In a fitting prelude to the fall semester, with the freshman class set to join returning and transfer students for a new academic year Aug. 31, the Erskine Board of Trustees made its own fresh start Aug. 18-19.
In a two-day meeting characterized by several firsts, new members gathered in Due West for a campus tour, orientation and lunch at the president’s home, then repaired to Greenville for a plenary session where they met with the rest of the trustees.
The August date for the meeting was mandated by recently revised bylaws; the Greenville location for a portion of the meeting was new; several trustees joined the group for the first time; and a breakout session to discuss tenets of Erskine’s mission was an innovative addition to the usual schedule.
Following the meeting, in a joint letter to alumni and friends, Board Chairman Joe Patrick, ARP Moderator Andy Putnam and Alumni Association President Nan Campbell addressed alumni concerns about Erskine’s future direction; a suggested change to Erskine’s charter that would allow Synod to remove board members for cause; the implementation of recent bylaw revisions; and Erskine’s financial position.
Concerns about Erskine’s future communicated to the board through the Alumni Association expressed “the fear that Erskine might lean towards becoming a Bible college,” the joint letter stated. The letter stressed the difference between the mission of a Christian liberal arts college and that of of a Bible college.
“We are writing to emphasize to you [that] the Board is committed to providing both an excellent liberal arts education and a Christ-centered environment,” Patrick, Putnam and Campbell wrote, and they included in their letter “a refresher of our mission statements.”
Patrick appointed an ad hoc committee to consider Synod’s proposed change to Erskine’s charter. The new committee issued a statement reporting on its first meeting, noting that they “prayed,” “discussed the opportunities presented for continued healing and relationship rebuilding,” and “began a review of various historical documents and references.”
The committee pledged to seek God’s guidance “as we pursue a thorough review of the General Synod documents and gather input from constituency groups and accrediting agencies before making recommendations to the Board of Trustees for their consideration,” and also requested prayers for its work and for Erskine as an institution.
Members of the ad hoc committee include current Erskine Seminary student Bill Cain; Ray Cameron, a 1985 seminary graduate; Andy Lewis, a 1997 Erskine College graduate; ARP Moderator Andy Putnam, a 1991 seminary graduate; Moderator-elect Steve Suits; and Ann Marie Tribble, a 1985 graduate of the college.
Regarding the implementation of bylaws revisions, Patrick, Putnam and Campbell said the work of the board “is moving forward in accordance with the revised bylaws.”
They cited as an example of this progress the Committee on Trustees, formerly appointed by the board chairman. Under the revised bylaws, one member is now elected from each standing committee. Members include Max Bolin of the Academic Committee, who will chair the committee; Judy Boyd of the Finance Committee; Eddie Spencer of the Student Services Committee; Joe Donahue of the Seminary Committee; and Nan Campbell of the Development Committee.
The joint letter noted that the Committee on Trustees “has much infrastructure work to do in cooperation with the Committee on Nominations to place gifted alumni and friends as future Board members.”
In the final paragraphs of their letter, Patrick, Putnam and Campbell addressed the issue of Erskine’s financial position, saying they share the concerns of alumni and offering two areas of practical response to those concerns.
First, as Erskine President Dr. David Norman told the trustees, the college can accommodate 100 additional residential students. “Operating at capacity, Erskine’s financial picture would be much improved,” they said, adding, “Recruiting, retention, and attracting transfers for spring are part of the strategy to increase overall enrollment.”
Second, there has been a drop in the number of Annual Fund donors over the past four years, and the Alumni Board is preparing to “conduct a statistical survey to better understand this undesirable pattern.” The survey will be distributed to a random sample of alumni.
Meanwhile, several trustees, including the chairman of the Finance Committee, “encouraged Board members to give and to use their personal influence with others to encourage giving to Erskine,” the trustee chairman, moderator and alumni president reported. “We are asking alumni, members of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and other friends to follow the Board’s example.”
In closing, Patrick, Putnam and Campbell issued a plea for support:
Erskine needs you…to build relationships with those willing to invest their time, finances, and other resources for the sake of future Erskine students, including your children and grandchildren. Erskine needs you…in order to accomplish her mission of equipping students to flourish as whole persons. Erskine needs you…in order to continue providing an excellent liberal arts education in a Christ-centered environment.