Out of the Zoo: Holidays Make Us Historians

candy cane lane

The beginning of the Christmas season in my hometown (Kalamazoo) is marked by the appearance of “Candy Cane Lane” in Bronson Park.

Annie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college.  In this dispatch, Annie writes about the upcoming Christmas season. –JF

It seems as if the Christmas Season is in full swing. While I (shamelessly) started listening to Christmas music and watching Hallmark movies on November first, on the day after Thanksgiving the entire world seems to turn shades of red and green. Michael Bublé comes out of hiding and sings out on radio broadcasts, coffee shops and supermarkets alike play festive tunes for their customers. Netted fir trees strapped atop SUVs become a regular appearance on highways, supplemented by the occasional Amazon or UPS truck packed to the brim with black Friday orders. Every year after Thanksgiving my family ventures into our dusty attic to retrieve our Christmas decorations; we pull out our snowy Disney Princess village, our singing Christmas clock, and our many, many farm-themed ornaments for the tree. 

I traveled back to Messiah on the Sunday after Thanksgiving and was welcomed by a campus decked out for the Christmas season. After a long nine hour drive from Michigan I was greeted by house-mates Chloe and Amy, hard at work assembling a faux Christmas tree in our living room and stringing lights outside. I’m sure first-year dorms are busy at work decorating for Messiah’s annual “Deck the Halls” competition.

The Christmas season is pretty special on a Christian college campus. Once December hits Messiah’s worship teams dust off the Christmas songs in their repertoire and play them at chapel and other services on campus. Murray Library hosts a Christmas tea and crafting event for students each year, serving homemade scones and striped candy canes. Students flock to Lottie-Nelson Dining Hall for Christmas dinner the week before exams to stuff themselves with comfort food and seasonal desserts. Teachers tell students about their Christmas plans and share their favorite holiday traditions.

I love the Christmas season. I adore the lights, the food, all the time with family and friends; but one of my favorite things about Christmas is that it has deep roots in history. The task of the historian is to remember the past and to recreate it in the present; when we celebrate Christmas that’s exactly what we’re doing. As a Christian I believe that Christ’s miraculous birth was a real event that happened about two thousand years ago, a real event from the past that should be brought to life in the present for the world to see. When we sing Christmas songs, set up our nativities or light our advent candles, we do just that; we resurrect Christ’s story and remember that our God is not just the God of heaven, but He’s also God on earth, God with us, Emmanuel.

Christmas isn’t the only holiday with deep roots in history. All holidays have historical beginnings–even if they’re often entangled with myth, distorted by exaggerations, or littered with omissions along the way. Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, and Easter, for example are all meant, in one way or another, to remember and celebrate an event that happened in the past and shape the meaning it retains in the present. When the holiday season comes around, we are all historians, in a sense. We remember, resurrect, and make meaning out of things that happened. Then, as historians, it is up to us to sort fact from fiction, reality from myth. We examine the events and the meanings that they hold all wrapped up in bows and lights and “Christmas magic.” Instead of getting caught up in all the glamour, we seek out what really happened.

Every Humanities Faculty Member at a Christian College Should Read This Piece

Crown

Call it “Quit Lit” or something else, but this is a powerful and moving piece by former Crown University English professor Michial Farmer.  A friend who sent the essay to me called it “uncomfortably honest.”  I would agree.  Farmer bares his soul and, as my friend says, we are like the priest behind the curtain.  But I think we in the humanities, especially those of us at Christian colleges, can relate to some his story.

Here is a taste of “Two Forms of Despair“:

There is real freedom in resignation: For the last several years of my teaching career, I suffered a variety of annoying and humiliating medical symptoms: phantom gallbladder pain, heart palpitations, strange twitches of the nerves in my big toe, several months of constipation. When I took them to my physician, he inevitably told me that I was doing it to myself, that these were physical manifestations of my anxiety that my classes wouldn’t have enough students to run, that my college would close, that no other college would ever hire me. But symptoms of anxiety form a kind of feedback loop, and I’d lie in bed panicking that I had gallstones, a heart attack, multiple sclerosis, colon cancer—anything to avoid facing the truth that I was trying to live in a world that didn’t exist, a world in which it was possible for a person like me to be a great success teaching English, of all things, at an evangelical college, of all places. Every year, I stared out over the abyss, and hope sprung eternal as I sent out dozens of applications to state schools, overseas universities, and more prestigious Christian colleges; every year, the abyss stared back at me in the guise of form letters or, more often, a cold and mechanical silence.

I remember the last straw. I’d applied for a job at a noteworthy religious college in the Pacific Northwest, a job I was quite qualified for in a department where I knew someone. She wasn’t on the search committee, so she helped me with my application, which I spent weeks perfecting. The school rejected me during the first round; they didn’t even interview me over the phone. They sent the rejection email on a Friday night at midnight. Something broke off inside of me, and I needed two sleeping pills to fight through the jungle of catatonic anxiety and fall asleep. A few months later, my provost called me into his office and told me that I was “banging my head against the wall” by trying to turn my college into the sort of place I’d want to teach. There was no way out, and no way to improve the inside. My final physical symptom appeared: a lump in my throat so large and solid that I couldn’t wear a tie anymore. Magically, it went away after I resigned myself to the fact that a career in education was not in my future.

