She requested that Erskine President Dr. David Norman expand on the customary welcome and update and asked Board of Trustees Chairman-Elect W. David Conner of Greenville to address the group as well.
Both the president and the chairman-elect described what they envision for Erskine, expressed strong commitment to the school, praised the institution’s strengths, and asked for alumni support.
“I think it is safe to say that almost all of us in this room truly love Erskine,” Norman said. “But I think I am a bit different from most of you in that I fell in love with and began working towards the idea of Erskine long before I knew that a real Erskine actually existed.”
The president described the vision that inspires him.
“The kind of true, whole-person-equipping education I am passionate about can only take place in a community that has maintained a strong commitment for a long time to a motto like scientia cum moribus conjuncta, a place where learning is not limited to what is useful to meeting the practical demands of an unexamined life,” he said.
“Nor is life thought to be something that starts when learning stops,” he added. In such a community, he said, “learning is intertwined with a way of life.”
Conner stressed the significance of Erskine as “the educational institution of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church,” a denomination that considers Christian higher education “a vital part of the mission of the Church.”
Erskine provides the Church with “a unique opportunity to present Christ and the Christian viewpoint,” the chairman-elect said.
Both Norman and Conner identified tensions that come with the Christian liberal arts territory.
“Some of you have heard me speak about the unique but necessary challenge to the Christian college—that in such an environment, the extremes of both legalism and license must be avoided,” Conner said.
“We, as a board, adamantly reject a false choice between being merely ‘a Bible-believing school’ and being merely ‘a highly respected academic institution.”
Norman referred to his own part in the struggle to avoid what Conner called a “false choice.
“We cannot get so distracted by what we are learning about how to do things that we forget to ask the more important questions about what is worth doing in the first place.”
However fraught with tension, Erskine’s mandate as a Christian liberal arts college is clear, Conner explained. “It is, in fact, because we are a Christian liberal arts institution that we are called to be the very best academic school possible,” he said.
“All knowledge, whether regarding nature, society, arts, or sciences, comes into clearest focus only in a proper relationship to the divine Creator and Lord. To image God in the fullness of our humanity is, especially in the Reformed tradition, one of our highest callings.”
Norman agreed. “As an authentically Christian liberal arts community, Erskine has never been afraid of addressing life’s biggest questions, and Erskine has a long and strong history of doing critical thinking well,” he said.
He emphasized Erskine’s commitment to engage in “true education” that “does not encourage students to simply accept what they are told” nor “encourage students to get sucked down in a useless pit of empty and unproductive criticism.”
Instead, Norman said, “True education is about disciplined, critical, and creative thinking about the questions that matter most.”
Conner assured his audience that the “intimacy of alumni commitment to the institution is a factor which cannot and will not be discounted by the Board,” adding, “You are such a vital part of this place that the expression of your support of Erskine has never been more important.”
He went on to explain carefully that the alumni, along with “the ARP Church, the faculty, staff, students” are external [in regard to governance] to the Board of Trustees, and Erskine is governed solely by the Board of Trustees.
“The Board cannot and does not disregard these essential components of the identity and mission of the school,” Conner said.
“Yet, while all of these groups necessarily and desirably have ