporting, “The vote of the trustees was unanimous” (https://arpnews.org/author/arpmagazine/). I suppose the communiqué should have read, “The vote of the trustees was unopposed.” According to Cliff Smith, the article has been corrected; however, I wonder how this got past his attention. Is he not in charge of communications coming out of Erskine?

Willie Wonka I AbstainFor understandable reasons, three members of the board were unable to attend. The five members abstaining were Angie Grooms (the alumni representative), Jim Augustine, Chris Bethea, Rex Casterline, and Ann Marie Tribble. Good grief!! Why be a lampoon-like of Willy Wonka who agrees to serve on the Erskine board and then abstains from the vote for the President? There is no item of business more important than the vote for the President. One can only assume the abstainers OPPOSE President Gustafson, for they did not articulate their reasons for abstaining. If these people cannot support President Gustafson, they should resign from the board and not lurk in the dark like some kind of vampire-creature waiting to pounce. Their behavior is irresponsible. The only thing they can bring to the table now is a toxic attitude toward President Gustafson and his administration. As a former board member is fond of saying, “There is a special place in hell for board members who vote ‘I abstain.’” Indeed, a board member who does not know whether to vote YES or NO on the election of the President needs to go home!

From an Athletic to an Academic Focus

7069389621_3597700213_mSince the time of former President Randy Ruble, at the end of the academic year, if recruitment goals were not met, coaches were sent forth to find warm bodies to fill dorm beds. This practice is how it came to pass the baseball team has a roster of 100 or more players. It is the policy of “Any dude’ll do! Don’t worry about the student-athlete’s chances of academic success!” This partially explains Erskine’s severe retention problems the last 10 years.

According to President Gustafson, this policy is no longer tolerated. If the Freshman class is smaller, it will be smaller. Academic standards will no longer be sacrificed for a larger headcount. Perhaps, there is hope for Erskine College living up to her proud academic heritage. I hope so! The path will be challenging and treacherous. Hard days lie ahead for Erskine College. In order for Erskine to get healthier and regain her reputation for Christian Liberal Arts and academic excellence, she will get smaller before she grows.

Financial Considerations

The financial outlook for Erskine is not as bleak as many prophesied for 2016/17. A $100,000 deficit is expected. As I understand it, Erskine has a line of credit to cover this. The difference this year which is heartening is Chairman Sam James is dedicated to repaying loans. Well, time will tell!

The Annual Fund is down, but overall giving is up. Thanks to the “Trump Rally,” returns on the Endowment are strong. I hear the yield (excluding fees) is expected to be around 10%.

Erskine Seminary Recovering

Provost of the Seminary Leslie Holmes is an Irishman who is a first cousin to the Energizer Bunny. A conversation with him is exhausting, and one is left wondering, “Does he sleep?” Below is some of what he reported to the board.

One, this time last year the seminary had 25 new students. This year the seminary has 67 new students (and four are currently in the pipeline). Dr. Holmes’ goal is 75 new students by the time the Fall semester begins.

Two, the Rev. Matt Miller, former Pastor of Greenville Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, has been hired to establish the seminary’s presence in Greenville. Mr. Miller has extensive personal, business, ecclesiastical, and political contacts in Greenville. He is not lazy or lacking in the energy and resources needed to accomplish his tasks. Personally, I expect to see good things come out of Mr. Miller’s efforts.

Three, Provost Holmes announced a new scholarship in memory of Dr. James (“Jim”) T. Corbitt who died May 1. He was a church planter, Moderator of General Synod, and ONA director for ten years. This scholarship is intended to assist Associate Reformed Presbyterian students at Erskine Seminary pursuing church planting. Monies are being sought for this project, and I encourage the reader to consider donating to it.

Four, during former President Paul Kooistra’s time, he slashed the salaries of seminary professors by 35% and more in some cases. Dr. Holmes reported to the board he is attempting to raise $70,000 for salary relief for FY2017/18. This means a one-time bonus of $10,000 for each of the 7 full-time professors. He reported he has already raised pledges or donations of $50,000. May I encourage you to participate in Dr. Holmes’ effort?