I don’t think cynical people go into humanities education—or if they do, their cynicism is a screen to protect them from the low financial and social rewards their thirteen years of higher education require. They—we—do it because we believe in the power of art and thought to transform lives and the world. And yet it’s a cliché at this point to talk about the failure of universities to support the noble goals of humanists, religious and secular alike.

When I went into graduate school, I believed that the Christian college could be a useful, vital counterweight to the forces of professionalization and politics that have rent the humanities at secular universities. I imagined the Christian college as a sort of monastery wherein all areas of study, but especially the humanities, find meaning and context in the shared beliefs and practices of the community. I hope I won’t sound petulant if I point out that most Christian colleges, perhaps all of them, have failed to live up to that vision—which may have only been another of my fantasies in the first place. I don’t blame them; the armies threatening the Christian liberal arts are led by Republicans and Democrats, atheists and evangelicals. Administrators have to be practical if they want to save the jobs of their faculty members and the real good their institutions are doing in the world. When my provost told me I was beating my head against the wall, I think he meant that I was trying to live in a world that can no longer exist, if it ever could have. He wanted me to resign—not resign from my job, I think, but resign myself to the idea that I could not get what I wanted from my job. He was seeking my good.

Read the entire piece at The Front Porch Republic.

Karen Swallow Prior Says More About Why She Left Liberty University

Author and educator Karen Swallow Prior. Courtesy photo

Background here and here.

Here is a taste of Richard Chumney’s piece at the Lynchburg News & Advance:

Karen Swallow Prior, a longtime English professor at Liberty University and a high-profile voice in the evangelical movement, will leave the school next year due to mounting frustrations over what she said is an administration-led campaign toward standardization that limits academic independence.

“For me, teaching is an art and I need the freedom to express that art,” Prior, who has accepted a position at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, said in an interview this week.

“A smaller school like Southeastern — that’s even more traditional in its curriculum and in its classroom methods — is a better fit for me now and my teaching style,” she added.

At the heart of Prior’s concern is what she called Liberty’s growing emphasis on “a business model of education,” in which university administrators have demanded greater standardization and an increasing level of oversight of instructors.

“A lot of these changes, especially as they trickle down, end up requiring me to check more boxes, to teach different classes outside my expertise and to follow along with new regulations and policies that make me less freer to practice this art,” she said.

Scott Lamb, Liberty’s senior vice president for communications and public engagement, declined to discuss Prior’s resignation, calling it is a personnel matter. He did, however, say that recent academic changes have been made with an eye toward cultivating student success. 

“In a system this big, we’re constantly looking for ways to improve the student experience,” Lamb said. “We’re focused on student success and the professors, I think, understand that. We haven’t gotten complaints from the professors.”

Read the entire piece here.

Cincinnati Christian College Closes Its Doors

CCu

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Cincinnati Christian University will close its doors.  I don’t know much about this school beyond the fact that they had a pretty good basketball team in the 1980s (the school was then known as Cincinnati Bible College) led by two phenomenal guards named Charlie McMahan and Lawain McNeil.

Here is a taste of Eric Kelderman and Dan Bauman’s reporting:

Three months after Cincinnati Christian University was disciplined by its accreditor, the institution announced it will close at the end of the fall semester.

A regional accrediting agency told the university in July that it had a year to “show cause” why it shouldn’t lose accreditation. Cincinnati Christian’s financial condition and governance lapses had put its status at risk. Without accreditation, the university would lose access to millions of dollars in federal student aid.

But instead of enduring that process, the college’s board announced on Monday that it will close its doors at the end of the semester.

“We hope this letter finds you well! You may have heard by now that CCU has made the difficult decision to cease offering accredited degree programs following the Fall 2019 semester,” said an open letter to students posted online Monday.

“We are truly sorry to have to send this letter. CCU has been serving students for almost a century, and we view all of you as friends and family,” the letter said. It was signed by the college’s Board of Trustees.

Since 2015, the college has made a series of bold bets to try to reverse declining enrollment and tuition revenues. Those moves were among the reasons cited by its accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, when it issued its dire warning in the summer.

With little planning, the college started a football program, laid off administrative staff and faculty members to cut costs, and revised its academic mission. But its retention and graduation rates suffered, the accreditor reported, while its fiscal condition continued to erode.

The university has now spent the entirety of its $4-million endowment, according to financial disclosures filed with the Internal Revenue Service. The institution owed nearly $6 million at the end of the 2018 fiscal year on a mortgage to Central Bank and Trust, which has claim to all of the university’s assets.

