More Details on the Closing of the Division of Biblical, Religious and Philosophical Studies at Trinity International University

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We reported on this story yesterday.

Today we received an announcement from TIU president Nicholas Perrin.  Notice what Perrin says about Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Moody Bible Institute, Judson University, Gordon College, Wheaton College, and Indiana Wesleyan University.  This is the new reality for Christian colleges.

At the beginning of this fall semester at Trinity, I made some significant announcements to our faculty, staff, students, and parents. I want to share this information with you as well. This relates to personnel changes which have already been announced within our faculty, as well as staff changes which will be determined and implemented over the course of the next few weeks. 

As we discuss changes of this type, it is helpful to note that Christian higher education in recent years has been experiencing intense fiscal pressures, often resulting in various degrees of reorganization. In the fall of 2015, for example, nearby Judson University cut 34 faculty and staff; two years later, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary cut 10% of its full-time faculty. Last summer Moody Bible Institute significantly downsized their Spokane campus and reduced approximately one-third of its faculty organization-wide. This past spring Gordon College combined a number of majors, cutting 17 faculty and staff members. This summer Wheaton College announced the closure of its Department of Intercultural Studies (eliminating jobs for, arguably, some of the most long standing faculty on campus). Last week, Indiana Wesleyan University, renowned as one of the fastest-growing Christian schools in the past decade, announced that it will be cutting nine faculty members at the end of this year. These are but a few examples. Fiscal realities have recently forced almost all institutions of Christian higher education to develop new strategies in executing their mission, and those new strategies can sometimes require painful decisions.

Today, as I write you, I wish I could tell you that Trinity has been immune from the same challenges, but that would not be true. What is true, however, is that we remain resolute in our efforts to offer our students a high-quality education that is also affordable. In the midst of this disrupted landscape, we must continue to offer the quality education our students expect and deserve, while also lowering operating costs. In short, this is a stewardship issue. I am writing you today to inform you that not yet three months into my presidency, I have – in consultation with my leadership team – approached this stewardship challenge by making a difficult decision.

Early last week, we announced a plan to eliminate five faculty positions within the undergraduate (Deerfield) Department of Biblical Studies and the Department of Christian Ministries. This change – first announced to faculty and staff on August 26, and then to students the next day – will take effect beginning Fall 2020. 

The consequences of this decision are, in part, curricular in nature. In terms of current academic programming, this decision will have limited impact in the short term; in the long term, it will mean their reconfiguration within a new major taught by members of the Divinity School faculty. This does not eliminate these programs from our undergraduate offerings but changes the way we will deliver coursework in these areas. This is not a hasty decision: as I understand it, Trinity has been considering this model and its long-term benefits for years.

It might be helpful to think about this in connection with specific student populations. For those who are starting their final year of undergraduate study in a Biblical Studies or Christian Ministries major, this decision will not delay their academic progress. Deerfield undergraduates returning for the 2020-21 academic year will be able to complete their majors as indicated in the current catalog. As we look toward the 2020-21 academic year, we expect to enroll new students in a newly reconstituted Bible, Theology, and Ministry major.

Practically speaking, the more profound change bears on the issue of personnel. Beginning in Fall 2020, our undergraduate Bible, Theology, and Ministry courses will be taught and administered by our TEDS faculty. To date, roughly a dozen TEDS faculty members already have expressed an eagerness to teach undergrad students. I am grateful for this. At the same time, I have asked our deans to carefully vet those aspiring to these teaching assignments, as it is imperative that we preserve the undergraduate professionalized liberal arts identity. I well remember the thrill of pivoting from leading doctoral students through the Greek text in the morning, to an evening discussion of the equivalent English texts with college freshmen over my wife’s home-cooked spaghetti. Coming from all walks of life, these faculty members are no less excited to engage and mentor these undergraduates.

There will be certain advantages in our achieving greater verticalized integration on our Deerfield campus, breaking down the structural walls of separation currently standing between our undergraduate Bible and Ministry majors and our world-renowned MDiv and MAs. It is also true that our accreditors will be encouraged by our compliance with their request to break down Deerfield’s academic silos. But these collateral benefits will mean little, even after having realized considerable savings through these cuts, if we fail to deliver our traditional caring, student-centered, and liberal arts-oriented undergraduate education. We aim for nothing less.

The reallocation of our Bible and Ministry faculty will not be the only staffing change this fall. This past week I also invited faculty representatives to join me in reviewing operating expenses and structures in order to identify cost-saving staff reductions. Like many of our peer institutions, we have – both in the seminary and in the college – significantly smaller enrollments than we did a decade ago. Through a multi-layered, creative, and prioritized approach, my hope is for Trinity to realize a staff reduction roughly commensurate with the decrease in the student body. My stated priority is to minimize the impact on student experience.

Even so, such changes are hard. Eliminating positions at any organization is painful, but it is even more painful at Trinity, where we feel much more like a family than an institution. However, these are necessary changes which we owe to our students who, together with their parents, make great sacrifices to pay college tuition. These are also missional changes, not only because cost-savings frees up funds for new endeavors, but God has a track record of using scarcity to bring about what in retrospect turns out to be divinely orchestrated missional adjustment. Given your affiliation and support for Trinity, it was important to me to write you directly to inform you of these changes.

We have some exciting initiatives in the pipeline, positioning Trinity to meet the needs of today’s Christian students. I would love to elaborate, but for now I would ask you simply to pray for us in this hour of adjustments. Pray for those faculty who have already felt the impact of the changes recently announced. Pray also for the staff (their number yet unknown) who will be more immediately affected by the upcoming cuts. Finally, please join me also in praying for God’s continued leading of our Trinity community, that He might use Trinity more and more to fulfill his kingdom purposes in and through the lives of students.