Five, Provost Holmes made it clear to the members of the board that Erskine Seminary is the seminary of the Associate Reformed Church, period! Present professors who are not Associate Reformed Presbyterians are encouraged to become Associate Reformed Presbyterians. Future professors who are not Associate Reformed Presbyterians will become Associate Reformed Presbyterians or they will not be hired. Erskine Seminary is about the mission and the theological integrity of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and not about employment for itinerating academics. In Dr. Holmes’ words, “If you’re not Reformed in your theological perspective, if you’re not an inerrantist in your understanding of the Bible, and if you’re not pro-ARP Church, then you are not on the faculty of Erskine Seminary.” God bless you, Dr. Holmes!!!

A final word regarding the seminary: I continue advocating for the separation of the seminary from the college and the relocation of the seminary to Greenville. As long as the seminary and the college are conjoined, the seminary has no way to control its financial destiny. As long as the seminary is located in Due West, the seminary is a 1956 cover photo on the Saturday Evening Post. It is a caricature of a quaint Protestant monastery ensconced in a little, out of the way, southern town and on the way to nowhere in particular. As long as the seminary is conjoined to the college, the seminary does not have a board whose first concern is the health of the seminary. As long as the seminary and the college are one institution, the college and the seminary are in continuous conflict for the same dollar. The present relationship is not working! It will not work!

Swamp Draining Underway

Land_drains_near_Halsham_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1733463Years ago, a friend who is a consultant on raising beef cattle invited me to ride with him to look at a herd in Southwest Georgia. I noticed the cattle were small. I asked, “What’s wrong here?”

“New blood!” he responded. “A new bull is needed!” he continued.

If ever there was an ingrown institution needing a new and different kind of leadership, Erskine is the institution. The attitude of Belk Hall has been, “Presidents come and go, but we remain in charge! The President serves us; we do not serve the President!” Well, those folks in Bell Hall need to go. Bring in a new new staff with no connection to “old Erskine” and loyal to the new President.

President Rob Gustafson, Provost of the Seminary Leslie Holmes, Provost of the College John Basie, and Chairman of the Board Sam James are unlike anything Erskine has experienced in my 45 years as an Associate Reformed Presbyterian. They are “new blood.” Frankly, there is not a single Erskine employee on former President Paul Kooistra’s Leadership Team who needs to be retained.

As I hear it, a number of “old Erskine” faculty members are not returning. Others are franticly pursuing employment elsewhere.

A new CFO is needed. It is no secret Greg Haselden has lost the confidence of the majority of the the board and many donors. Now, before someone accuses me of hinting at malfeasance, I am not. As I said, it is a matter of confidence. Too many conflicts have occurred. A new face is needed. A new CFO opens doors for new donors — and perhaps regaining others.

There needs to be a shakeup in the Alumni Office. It is no secret Buddy Ferguson is in the pocket of the secular alums and no longer effective. Before the meeting of the board, a number of board members reported they received phone calls from alums asking them not to vote for President Gustafson. As one Erskine insider confided to me, a phone campaign was mounted out of Belk Hall to stop the election of President Gustafson. Well, does this explain why five board members abstained in the vote for the President? Well, if a campaign was launched, it was a failed effort — the equivalent of lighting a wet firecracker. As it looks to me, the “old Erskine” folks in Belk Hall sent forth steers, saying, “Go and reproduce!”

When there is talk of change and renewal at Erskine, the first thing we hear from the secular alums is “I hope the President will be positive in what he does.” Being interpreted, this means, “The President better not implement changes which reflect the vision of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. We don’t want too much Christian faith stuff. Just give us three dollars worth of Jesus! Give us enough of Jesus so we can sound religious but not enough of Jesus to change us!”

As it is now constituted, the Alumni Association needs to be reconstituted. The secular alums have nothing to offer a faithful Erskine. If they do not get their way, they threaten to withdraw their money and support from Erskine. Well, good! It is time start over! I think there is a Biblical passage which sums up these folks: “They went out from us, but they were not of us” (1 John 2.19).

Finally, if the employees in Belk Hall are not “pro-ARP Church,” are not behind the vision of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church for Erskine, and are unwilling to support President Gustafson fully, they need to find other employment.