The accreditor also found numerous conflicts of interest within the university’s governance structure. President Ronald E. Heineman is a former board member who was also appointed chief restructuring officer by the bank. That situation led Heineman to put the interests of the bank that extended credit to Cincinnati Christian above the interests of the institution itself, the accreditor said.

Heineman, a local businessman, also has a troubled past, including having had to pay a $150,000 fine to the Securities and Exchange Commission. He also owes more than a million dollars in unpaid state taxes, according to Chronicle reporting.

The university’s closure gives the institution’s nearly 700 undergraduates little time to choose a new college to continue their studies. In its letter to students, the college said it is seeking to finalize agreements with a dozen other colleges where students might be able to complete their degree programs.

Read the rest here.

The article also mentions the way the university is explaining its closure on the college website.  Rather than announcing the closing of the college, the leaders of Cincinnati Christian is promoting its “historic partnership” with Central Christian College of the Bible in Missouri:

Cincinnati Christian University (CCU) announces a new partnership with Central Christian College of the Bible (CCCB). This follows the decision by CCU’s Trustees to withdraw from Higher Learning Commission accreditation following the Fall 2019 semester.  In Spring 2020, CCCB will open an extension site in Cincinnati to provide accredited ministerial degrees in the region. At the same time, CCU will work together with CCCB to serve more congregations and ministry leaders through the Center for Church Leadership (CCL).

CCU realizes this decision will greatly impact students and employees, but also views it as the best possible stewardship of the resources and opportunities God has provided. Over the past two decades, it has become increasingly difficult to provide accredited ministry programs at a reasonable cost in a metropolitan location. CCU has approached this challenge by exploring mergers, adding other programs, and expanding athletic programming to attract more students. These strategies have allowed the school to serve new populations but have not overcome the financial challenges that face many private, residential colleges today.

The History Major is Back at Gordon College

Gordon College

I received this today from Gordon’s office of Marketing and External Relations:

The Political Science, Philosophy and History departments will be merged into one administrative department, and all department faculty worked over the summer to revise their curriculum to better meet the needs of incoming students across these three disciplines. Gordon will continue to offer majors in these disciplines as part of a comprehensive liberal arts education. The philosophy major will now include four concentrations (of which students must choose one): political theory; justice, peace and conflict; law; and language and linguistics.

It appears that the stand-alone History Department at Gordon is gone, but the major will remain.  Some of you may remember that Gordon announced last Spring that it would be dropping the major.  We wrote about that here and here and here and here and here.

Kate Shellnut mentioned this in a piece at Christianity Today earlier this month, but I missed it.

Gordon College Gets a $75.5 Million Donation

Gordon College

Will the Christian “liberal arts college” use the money to bring back the history major?

It does not look like it.

Here is a taste of Kate Shellnut’s reporting at Christianity Today:

The historic investment in Gordon comes as the school undergoes what Lindsay called its most significant academic restructuring in 50 years. Last spring, the college announced plans to consolidate certain majors and departments to better match student demand. For example, political science, philosophy, and history were combined into a single department, though each will remain a distinct major.

In addition, the school said it would expand graduate programs, partnerships, and online education. A $10 million donation made in May helped fund Gordan Global, a platform for online education through its new School of Graduate, Professional, and Extended Studies.

As a result of the changes and budget cuts, 17 faculty members and six staff members were laid off, and more than a dozen other unfilled positions were eliminated.

While some alumni as well as outsiders questioned the move, worried the school was losing its liberal arts distinctives, Lindsay and fellow Gordon administrators saw the adjustments as a proactive way to avoid financial strain in the future, to set the school up for sustainability.

Read the rest here.

I recently mentioned Gordon College in a talk I gave to the Lee University Symposium on Faith and the Liberal Arts.  Here is what I said:

…The liberal arts, and the intellectual skills that the liberal arts provide, are at the heart of this kind of truth-seeking enterprise. We need the liberal arts more than ever in the age of Trump. Christian colleges are doing a nice job of training professionals and skilled workers to help sustain our capitalist economy, but I worry that we are not investing as much as we should in the kinds of people essential to sustain a democracy. Liberal arts and humanities programs around the country are under attack at time when we need them more than ever. Administrators and Boards of Trustees are eliminating these programs and majors at a rapid clip, all in the name of “prioritization.” All of us at Messiah College got a wake-up call when we learned this year that our sister school in Wenham, Massachusetts, Gordon College, a flagship evangelical college with a rich history of liberal arts education, dropped majors in history, philosophy, chemistry, French, and physics.  I have heard stories of other schools who have made cuts or eliminated humanities and liberal arts programs with very little conversation about the purpose of college or the way in which the sustained study of the humanities (not just general education, I might add) raise questions that go to the heart of the mission of a Christian college or university.  What are we prioritizing in prioritization?

