Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Let the Huntington Healing Begin...

The John Sanders saga continues at Huntington. Because of my distance from campus, the actual things happening on campus come to me through reports from people closer to the situation. There has been some open dialogue, with a forum on academic freedom and meetings between administration and student groups. What lies ahead on the horizon, however, appears to depend heavily on one's personal point of view and position in the situation.

President Dowden sent out an e-mail to students that is consistent to the statements coming from the administration throughout. It includes a brief overview of what has gone on, a statement of appreciation for Sanders, defense of the board's history, a warning against making Academic Freedom an idol, and finally calling everyone to a state of submission to the authority of the board and taking the Christian road of healing and reconciliation. To quote, briefly:

"Many believe that Open Theism represents a significant challenge to traditional theological understandings. It is an idea that has, sadly, generated much controversy and division among evangelicals generally, within scholarly societies, in the United Brethren Church (our sponsoring denomination), and here on our own campus. The question now before us is: What next? Should there be further division? Or should the healing begin?

Over the next weeks and months, I will engage with students, faculty, trustees, alumni, and other constituents to try to promote mutual understanding and healing. I would appreciate your continued prayers and thoughts as together we work to represent the Body of Christ at Huntington College."

I have written a letter to President Dowden in response. I will post here, for the sake of open conversation, part of that letter.

President Dowden-

In regards to your call for healing as opposed to further division, you must understand why many would find this a difficult pill to swallow. In brief, you applauded the way the conversation has gone on, with the scriptural principles of "love, unity, compassion, patience, deference to fellow believers, and forbearance" as part of the process.

It is difficult to see how unity can be called forth in a community where division has been taken as an acceptable step in the process. To remove Dr. Sanders from his position is an act of disunity and appears to have been done with a lack of patience. Because a member of the community has been cut off, the body suffers, and 'unity' in light of this takes on a different meaning. It is difficult for those who have been wronged or believe they have been wronged to allow those who they believe to have done the misdeed to set the time table and agenda for healing and reconciliation. I am hopefully, however, that the leadership of Huntington College can lead toward this healing. To this end, I have a few suggestions that I believe characterize the Christian principles laid out in your letter and would lead to a renewed trust at Huntington.

1. Send Dr. Sanders out in a loving departure. While the two years salary is a step in this direction, love in the body of Christ always goes beyond what is necessary. As such, Huntington should give Dr. Sanders insurance coverage during this time of transition as well or give him more money to cover these expenses. In addition, a convocation service of prayer and celebration of Dr. Sanders' time at Huntington would be helpful. Show Dr. Sanders the love of Christ by celebrating him and giving him more money.

2. Institute an open door policy. I suggest that all future board meetings be held in an open forum, allowing any interested parties to observe the processes and interact with the board. The meetings could still progress as normal with a limited time for public response, but if the board is operating on the behalf of the campus community, that community must be invited into the process. For too long the board has been a remote institution distant from the students and faculty of Huntington.

3. Provide equal voice to faculty and students on the board. While some representation has been present historically, I recommend appointing students and faculty to the board itself, allowing them to be represented as an equal voice at the table instead of a minor presence. Again, the board is the vision setters and decision makers for Huntington; they must be an accurate representation of Huntington.

4. Clarify the vision and future of Huntington. It is important that the people of Huntington understand where the institution is going. A service of covenant and articulation between the administration, board, students, and faculty is a necessity. Making promises in public to uphold the trust of the community could go a long way to keeping this in mind. At that point the community can hold each other accountable for the actions taken. It seems abundantly clear that presently Huntington is a divided community. Those who have written and accepted the philosophy of education have a very different understanding of where things are going than does the Board. This situation will only be resolved through public confession, conversation, and covenant making.

I understand that several, if not all, of these suggestions could be categorized as 'idealistic' or 'unrealistic'. If this were an institution grounded on the pursuit of the secular aims of financial capital and individual exaltation then that would be the case, but since Huntington is founded ultimately on the truth of Jesus Christ and the abundant love of God, action as suggested here is not only possible but may be necessary.


At 11/17/2004 3:59 PM, Blogger adam said...

