Thursday, October 21, 2004

The beginning of the end of yet another Christian institution

So, if you haven't heard by now, John Sanders will not be back at Huntington College/University/Bible College for the 2005-2006 school year. If the school has its way, this will happen because Dr. Sanders has decided to take a position elsewhere. While I hope for his sake he is able to find work swiftly at another institution, one that actually is committed to the academic excellence that Huntington claims to promote, I am somewhat hopeful that the institution will at least have to accept and own up to the fact that the reason he will not be back is because they told him not to come back. Had this happened two years ago I would not have been surprised and acutlaly probably would not have been that upset either. The writing appeared to be on the wall at the time, the board wanted Sanders gone, ETS was going to boot him out of their society, and conservatism would rule the day as only a few disapointed professors at Huntington would raise a stink. But then the strong arm of the academic integrity was displayed through the work of one man publicly and a number of people behind him. President Blair Dowden saved Sanders' job, and maybe Huntington in the process. For what it was, you had to respect the way the board of trustees and huntington college handled the situation two years ago, or at least you have to respect it based upon how it has been handled now. Because now it has happened with a hiccup, leaving many guessing as to why this is happening at this time.

I want to quickly review the "practical" or non-theological reasons for wanting Sanders dismissed previously and point out why each and every one of them are no longer applicable, forcing one to look for other reasons for the current situation. First, and this may be the extent of the word issued this year, Sanders was seen as holding a controversial position in evangelical theology. Although the denomination was raising a stink about it, the real sign of this controversy was seen in Sanders' status with the Evengelical Theological Society. At the time, Pinnock and Sanders were under scrutiny and reconsideration for the open theism position. When examining Sanders' status with Huntington, it made some sense to want to take into consideration the current opinion of evangelical theology on open theism. If Sanders and Pinnock were removed from the society, considered 'heretical' by the group, then it would have made sense for Huntington to reconsider his standing once again. Yet last year the society, albeit by a small margin, voted to retain Sanders and Pinnock, accepting them as 'orthodox' evangelical theologians! Dwight Simon's article from the Huntingtonian from the time displays the sense of calm that came through the decision with the ETS and with HC. So, while Sanders may hold a controversial position, it is a position that is considered acceptable, while unconventional, by an extremely conservative evangelical theological society. If Sanders position was in jeopardy because of its controversial nature, it should have been secured with this vote of acceptance by ETS.

One of the only other concerns that led to the consideration of removing John Sanders from huntington had to do with the position of several of the more powerful members of the UB church. Once Sanders was retained, the denomination, as you all know, became transparent about its current economic and structral problems. While originally these pastors were focusing their attention on discoraging students from attending HC, now they had to focus on the shortcomings of their own organization and a church that was coming apart at the seems. As the opportunity to bond with another denomination developed, many of these same pastors and churches were making noise against the merger. Long story short, the churches that were most difficult in the Sanders situation are the churches that are most difficult for the merger. As a whole, the status of the UB denomination is in limbo. While there are loud rumblings that the missionary denomination would not want Sanders if they took over HC, it is not at all clear that the missionary denomination wants HC at all, or that HC wants them! So, the concern about Huntington standing in a negative light in the eyes of their denominational affiliation is ridiculous as it is unclear which denomination HC should be listening to or if they will ultimately be affliated with any of these denominations in the near future.

Anyone who observed the process of rentention of Dr. Sanders had to be overwhelmed by the work done by President Dowden and several other key faculty and staff members of Huntington. They encouraged the process to be long, consisting of much dialogue. This was absolutely necessary as many of those involved changed their minds through the process because they were forced to take the time to consider the issues. The academic integrity of Huntington was openly discussed and the end result was an unheard of compromise with everyone apparently happy with the results. It is amazing to me, then, that two years later the entire process could unfold in a matter of weeks, without any open discussion, and without any resitance from the Huntington College leadership. What has happened in the last two years that has led those in leadership at Huntington to accept the pressure of a denomination on its last leg? How could an institution that strongly supported accademic discussion through a time of intense scrutiny and pressure now give into the dying wishes of a denomination?

A general sense of panic has settled on Huntington College in the last two years. Fresh off the high of an academic victory and a record number of incoming students, Huntington decided to raise tuition to unheard of hights. The lurking belief must have been, we have made steps toward academic quality and now we must be able to charge as much money as a top academic Christian institution! People are dying to come here! WE HAVE A NEW SCIENCE HALL FOR CHRIST'S SAKE! LITERALLY! Surely we can start cashing in now, I can see it all: Huntington College, the #1 ranked US News and World Report College for the whole world!