Christians and Politics: Power, the Liberal Arts, and People of Faith

Lee University campusI will be at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee this weekend to give a plenary talk at the Lee Symposium: Conversation on Faith and the Liberal Arts.  This year’s theme is “Christians and Politics: Power, the Liberal Arts, and People of Faith.”

Here is the program:

Christians and Politics: Power, the Liberal Arts, and People of Faith

Lee University, October 4-5, 2019

Friday, October 4

2:00 pm

Registration

3:00 pm

Welcome and Opening Remarks

3:30 pm

Presenter: John Fea, Messiah College

Responder: Lisa Clark Diller, Southern Adventist University

5:45 pm

Dinner

7:00 pm

Presenter: Ana Shippey, Lee University

Responder: Richard Follett, Covenant College

Saturday, October 5

9:00 am

Presenter: Wilfred McClay, University of Oklahoma

Responder: David Broersma, Lee University

11:00 am

Presenter: Christa Bennett, Community Well

Responder: Mark Scully, Lee University

1:00 pm

Lunch

2:00 pm

“Summing Up: What Have We Heard?”

Presenter: Jason Ward, Lee University

 

Jerry Falwell Jr. Has Been Sounding “a Lot Like Donald Trump” for a Long Time

jerry-falwell-696x362

Yesterday, in one of my responses to this whole Jerry Falwell Jr. mess at Liberty University, I wrote:

The threats of “mean” lawyers, FBI investigations, and attempts to attack the masculinity of reporter Brandon Ambrosino, are a mere distraction from Falwell having to address his hypocritical behavior and the culture of fear he has created at Liberty University.  Instead of coming before his community–the largest Christian college in the world– in a spirit of repentance or humility, Falwell is going to focus on how he was actually the victim in all of this.  Whatever the FBI decides to do about this “attempted coup,” or however Politico managed to get access to these e-mails, the evidence does not lie.  Falwell has some explaining to do.

Andrew Egger of The Bulwark, a website founded by conservative radio personality Charlie Sykes, makes a similar argument in a piece titled “Jerry Falwell Jr. Is Starting to Sound a Lot Like Donald Trump.”

But what’s interesting here isn’t just that Falwell seems to be an even bigger creep than we’d previously imagined. Just as noteworthy has been the response the piece prompted from Falwell. His back against the wall, deserted by former  allies, Falwell has hit back—not by leaning on his faith-leader credentials, but by diving headfirst into #MAGAsphere conspiracy-mongering.

“Our attorneys have determined that this small number of former board members and employees, they’re involved in a criminal conspiracy, are working together to steal Liberty property in the form of emails and provide them to reporters,” Falwell told The Hill in a Tuesday interview. He added that he had asked the FBI to investigate the matter.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, Falwell has beat a steady drumbeat to the tune that the Politico report is politically motivated “fake news,” insisting he is the target of an “attempted coup” and suggesting ominously that “Politico’s new CEO is a big Democratic donor.”

The first noteworthy thing about this response is that it has nothing to do with him. Falwell seems to have internalized the Trumpian lesson that the best defense is a good offense. Maybe it doesn’t matter whether he’s a terrible boss, husband, Christian, and leader, so long as he can convince a critical mass of people paying attention to this news cycle that the people gunning for him are worse.

But the more important strategy here is even more primal than that. By pursuing this particular triage strategy, Falwell seems to be trying to persuade his audience to ignore the specifics—and instead merely regard whose team each side is on.

Read the entire piece here.  My only criticism is that Falwell has been sounding like Donald Trump for a long time–there is nothing new here. Perhaps the only real difference between the “leadership” style of these two autocrats is that Trump does not use e-mail.

Falwell Jr: There is a “Criminal Conspiracy” to Oust Me From Power at Liberty University

President Donald Trump attends the Liberty University Commencement Ceremony

It looks like there is an evangelical Christian version of the “deep state” staging a secret revolution to overthrow Jerry Falwell Jr. at Liberty University.  Here is The Hill:

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. told Hill.TV on Tuesday that he has begun sharing information with the FBI in what he alleged was a criminal conspiracy against him by former board members at the school.

Falwell said in an exclusive interview that in the coming days the FBI will review university documents at the Lynchburg, Va., campus. He accused former colleagues of stealing school property in the form of emails and then sharing them with reporters in an effort to damage his reputation.

The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Our attorneys have determined that this small group of former board members and employees, they’re involved in a criminal conspiracy, are working together to steal Liberty property in the form of emails and provided them to reporters,” Falwell Jr. said.

The accusation follows a Politico story published Monday that detailed a “culture of fear and self-dealing at the largest Christian college in the world.” The story cited internal Liberty University emails, which Falwell Jr. and his attorney’s allege were stolen in a coordinated effort.

Read the rest here.