The Due West swamp needs draining! It looks like the draining is underway!

These are my thoughts,

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Charles W. Wilson

Photo Credits: snapp3rhikinghillman, WikiMedia

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  1. Herschel Carlson says:

    Thank you, Chuck, for your persistent prayer and labor for a faithful college and seminary!
    Two of my children considered the college and seminary. Both, 7 to 10 years ago, were aghast
    at what they learned and witnessed. Hoping now that my grandchildren might attend a truly
    Confessional, Biblically founded, ARP school. How great will it be for the ARP to train her own
    ministers to fill pulpits of our churches and plant dozens or hundreds of churches in North America
    or carry the TRUE Gospel to the nations of the world! Never lose heart, dear Brother. The Reigning Lord loves His Church and will give every good and perfect gift to her!!

     
    • Chuck Wilson says:

      Dear Herschel Carlson,

      Thank you for the comment.

      Thank you for the kind words of encouragement.

      Regards,

      Chuck Wilson
      ARPTalk

       
  2. F.W. Bradley, III says:

    Rev. Wilson,
    Reading your article, I too am excited about the future of Erskine College and Seminary. I must, however, question the thoroughness of your research. It seems to me that before resorting to ad hominem attacks on Dr. Augustine, Mr. Casterline, Mr. Bethea and Mrs. Tribble, you might show a small amount of common courtesy in researching the reasons for their abstentions.
    As to the current faculty at the Seminary, my suggestions to you would be that you refrain from threats and misinformed biases regarding their employment status and take a look at what is being produced. The Columbia faculty, ARP and PCA, is fantastic and trains up young men worthy to be called ARP Ministers. Having been in the ARP for 65 years, I find the current situation at the College and Seminary more than satisfactory, in fact refreshing.

     
    • Chuck Wilson says:

      Dear F. W. Bradley III,

      Thanks for the comment.

      You misread what I wrote. I did not write anything negative about the seminary or the seminary faculty. Remember, Erskine is both a seminary and college. Read the article again.

      As far as what I wrote about the trustees who abstained from voting on the President, I change nothing. You call “ad hominem attacks” what you don’t want to hear. A trustee who abstains on the vote of the President says he has no opinion. Trustees were not elected to the board to have no opinion!

      Regards,

      Chuck Wilson
      ARPTalk

       
  3. Howard Carlson says:

    Praise God for the miracle. Howard Carlson

     
    • Chuck Wilson says:

      Dear Howard Carlson,

      Thanks for the comment.

      Yes! Praise God!

      Regards,

      Chuck Wilson
      ARPTalk

       
  4. Dr Charles H Roberts says:

    Chuck:

    What an amazing story of God’s mercy and grace, and of the persevering prayers of those such as yourself who love the Reformed faith and it’s proper promulgation to the succeeding generations of clergy. I think the scholarship in memory of Jim Corbitt is a good one and highly appropriate. I would only add that at an equally appropriate time, there be an endowed chair of theology in honor of Dr Charles W Wilson!

     
  5. Chuck Wilson says:

    Dear Charles Roberts,

    Thanks for the comment, and it’s good to hear from you again.

    I hope you are planning to attend Synod next week. I would like to see you again. If you are there, look me up. Remember my vision is nearly gone.

    I feel like the man in Psalm 126.1 who said, “We were like those who dream.”

    We must remember there are still many battles ahead of us, and much land to regain.

    I sure hope what I have reported is spot on! When writing, I stopped often and through: “Is this right?”

    BTW, I’m not interested in a chair of anything in my memory! I prefer to stick around and be a gadfly.

    Regards,

    Chuck Wilson
    ARPTalk

     
  6. Jim Loughner says:

    Chuck,

    I was honored to be on the board and to vote, heartedly, for our new president. After the meeting, I went up to Rob to congratulate him. I, also, asked him if he could imagine a year ago about him being the 17th President of Erskine, Dr. Leslie Holmes being the Provost of the Seminary, and Dr. John Basie being the Provost of the College.Neither of us could have ever believed that was possible. The hand of God has been evident in these changes. I was , also, able to point him tin the direction of a local couple who have been eager to start supporting their alma mater once again. He is eager to meet with them when the time is right.