Academic integrity, check. A new science hall, check. A good basketball team, check. Top of the line dorms, check. Hundreds of new students......

WAIT! what happened? No one is coming! How did this happen? We did our part by building a new science hall, offering the most academically diverse conservative Christian institution we can muster, and sure we may have raised the tuition, but come on, have you seen the computer labs? Those things don't pay for themselves! While the students who were at HC didn't have much to say about the hikes (they had all gotten used to it as it happened every other year anyway), the students who were looking at Huntington decided for what they were paying they would go somewhere else. This is all measured in admissions numbers. The college publishes the current status of this years applicants, acceptance, and depoisits in the monthly Academe (probably going to either become a satirical magazine or need renaming now). For years this was used to show off on how the college was growing. But from 2002 onward, it can be used to trace the dwindling number of students deciding to come to HC. This edition from last summer shows steady decline from 2001 to the present incoming class of 2004. What's fascinating is that those students that have applied has gone done from 750 to 720, those accepted has gone down from 705 to 647, but those deposited dropped from 316 to 230 or 220 something, it's hard to read the online image. For whatever reason, people don't want to come to Huntington right now. And so the school appears to be 'addressing the issue'. In between updates of how great the college is based on the review committee that visited last year (an absolute joke if you ask anyone who met with them), John Paff sends out a notification that Huntington must become a University ASAP! While not a surprise, the move is announced as the smallest group of incoming students for some time moves into HC and the recruiting season reaches its peek for admissions. Surely this name represents the academic advances we've made, the programs we've added, and The SCIENCE BUILDING! With these points to brag off of, Huntington will become a university and all the students who didn't notice the amazing remarkable advances that HC has made will now be forced to because they are applying to a university, not a college, and sure you can expect to pay for it, but you're going to a university now afterall!

I am not suggesting that the college is neccessarily dismissing Sanders based upon the drop in admissions numbers and the suggestion made by several UB pastors that they would force HC to change its position by not supporting the institution. What I am suggesting, however, is that the clear thinking of two years ago has been replaced by a state of dazed confusion, perhaps caused by the sun's reflection off of the thousands of dollars worth of windows on the side of The SCIENCE BUILDING. The situation with Sanders fits in with the general concern I have that Huntington has lost its mind. They are respoding like a stock broaker who put all of his money in one or two companies that are now on the decline. Anything must be done, name changes, concessions to radical pastoral voices.

I hope I have made it clear that I understand the Board to be the force and directors of this action. My point is that if they had full reign it would have happened 3 or 4 years ago. Something has happened to lead those who put up the fight last time, laying their own reputation on the line for the sake of Huntington's reputation as a fine academic institution, to now passively lay down and support the decisions of the board. I'm sure that the faculty of Huntington College is terrified right now. What happened to the institution they built? What happened to the academically vibrant climant that we all grew in? While this isn't found in Sanders alone, a chill has come over the insitution. The question must be raised. WHO'S NEXT? WHAT CONTROVERSIAL POSITION IS THREATENING THE STATUS OF HUNTINGTON COLLEGE/UNIVERSITY/INSTITUTE/UB TRAINING SCHOOL? I'm not sure if anyone else knows this but I hear they teach evolution in that new SCIENCE building and that someone teaches about queer theory in the basement of lowe. Don't look now but I hear that some residents watch R rated movies in their room and not everyone at HC thinks that's such a bad decision. I am ultimately concerned that the question will not be properly addressed as to why this move has taken place. I think I have made the point clear enough that the position of open theism has become much less controversial, to an accepted status, in the past two years. If the leaders of Huntington College were willing to fight against the much stronger opposition two years ago, why did they change their mind? What gives? I encourage everyone to TALK about this, openly, if you are at HC or not. Talk with the alumni you know. Encourage them to ask questions. While we'd all apreciate not having to donate money to Huntington in the future, I'm sure we'd rather it remain the great institution we all knew and loved. If you cannot talk openly about it, tell other alumni, current students, anyone you know to read this post. At the very least, make people own up to their decisions and name their actions. Don't let this slip into another instance where the liberal minded professor 'left on his own' admidst external pressure.

Because this blog is not equipped with comment leaving capabillities, feel free to e-mail me at your thoughts and responses. Be aware, I may post your thoughts. And I may even manage to return your e-mail, something unheard of in my life right now. That is how passionate I am about this!


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