Last Tuesday I posted an open letter to American churches, describing what I see as the looming crisis facing Christian colleges like Bethel University and suggesting that one important facet of any lasting solution would be a renewed commitments by churches and denominations to financially support such institutions of higher learning.
As I hinted in my Saturday links post, the response to this letter was nothing short of astonishing. In its first day alone, it drew almost six times as many views as the previous record-holder — and the momentum didn’t die down all that much as the week continues. By Friday, several thousand people had read the letter here at the blog, and the editors of Bethel’s student newspaper were kind enough to reprint it on Friday, while several hundred prospective students and their parents were visiting campus. And I know that it’s already been circulated on the faculty listserv of at least one other Christian college, so who knows how the readership will spread from there.
I’m grateful for those who took the time to read it, and for the many who commented at the blog, on Facebook or Twitter, via e-mail, or in person. Whether you agree or disagree with my analysis and recommendations, please keep the conversation going!
Because it was occasioned by pending announcements of cuts to Bethel’s faculty, some of you are probably wondering how those went down. My own department came through it unscathed, but several programs in the day college, adult/graduate program, and seminary were eliminated. I’m not sure how much has been made known beyond the community and don’t especially want to get into that level of detail until it’s clearly a matter of public record. (Update: here’s an article on the results of the prioritization and review process from the Clarion.)
But I will say that I appreciate the hard work done by the administrators and faculty who reviewed our College of Arts and Sciences. As much as possible, they seem to have found savings that reduced the number of faculty reductions required.
Long story short: it could have been far worse. (Though I suspect that we’ll see the college faculty continue to shrink by attrition; e.g., we’ve been unable to make a full-time hire to succeed our long-serving ancient/medieval historian after he retired last year.)
In any case, as I wrote in the original letter, what troubled me was not simply this bout of layoffs (more to come, with additional staff reductions looming the remainder of the fall), but that it’s hard to know that the cuts will be sufficient to ensure longer-term health. Grateful as I am that more of my colleagues didn’t lose their jobs, I stand by the analysis and conclusions offered last Tuesday.
However, I did want to respond to some of the excellent points raised by commenters: namely, those clustering around the argument that the fault for declining financial support lies at least as much with Christian colleges as with the churches. So later this week (and perhaps into next) I want to address three specific questions:
- Are Christian colleges (or, more specifically, their students and faculty) too detached from churches?
- Are Christian colleges poor financial stewards of the monies contributed by churches and denominations?
- Are Christian colleges, in effect, poor spiritual stewards of the students sent their way by churches and denominations? (e.g., do those colleges deviate from their churches’
If you’d like to register your opinion on any or all of those questions before I start writing my responses, the Comments section is open below.
In any event, thank you again for reading and sharing a letter that was meant to start, not end, a much-needed conversation!