    Keep up the good fight.

    Jim

     
  7. Jimbo Davis says:

    Oh Chuck,

    Where do I start?

    “It is the policy of “Any dude’ll do! Don’t worry about the student-athlete’s chances of academic success!” This partially explains Erskine’s severe retention problems the last 10 years…Academic standards will no longer be sacrificed for a larger headcount.”

    I’m sorry, but you must be mistaken about those applying to and accepted to Erskine. By far, the student athlete’s SAT, ACT, and GPAs are higher than regular students. I know that may be shocking to you as you can’t fathom how a student with a baseball glove could be smarter than a student than never left his homeschool or his ARP church.

    Additionally, pay no mind to the fact that the majority of student athletes are paying far more to come to Erskine than regular students. But as you said “If the Freshman class is smaller, it will be smaller.” It must not concern you at all that Erskine will lose is accreditation if the finances aren’t there. Haselden, whom you hate, realizes this along with the many other Old Belk folks. Woe to the students coming to Erskine now that don’t realize their degree will not be worth anything because the administration set forth on some self-righteous crusade to fill the beds with the numerous ARP students of the world, all 3 of them…

    Do some research and quit living in the 1970s.

     
    • Chuck Wilson says:

      Dear Jimbo Davis,

      Thanks for the comment.

      Jimbo, in response to your last comment (on ARPTalk(140)), I asked you to tell us who you are. Since your server is AOL.com and not Erskine.edu, I don’t think you are a student. Jimbo, I think you are a fraud. I don’t converse with anonymous trolls — and since you asked about my research, I have asked about your identity. No one seems to know you.

      Jimbo, it is well known I don’t suffer fools gladly. I rarely disapprove a comment, but you need to know I approve all comments posted on ARPTalk. Jimbo, I have approved this comment; however, unless you are willing to reveal your identity, this is your last post.

      Jimbo, how do you know about the GPAs of students? Even I can’t ferret out that info. BTW, Jimbo, did you know there are Federal regulations regarding confidentiality, and GPAs are confidential?

      Jimbo, since you think I am anti-athletic, did you know I played baseball or softball until I was 47 when failing eyesight from glaucoma drove me off the diamond. I also tried my hand at a number of other sports, and, at 71, to my grandson’s surprise, I can still spin a curve. Also did you know my son played four years of college football and graduated with good grades (cum laude)? So, Jimbo, if you think I am anti-athletic, you need to do your research.

      Jimbo, how do you know I “hate” Haselden? I was on the board when he was hired. Here is what I wrote: “A new CFO is needed. It is no secret Greg Haselden has lost the confidence of the majority of the the board and many donors. Now, before someone accuses me of hinting at malfeasance, I am not. As I said, it is a matter of confidence. Too many conflicts have occurred. A new face is needed. A new CFO opens doors for new donors — and perhaps regaining others.” Jimbo, that’s not hate; it’s recognition of reality.

      Jimbo, you speak of the three or four ARPs who attend Erskine presently. Well, they much be humdingers. According to Sarah Hoyt, “Magna Cum Laude Alum, 2016, Erskine College.” the ARP influence on campus is almost epidemic and so thick its palpable. Was she incorrect in her comment on ARPTalk(140)?

      Jimbo, I get the distinct feeling you are an Erskine coach or connected to the Athletic Department in some capacity? Am I right? Also, Jimbo, can you tell me what the Erskine motto is? Do you realize Erskine was’t founded by God-loving ARPs for baseball or any other sport?

      Well, Jimbo, there is much more I could say to you, but there is one incontrovertible thing I have learned in this life: “Convince a fool against his will, and he is still a fool!”

      Finally, Jimbo, tell us who you are. I will apologize to you if I have misjudged you.