We have covered the Falwell Jr. story here and here.  I think we should start calling Falwell Jr. the “evangelical Donald Trump.”  I think he would enjoy such a name.  🙂

Why the Recent *Politico” Piece Will Not Hurt Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Standing Among Many Conservative Evangelicals

Senator Bernie Sanders Speaks At Liberty University Convocation

Yesterday I posted about Brandon Ambrosino’s Politico piece exposing Jerry Falwell’s lies, shady business deals, sex life, and the tyrannical power he holds over his employees at Liberty University.  One of Falwell’s employees called the president a dictator who propagates a culture of fear at the Lynchburg, Virginia school that claims to be the largest Christian university in the world.

Two things are worth noting about this story.

First, anyone who has studied the history of American fundamentalism will be familiar with the kind of power Falwell Jr. wields.  Falwell Jr. inherited Liberty from his father, Jerry Falwell Sr., the founder of the school.  Falwell Sr. was the product of the separatist fundamentalist movement, an approach to conservative Protestantism that continued to cling to the label “fundamentalism” long after other mid-twentieth-century conservative Protestants had abandoned it in favor of the term “evangelical.”  Liberty University (originally Lynchburg Baptist College) was born out of this movement.

Falwell Sr.’s brand of fundamentalism not only opposed secular humanism and liberal Protestantism, but it also refused to fellowship or cooperate with conservative Christians willing to participate in religious services and events with liberal Protestants.  This was known as “second-degree separation” and, as I argued in several essays in the 1990s, it was a defining characteristic of the fundamentalist movement in the years following the fundamentalist-modernist controversies of the 1920s.

When so-called “neo-evangelicals” such as Billy Graham, Carl F.H. Henry, John Harold Ockenga, and others sought to forge a more irenic brand of conservative Protestantism after World War II known as “neo-evangelicalism,” other alumni of the fundamentalist-modernist controversies such as John R. Rice, Carl McIntire, Robert T. Ketcham, and Bob Jones Jr. continued to cling to the label “fundamentalism.” (Falwell Sr. was a disciple of Rice, a Wheaton, Illinois and later Murfreesboro, Tennessee -based evangelist who parted ways with Graham over the latter’s willingness to allow liberal clergy to pray at his crusades).

These separatist fundamentalists were known for empire building.  Rice built his empire around his newspaper The Sword of the Lord, a weekly publication that had over 100,000 subscribers in the 1950s.  McIntire’s built an empire around his popular radio broadcast, his Collingswood, New Jersey-based weekly newspaper The Christian Beacon, his conference-center properties in Cape May, New Jersey, and Shelton College (first in Ringwood, NJ and later Cape May) and Faith Theological Seminary (Elkins Park, PA).  Ketcham was a leader of the General Association of Regular Baptists, a denomination formed in the wake of the modernist takeover of the Northern Baptist Church.  Bob Jones Jr. presided over Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina.  All of these men were autocratic leaders who wielded immense power among their followers.  They spent much of their time railing against their many enemies–modernism, mainline Protestantism, communism, the civil rights movement, feminists, and the counter-culture.  And they became experts at sniffing-out those in their ranks who they believed to be compromising their faith by working with Graham or other neo-evangelicals.

When Jerry Falwell Sr. formed the Moral Majority in 1979, many self-identified fundamentalists rejected him.  Falwell Sr.’s willingness to work with like-minded Catholics and Mormons  on moral issues was just too much for separatists such as Bob Jones Jr.   Yet Falwell Sr. never really joined the neo-evangelical fold.  Since the 1980s, Falwell Sr and the empire he created in Lynchburg has remained in a kind of no-man’s land–situated somewhere between the culturally-engaged evangelicals and the old separatists.

Though Falwell Sr. eventually parted ways with his separatist fundamentalist roots, he never abandoned the empire-building mentality of the religious culture in which he came of age as a minister.  Falwell Sr. ran Liberty University like a dictator.  So does his son.  In this sense, there is more continuity between father and son than Ambrosino allows.

Second, I am afraid that Ambrosino’s Politico article will do little to damage Jerry Falwell Jr.’s reputation among his followers.  Falwell Jr. will just claim that Ambrosino is a disgruntled former student and Politico is part of the mainstream media out to get him because of his support of Donald Trump.  Yes, there may be some evangelical parents and high school students who will take Liberty University off their short list because of this article and others like it, but I imagine that many students and alumni at Liberty will see Falwell Jr. and Liberty as victims of the liberal media and other forces trying to undermine evangelical Christianity, religious freedom, and Christian nationalism in America.  Liberty will remain a safe place for these parents and students.

Falwell Jr. is no dummy.  He knows that his administrative staff and faculty are expendable. In his mind, they are interchangeable parts.  He once said that he has “tamed” them.  Someone, after all, has to teach the classes.  In the end, Falwell Jr. is betting that as long as he takes his cultural war vision for Liberty University directly to the people through social media, conservative political outlets like Fox News (where Liberty advertises), and court evangelical appearances with Trump, and as long he suppressed dissent among his staff and the student body, he will continue to fill seats in the Liberty University classrooms and online venues. Many evangelicals will overlook his indiscretions in the same way they have overlooked Trump’s indiscretions.

