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.

Administrative Changes at The Kings College

gregory-thornburyGreg Thornbury is “out” as President of the evangelical Christian College in Manhattan, but he is “in” as Chancellor.  According to Thornbury’s LinkedIn page, he is now a “Vice President” at the New York Academy of Art.

Here is  taste of the press release:

The Board of Trustees of The King’s College is pleased to announce the appointment of Gregory Alan Thornbury, Ph.D. as Chancellor. In this new role Thornbury will counsel the College with strategic advising and networking. He served as the sixth President of The King’s College from 2013 until the present. Thornbury’s career has spanned decades in higher education, focused on scholarship and academic leadership. His new book, a major critical biography on Larry Norman published by Convergent/Penguin Random House will be released in March.

Known for a keen understanding of King’s strategic mission in New York City and beyond, Thornbury’s vision and energy have been instrumental in advancing the national profile of the College, growing the student body, and expanding academic offerings. During his administration, incoming student enrollment has grown by nearly 60%, including the latest incoming class being the most academically gifted class in the history of the College. Student retention improved 14%. The King’s College has introduced five new majors as well as 16 additional minors and concentrations. 8,000 square feet of new campus space was added, including new faculty offices and the O’Keeffe Student Union.

Thirteen Presidential Scholars including Eric Metaxas, Scott Rasmussen, and Amity Shlaes have joined the community under Thornbury’s leadership. Select program additions include Semester in the City, High School Summer Academy, the Office for Student Success, The Center for Human Flourishing and the McCandlish Phillips Journalism Institute. In his work with faculty leadership, the College has seen new events and programs jointly sponsored by the James Madison Program in American Ideals at Princeton University, Fordham University, and other key institutions. Thornbury rejoined The King’s College with the Coalition for Christian Colleges and Universities, and spearheaded innovative satellite partnerships including the St. Constantine School in Houston, TX. The College also completed a successful re-accreditation by Middle States.

Thornbury expressed, “I am incredibly grateful to this board, faculty, staff, and students for all of the significant and might I daresay historic progress we have made during this time. I look forward to even greater days for King’s building on the momentum our excellent team has led, and to contributing to that progress in a new way while serving as Chancellor.”

Read the rest here.



The Pietist Schoolman on "New York-Centric" Cultural Engagement

Greg Thornbury, president of The Kings College

James K.A. Smith, a philosopher at Calvin College, got Chris Gehrz’s attention when he tweeted” “I just note an odd creeping “New York-centrism” amongst some Christians invested in “cultural engagement.”  The tweet, as Gehrz rightly discerns, is related to evangelicals in New York City who are trumpeting the old evangelical mantra of “cultural engagement.”

At the forefront of this new manifestation of an old evangelical idea is Greg Thornbury, the new president of The Kings College, a Christian college located in New York City.  Thornbury wants to revive the legacy of the neo-evangelicals of the 1940s and 1950s. His hero is Carl F.H. Henry.  The blueprint for his vision can be found in his book Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F.H. Henry.

Working alongside Thornbury is evangelical writer Eric Metaxas, who was recently appointed “Senior Fellow and Lecturer at Large” at Kings. (I discussed Metaxas’s approach to Dietrich Bonhoeffer in my Why Study History? Reflecting on the Importance of the Past).  And I am sure you could throw Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church into the mix as well.

Gerhz, aka The Pietist Schoolman (and a historian at Bethel College in St. Paul, MN), raises some very good questions about this model of “cultural engagement.”  His remarks are worth considering.  Here is a taste of his post:

Thornbury goes on to position King’s as heir to an unfulfilled dream of Billy Graham and Carl F. H. Henry (Thornbury’s mentor), of an evangelical university in New York City. Owen Strachan affirms this vision in an American Spectator piece on “the nation’s first hipster president” that suggests that King’s “may not only survive but thrive in New York” because it can connect with a
“Manhattan evangelical network, loose as it is.”

Thornbury said as much in an interview with TKC’s student newspaper, The Empire Tribune. He spoke of building alliances with other NYC-centered theological conservatives intentionally engaging with “strategic institutions” like government, commerce, media, and the arts: author Eric Metaxas and Socrates in the City; Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church; theatrical producer Carolyn Copeland; and the journal First Things. (Perhaps he also will seek a partnership with Nyack College, the Christian & Missionary Alliance school that bills itself as “New York’s Christian College” and this fall is moving to a new campus near Battery Park.) At least one such alliance seems firmly in place:

I’d happily entertain attempts to persuade me that if Christians want “to have impact and effect on a society [they] must lead from the center of culture and not from the periphery.” I guess I’m wary of this “creeping New York-centrism” for several reasons. Just a couple:

• That — in the case of King’s and Metaxas — it’s so closely tied to a specific political and economic philosophy. In the student newspaper interview quoted above, Thornbury acknowledged the difference between Christianity and ideology, but immediately followed that statement with this: “But also, it is the genius of Christianity that has given inspiration to the animating ideals of what has been the best of the American traditions. What we regard as the key ideas of conservatism are all downstream from Christianity.”

Fine — but those waters have historically fed liberalism, socialism, and other ideologies as well. If politically progressive evangelicals come to New York looking to act as Hunter’s “faithful presence,” will their conservative neighbors seek out alliances with them?

• More importantly, privileging Christian engagement with culture at whatever serves for that blink of history’s eye as the “center of the universe” seems to have little biblical warrant. I suppose you could build such an elitist theology of cultural engagement around Paul’s conversation with the philosophers on the Areopagus or the apostles’ encounters with political and military officials, but I don’t see any indication that early Christians leaders (let alone Jesus himself, who talked about being salt and light while standing on a mountain in an obscure province) viewed such evangelism as having greater “strategic” importance than the spread of the Gospel on the “periphery” of that culture. (Or even that they believed in being “strategic,” since early evangelists were “scattered because of the persecution” that followed Stephen’s stoning or simply “sent out by the Holy Spirit.”)

(I realize that Gehrz’s post is from July 2013, but I don’t think it got the attention it deserved when it first appeared at The Pietist Schoolman).