Your letter to G. Blair is well written, and from a unique perspective of the situation. I didn't have the relationship you did with Dr. Sanders, nor do I have the insight into the Evangelical community or the HC board that you possess. However, I do feel that oneof your suggestions are not as you say, unrealistic for Christians, but sinmply may not be the best solution when keeping the logistics of a productive board in mind. (A note here: Your letter seems less to be putting forth a detailed plan of action for Dr. Dowden, and more generalized assessment of the shortfallings of the current administration. With that in mind, I am really about to knit pick at something I don't think you ever inteded to be knit picked. This makes me an annoying individual, but I'll roll with it.)

#3 Discusses and equal voice to both staff and students within the College Board of Trustees. And that this voice would make it more representative who Huntington College actually is. I think an equal student voice is misplaced, because it is placing a variable in charge of long term planning. From year to year the student voice might change drastically, with little consistency, and little care of being inconsistent with the students prior. I imagine a Board is most representative of an aged institution when it considers voices of its entire heritage, not forgetting the saints prior. So possibly to the members, and students, of the past 80 years Open Theism really is heresy, but to the students of the classes 2003-2005 it is not. Though, I am an advocate for Sanders it seems silly that my voice might weigh out the consistency of 80 years prior. (Maybe I am just too damn Catholic for my own good, and I just follow what people say, I don't know). I just do not think giving current students an equal voice makes it more representative, but rather subjects a larger vision to the whims of current students.

Like I said, and you know, I don't understand why Sanders has to go. However, maybe me, you & whoever else who attended during the Sander's era need to realize that the HC we attended was annomaly so to speak. I'm thankful for my four years there, for the academic freedom allowed, but maybe our experience only is representative of a blik on the HC screen.

Now with all that said, and this email getting far too long I've got one more thing. Maybe the Board isn't representative. Possibly it's just made of graduates from the 50's and 60's, or of various UB athorities voicing a minority, conservative opinion within even the greater context. Maybe their just a buch of conservative preachers that have had inscest with their own theology too many times to even know it's wrong at this point. In that case (and truly with what I think your underlying assertion to #3 is) I think there ought to be a varriety of opinion on the Board. Maybe not current students, but a variety.

This was long, sorry to anybody that read it.

Be God's

At 11/17/2004 10:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is joey spiegel

I disagree with adam, only on one premise: a student voice would be a valuable asset, not necessarily for the long term goals of the college, but because of the fact that the decisions that are made affect students directly despite the fact that decisions might be good for the future, and even those are only hypothetical. The issue is this: is it worth negatively affecting the students who are already paying for an education and deserve the best that this college/universty/bible school (sorry couldn't resist) has to offer them, rather than worrying about those who have yet to attend? They are both important and to lack a voice from the students currently is not giving them what they are paying for, a Christ centered liberal arts school that has their interests in mind.


At 11/18/2004 12:03 PM, Blogger Jake Sikora said...

I think that Adam's point hits on something worth while. Adam, you are right in suggesting that true representation would put a priority on the past, which is far greater in scope than the present. For this you are not too catholic but simply correct. Your further statement, that the board may be only representative of a minority of the historical position, I believe is more toward what I'm focused on. It would seem unlikely that Huntington's heritage is as undiverse as to suggest mostly unanimous decisions on most points. I wonder how many of the liberal minded HC students from the late 70s and early 80s, a sort of dark age for HC if I understand my HC history, are on the board.

Joey, your point is a helpful compliment to Adam's. Ultimately, even with Adam's emphasis on the historical, there is need for more representation than simply a student body president, one vote amongst the rest of the board. Perhaps it would be possible to give a little more weight, although keeping a historical perspective, on the current student body that is present.

At the very least, and the point of my 3rd suggestion, was to have a more diverse perspective on the board and force the board to be open to the experiences of the current status of Huntington. Perhaps the only thing I would criticize Adam on, to whatever degree this occurs, is allowing logistics to determine where an institution like Huntington goes. This simply is not the way to view things from a Christian perspective. There is a necessary logistical aspect to being a Christian institution, but this is never the decision maker. Alas, we're back to the church in my mind, so I'll leave it at that...

At 12/08/2004 6:18 AM, Blogger murderbuddies said...

sweet letter.
tell paul bye for me.


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