*Politico* Exposes Jerry Falwell Jr. and Liberty University

President Donald Trump attends the Liberty University Commencement Ceremony

“It’s a dictatorship…everyone is scared for their life.  Everybody walks around in fear.”  These are just a few of the things high-level Liberty University employees have said about Jerry Falwell Jr.  Check out Brandon Ambrosino’s longform piece, “‘Somebody’s Gotta Tell the Freakin’ Truth: Jerry Falwell’s Aides Break Their Silence.”

In this piece we learn

  • Liberty University is more real estate hedge fund than university.
  • Falwell Jr.’s wife Becki wields a lot of power
  • The employees live in a culture of constant fear
  • Falwell Jr. like to party and talk about his sex life
  • Falwell Jr. has an uneasy relationship with the truth
  • Falwell Jr. has been involved in a lot of shady business deals

Not to mention all the court evangelical stuff with Trump.

Here is a taste:

More than two dozen current and former high-ranking Liberty University officials and close associates of Falwell spoke to me or provided documents for this article, opening up—for the first time at an institution so intimately associated with the Falwell family—about what they’ve experienced and why they don’t think he’s the right man to lead Liberty University or serve as a figurehead in the Christian conservative movement.

In interviews over the past eight months, they depicted how Falwell and his wife, Becki, consolidated power at Liberty University and how Falwell presides over a culture of self-dealing, directing university resources into projects and real estate deals in which his friends and family have stood to make personal financial gains. Among the previously unreported revelations are Falwell’s decision to hire his son Trey’s company to manage a shopping center owned by the university, Falwell’s advocacy for loans given by the university to his friends, and Falwell’s awarding university contracts to businesses owned by his friends.

“We’re not a school; we’re a real estate hedge fund,” said a senior university official with inside knowledge of Liberty’s finances. “We’re not educating; we’re buying real estate every year and taking students’ money to do it.”

Liberty employees detailed other instances of Falwell’s behavior that they see as falling short of the standard of conduct they expect from conservative Christian leaders, from partying at nightclubs, to graphically discussing his sex life with employees, to electioneering that makes uneasy even those who fondly remember the heyday of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., the school’s founder and Falwell Jr.’s father, and his Moral Majority.

Read the entire piece here.

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

trinity-evangelical-divinity-school-of-trinity-international-university

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.

Yet Another Piece About Liberty University’s Quest to Become the “Evangelical Notre Dame”

94da9-liberty-university-eddie-armstrong

These articles show-up every now and then.  I’ve written about them here and here and here.

Here is a taste of J. Brady McCollough’s long-form piece at the Los Angeles Times:

Signs offering football ticket discounts cover the campus, and posters of the team’s new coach, Hugh Freeze, encourage the effort to “Rise With Us.” Clearly, there is room at Liberty for the country’s Saturday religion.

Falwell Sr. had a vision of Liberty being for Evangelical Christians what Notre Dame is for Catholics and Brigham Young is for Mormons, and the newest team in major college football is not subtle with its imagery. The Flames wear red, white and blue. Their mascot is a bald eagle.

Read the entire piece here.

Some thoughts:

  1. This article is mostly about football.  Liberty’s quest to become an evangelical Notre Dame is never framed in terms of academics, intellectual life, or research.  At one point in the article, McCollough says, “To be a worthwhile university, Jerry Falwell Jr. thought, you needed to have two elements at the front: music and athletics.”  Really?
  2. Liberty University, with its vast resources, could be evangelicalism’s best chance at developing a serious research university.  But it won’t happen until the university offers tenure for faculty, invests money in faculty research, and broadens the doctrinal requirements placed upon faculty.  Falwell Jr.’s is not committed to these things.  In fact, the president’s rabid support for Donald Trump has seriously damaged any such advance and has probably set it back a few decades.
  3. Will Liberty University ever become the “evangelical Notre Dame” in football?  I doubt it.  I don’t think there are enough evangelicals who play football.  I could be wrong about this, but Liberty will never be anything more than a mid-major football program. Sure, they will occasionally pull-off an upset victory (remember Appalachian State and, more recently, Georgia State), but this will not make them a perennial power.  (Update: Syracuse shut-out Liberty on Saturday).

What is Happening at Trinity International University?

TC

Trinity College, the undergraduate college of Trinity International University (TIU) in Deerfield, Illinois, recently announced that it is closing its Division of Biblical, Religious, and Philosophical Studies.