16 thoughts on “More Details on the Closing of the Division of Biblical, Religious and Philosophical Studies at Trinity International University

  1. No, I haven’t heard anything about that. It’s interesting because Perrin’s announcement here indicates that full-time TEDS faculty members would assume primary responsibility for undergraduate teaching. By the way, did Perrin send this announcement to you directly? Just wondering because I haven’t seen it elsewhere from any official TIU communication. Maybe I just missed it, though.

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  2. Four of my kids are Messiah grads. Two got post grad degrees at public universities.
    I believe they would say Messiah was comparably challenging. Actually my daughter considered her master’s program a joke compared to her under grad work at Messiah. All four have done well in their fields. None majored in any religious studies though. There is an engineer with an MBA, a computer science professional , a teacher, and business major who is manager of a pretty complex business.

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  3. Jeff: Good luck with your M.A. I will be eager to hear how your education compares with Moody and Denver. Of course, neither of these schools are Christian liberal arts colleges. At Messiah, we used to have a partnership with a big public university where students would go to spent an urban semester. In almost every case, students returned to Messiah after their urban semester and said that the history courses were much more rigorous at Messiah in terms of assigned reading and papers, student motivation, class discussions, and writing demands. Of course my sample is only history majors–the students I interact with on a daily basis.

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  4. Jeff: Good luck with your M.A. I will be eager to hear how your education compares with Moody and Denver. Of course, neither of these schools are Christian liberal arts colleges. At Messiah, we used to have a partnership with a big public university where students would go to spent an urban semester. In almost every case, students returned to Messiah after their urban semester and said that the history courses were much more rigorous at Messiah in terms of assigned reading and papers, student motivation, class discussions, and writing demands. Of course my sample is only history majors–the students I interact with on a daily basis.

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  5. Ric: Thanks for this. Obviously Christian colleges do not have the same resources as big state universities, but Don Bryant’s suggestion that research universities offer a superior education because they are big and do research is an assumption that probably tells us more about Don’s view of education that the quality of education that Christian colleges offer. I have heard stuff like this still I began at Messiah College 17 years ago. Someday I want to want to write a book with a title like “The Case for a Christian College.”

    Many Christian colleges have excellent faculties–folks who publish and contribute to scholarship, but also have committed themselves to working in a faith-based teaching environment. I know many, many professors at evangelical colleges who are there because they want to be there, not because they could not get a job anywhere else. Some faculty–myself included–made a deliberate choice to go a Christian liberal arts college because they wanted to be part of a more holistic approach to higher education.

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  6. I have been a TA at TEDS for several years and worked with a couple of Trinity College classes in that capacity. I TA’ed for an Intro to Preaching class at TC in 2015 and almost 20 students were enrolled. I TA’ed for the class again in 2017, and just under 10 students enrolled. I was tentatively scheduled to teach that class this fall at TC, but the class was cut because only 3 students signed up. Enrollment at the college has been declining for some time. It’s sad to hear of these cuts to faculty positions, but it’s not too surprising given the state of Christian higher education. Given Perrin’s statements here, I fear that the TEDS side will be next in line for faculty cuts.

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  7. God calls some students to state universities and others to Christian college (sometimes both, at various times). I attended a small Christian liberal arts college for undergraduate work, then two state universities. I received excellent preparation for graduate work at my Christian college. I would have no hesitation about going to a Christian college if I were starting out. In my oral finals one of the graduate school faculty even let it be know she preferred the way a particular part of my major had been taught at my college over the way it was being taught at the state university. I received top-notch education at all three schools.

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  8. I’m looking forward to testing this “in the lab.” I’m a graduate of the Moody Bible Institute (B.A. in Bible) and Denver Seminary (M.A.), but this fall (about 15 years later as a 37-year old) I’ve started my M.A. in Communication at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Although I did well academically at both my alma maters, I’ve long been curious how their academic rigor will compare to a research university. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure how seriously my candidacy would be taken. I have the caveat, though, that in my undergrad I was studying ministry, so a state university wouldn’t have been a viable option. (Although whether people who aspire to ministry should study it in their undergrad is an important discussion in itself, in my opinion. Everyone’s different.)

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  9. “where we feel much more like a family than an institution”

    Isn’t it funny that leaders most often describe their institutions as a family when they’re delivering bad news like job cuts, forced overtime, or lack of even cost-of-living raises? So, so, so, so manipulative.

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  10. Of course, one has to define what one means by a Christian college. Notre Dame? Baylor? SMU? Etc. These are top level research universities. Thinking of schools that have a more explicit identification as Conservative Evangelical. I spent plenty of time in the Christian college world as a staff member for InterVarsity with groups in some form on Christian college campuses. I went to a Christian High School where most of my class members went to Christian colleges. RC’s concern was not completely without merit. The very options for studies in which one can major is severely curtailed in most Christian colleges as I given the parameters for above. I get your concern, Dr. Fea.

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  11. This is untenable. The education being offered is subpar, and everyone should see it that way. As a freshman back in 1967 I chose to matriculate at a state university with a major in history and a minor in philosophy rather than enter a Christian college. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. It was back in those days that Dr. RC Sproul made his comment that the great unsaid was that Christian colleges were by definition second rate. That does not mean they were of no value. But it did mean that there was a compromise in the quality and support of a college education. Time has proven that even more true. I cannot imagine going to a school where the humanities are so severely curtailed, especially those schools in the Christian tradition. Of course, later on Sproul started his own Christian college. I was surprised.

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