      Regards,

      Chuck Wilson
      ARPTalk

       
  8. W. B. Oliver says:

    Very encouraging, thank you, very much, W.B. Oliver

     
  9. Thomas James says:

    In 1983 when I was accepted as a student at Erskine College I was shocked. The college was known as having high academic standards and only those in the top 15 percent of their high school class would be accepted. Although I have always been a Christian and active in my church selecting Erskine because of its religious principals never entered my mind; I wanted a quality education. When I graduated that is exactly what I received. Those were the best years of my life. I am disturbed by the events of the past 25 years. I recently visited the campus and was amazed at all the beauty. Not only has the campus changed in beauty but it has changed its focus and ideology. The focus is not on academics but on Biblical rhetoric that clouds the learning process.

    During my freshman year I became close friends with someone and we spent most of our time together. Over the course of several months apparently it became clear to some on campus that we were more than friends. One day we received arequest to appear in President Bruce Ezell’s office. The both of us were scared but we felt we had to honor the request. Dr. Ezell did not sit behind his desk but sat in a chair beside us. This made us feel more comfortable and he said he understands that we are more than friends and if any person on this campus harasses us, makes threats or derogatory comments towards us we are to contact him day or night and he gave us his home phone number. A few days later as we were leaving convocation and Bill Lesesne and Jeanie McDill, The Deans of Students, were walking toward the student center and motioned for us to speak with them. We walked over and they both assured us not to worry and if we ever felt uncomfortable we were to contact them. We knew then that Erskine was more than a college; it was a family. Our junior and senior years went fine and we were roommates those years. After college, I went to graduate school and John proceeded to work in his family business but we continued to live together. After 31 years together we were married and both have successful lives.

    Two or three years ago, while visiting New York, we read in The New York Times that an athlete at Erskine came out that he was gay and the Erskine community was in uproar. Both John and I both looked at each other in amazement wondering what has changed in Due West? We got on the internet and read that our favorite tenured professor had been fired, the college was changing presidents every two or three years and one president did not even last 18 months. In 1983 the college was focused on teaching young minds and not making them believe what the Board of Trustees wanted them to believe about sin, salvation and that the Bible has no errors.

    Several of the Board members within the past 25 years were students when we were there. I do not know if they have early stages of Alzheimer’s but they must have forgotten those years. In 1983, it was legal to drink beer at 18. Some of these future board members were the first to announce that there would be a “social gathering” at a certain location that Friday afternoon. Social Gatherings meant there would be a keg or two of beer. Many would go to Jackson’s Station in Hodges on Tuesday nights, owned by an open gay man, and drink beer. Also, because it was legal to drink at 18 and there were no open container laws the leadership allowed drinking of alcohol in your dorm room. The leadership of the college recognized that students were not going to drive 11 miles to Abbeville, drive another 11 miles back with a case of beer and not open one or two before they got back to campus. Prior to allowing students to drink in the dorm there were several students who had died because of drinking and driving. Dorm parties were frequent and you could go from to room to room if you put your alcohol under your shirt and it was covered. Residence Assistants participated and to my knowledge during our 4 years there was never an issue of alcohol abuse that was reported. With all this tolerance and understanding Erskine produced some outstanding graduates that have gone on to become leaders in their field of business, medicine, education and social services. This new regime of Board members must have forgotten they were 18 to 21 at one time in their life.

    The leadership at Erskine needs to concentrate on their mission of educating students. I truly believe 99 percent of the students at Erskine are Christian and will mature and be productive citizens. The Board needs to be in the business of raising money and composed of members that can do that. These Board members that are from ARP churches cannot manage a two hundred-thousand-dollar budget much less a budget of over fifteen million dollars. Most ARP churches cannot afford a full-time pastor and a full-time secretary. Most of the Board needs to be Chief Executive Officers, partners in law firms, Presidents, Vice Presidents or principal stock holders in major corporations. These people can pick up their phone and call their friends and ask for a hundred thousand dollars or a million dollars. The ARP pastors on the Board do not know how to ask their congregation for enough money to meet their small annual budget.

    If the leadership at Erskine will get their priorities in prospective they will realize that they will graduate academically strong students that are Christians and will be ready to face all the challenges of the world.

    Academic excellence is the goal.

    Sincerely,

    Thomas James, Ph.D.

     
    • Chuck Wilson says:

      Dear Thomas James,

      Thanks for your comments.

      I thank God that you, your partner, and all those you mentioned are gone.

      Regards,

      Chuck Wilson
      ARPTalk

       

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