Here is the announcement from new TIU president Nicholas Perrin:

Dear Students, 

I am writing you with difficult news. Beginning Fall 2020, Trinity International University will be undergoing a partial restructure, involving the formal dissolution of one of Trinity College’s academic divisions, the Division of Biblical, Religious, and Philosophical Studies, and within it the Department of Biblical Studies and the Department of Christian Ministries. New and continuing students will be able to complete their programs and courses this academic year and indeed for the remainder of their undergraduate career without interruption. We expect to enroll new students in most if not all of the same courses in the 2020–21 academic year in a newly reconstituted Bible, Theology, and Ministry major, as well as in the continuing Philosophy major, which will be housed in the Division of Humanities. In other words, this change will have no material curricular impact on currently enrolled students who are guaranteed to graduate under the catalogue with which they matriculated. The fundamental implications of this decision revolve around faculty changes: beginning in Fall 2020, our undergraduate Bible, Theology, and Ministry courses will be taught and administrated by our TEDS faculty.

I am under no illusions: for many if not all of our majors, as well as a good many non-majors, this comes as impactful news. At the end of this year, Dr. Chris Firestone along with the Department of Philosophy will be moving to the Division of Humanities; the faculty lines for Dr. William Moulder, Dr. Sylvie Raquel, Dr. Greg Carlson, Dr. Michael Reynolds, and Ms. Jana Sundene will be eliminated. With years of teaching experience under their belt, these faculty have given their very best year-in and year-out to Trinity’s students. I am grateful for their incalculable contribution not only in providing high-level instruction in the classroom, but also in enriching the lives of countless students, faculty colleagues, and staff by their very presence.  

While there will be more communication about this transition in the months ahead, for now I would encourage you, if you have any immediate questions, to make an appointment with Dean Hedges, who will be glad to engage you. In due course, we will be inviting Biblical Studies and Christian Ministries majors to an open forum, where Dean Hedges and Dean Cole will be happy to share more information regarding this transition, and to answer any lingering questions you may have. In the meantime, if you have been privileged to take a class with any of these professors, and/or benefited from their mentorship outside class, I encourage you, as occasion presents itself, to express to them your gratitude for their dedicated service and their shaping influence on your lives. 

Here are the faculty who were fired as part of this restructuring:

William Moulder taught at Trinity College for more than 40 years.

Sylvie Raquel has been at Trinity College for 15 years.

Greg Carlson has been at Trinity College for 12 years.

Michael Reynolds has been at Trinity College for 13 years.

Jana Sundene has been at Trinity College for 29 years.

I don’t have any inside information about these changes, but it appears, at first glance, that Trinity is restructuring to look more like Southern Baptist seminaries.  Many of these seminaries have undergraduate divisions, but seminary professors teach the biblical studies and theology courses.  Maybe someone who knows more about this can chime-in.

In other Trinity International University news, the school’s last president, David Dockery, just joined the faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

What is Going on at Nyack College?

Nyack postcard

The historic evangelical college known for its commitment to racial diversity is trying to sell its campus in Nyack, New York and fend off financial losses from enrollment declines.  I am saddened to see this. I taught as an adjunct in the history department during the 1990s.

As a new evangelical I always looked to Nyack College and The Kings College as the flagship evangelical schools of the New York metropolitan area.  Kings eventually moved from its Briarcliff Manor campus to New York City and redefined itself.  It seems like Nyack will try to do something similar.

As Emily Belz reports at World, Nyack is not the only Christian college facing financial difficulties.  Here is a taste of her piece:

Nyack College, a Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) school in the New York City area, received an independent audit in 2017 with an opinion any institution dreads: “substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern.”

The evangelical school with a 120-year history in New York was looking at looming insolvency, according to the audit, because of its tens of millions in debt and falling revenues.

Nyack has about $70 million in debt, according to its IRS 990 forms, on which it paid about $4 million in interest in the 2017 fiscal year. The 2017 audit noted that Nyack had to withdraw the majority of the funds from its endowment to cover expenses (some of that has been paid back), stopped paying into employee retirement funds in 2015, and has violated its debt covenants. Still, the school has managed to stay open to offer classes this fall.

“They’re good Christian people dealing with a market that’s gone really south … [but] it’s an ugly financial picture,” said Thomas Bakewell, a CPA and attorney who has consulted with dozens of faith-based colleges and universities on financial issues. He also served for 15 years on the board of Lindenwood University while it went through a major financial crisis. (Bakewell hasn’t consulted for Nyack.)

Since 2010, Nyack has lost across its programs at least 1,000 students in its total enrollment, which was down to 2,315 in 2018. Each year since 2016 Nyack has been operating $6 million to $8 million in the red—huge losses for an institution with a roughly $60 million budget. From a random sampling of 990s, most similar Christian colleges operated in the black even with falling enrollment.

Read the rest here.

Taylor University President Lowell Haines Has Resigned After Serving Three Years

Taylor

Some of you may recall the controversy surrounding Taylor University’s decision to invite Mike Pence to deliver the 2019 commencement address.  We covered the controversy here and here and here and here.

We just got word that Taylor University president Lowell Haines has resigned.  I have no idea if this is related to the Pence controversy.

I did find it interesting that Haines lists, among the accomplishments of his three-year tenure at Taylor, the fact that he invited Pence, Tim Tebow, Christian singer Michael W. Smith, and the head basketball coach of Ohio State to speak on campus.

Here is the press release:

Upland, IN, June 24, 2019 – Taylor University Board of Trustees Chair Paige Cunningham, J.D., Ph.D., announced today that President Paul Lowell Haines, Ed.D., J.D., has resigned from Taylor University, effective August 15, 2019.

“We are saddened by Dr. Haines’ decision, but we are deeply grateful to him and to his wife Sherry for their personal commitment to the vision and historical, evangelical, orthodox Christian mission and purposes of Taylor University and to the institution’s foundational positions and policies. These policies, with the full support of the Board of Trustees, have been strengthened on his watch,” said Dr. Cunningham.

Cunningham added that Dr. Haines’ resignation was neither solicited nor encouraged by the Board of Trustees. He continues to enjoy strong support from the Board and remains supportive of and optimistic about the University’s future.

“It has been the greatest privilege and honor of our lives to serve our beloved alma mater in various capacities over the last 44 years, and especially the opportunity during these last three years for me to lead as President,” said Haines, a 1975 alumnus of the University. “We have been humbled by the faith placed in us, and the love, support and prayers of the Taylor community.” 

Haines returned to Taylor after a long career as a higher education lawyer with the international law firm of Faegre Baker Daniels, during which he served the University for more than 15 years as a member of the University’s Board of Trustees. Prior to attending law school at Indiana University-Bloomington, he served at Taylor from 1977-1987, where he rose to the position of Vice President for Student Development. Haines also holds a doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania.

“My wife Sherry and I love Taylor and the Taylor community, as no other place and people,” Haines added. “We leave with a strong sense of accomplishment, knowing that remarkable progress has been made over the last three years, but also a clear awareness of God’s new purpose and direction for our lives. We will always be grateful to Taylor University and to its people. That will not change. And we stand ready to assist the Board and the University’s new leadership team in moving Taylor forward as it remains true to its founding principles and purposes.”

Under Haines’ leadership, Taylor University received two number one rankings and one number two ranking in the Midwest Region of the US News & World Reportsurvey of America’s Best Colleges, achieved its ten-year reaccreditation following a stellar reaccreditation review by the Higher Learning Commission, and improved enrollment, resulting in the 2018 freshman class being the largest entering class in Taylor’s 173-year history. 

Among many other accomplishments, Haines completed “Forging Ahead Faithfully,” the University’s Strategic Plan. In addition, the University experienced advances in financial and fundraising goals, academic and athletic offerings, leadership diversification, facility improvements and renovations, marketing and communication programs, and Town of Upland initiatives. 

Haines honored, worked with and regularly brought to campus his predecessors as well as a number of nationally recognized personalities and speakers, including author and social critic Os Guinness, Interstate Battery Board Chair Norm Miller, Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, Ohio State University basketball coach Chris Holtmann, GRAMMY award winner Michael W. Smith and Vice President of the United States Michael Pence.

According to Cunningham, the Board will work with Haines and the cabinet to ensure a smooth transition, and will be making announcements about future leadership in the coming weeks. 

“Most importantly, the University’s leadership, beginning with the Board of Trustees, will remain true to the Lord and our calling and will have the resolve, faith and strength of purpose to carry Taylor forward into the future,” Cunningham said. “We look forward to building on the Strategic Plan developed by Dr. Haines and the executive leadership team as we continue to pursue Taylor’s unique position in Christian higher education.”

Did Jerry Falwell Jr. Just Admit That He Is Not Involved in the Spiritual or Christian Dimensions of Liberty University?

falwell-jr

We covered Falwell’s “grow a pair” tweet here.  And then we did a post on his decision to delete the tweet.  But amid all the discussion, I missed an important part of this story.  Here is a taste of a Washington Times piece on the controversy:

Mr. Falwell deleted the tweet after people complained about its crudeness. He later responded to critics by clarifying that he is not a spiritual leader.

“You’re putting your ignorance on display. I have never been a minister. UVA-trained lawyer and commercial real estate developer for 20 yrs,” he wrote. “Univ president for last 12 years-student body tripled to 100000+/endowment from 0 to $2 billion and $1.6B new construction in those 12 years

“The faculty, students and campus pastor @davidnasser of @LibertyU are the ones who keep LU strong spiritually as the best Christian univ in the world,” he added. “While I am proud to be a conservative Christian, my job is to keep LU successful academically, financially and in athletics.”

Interesting.  It almost seems like Falwell is not interested in the links between Christianity and the academic, financial, and athletic “success” of Liberty University.  It sounds like he is excusing his crude tweet by claiming that he is not a minister and thus not  responsible for the Christian culture of Liberty.  If you are a Liberty University faculty member, parent, student, or alumnus, this might be a good thing! 🙂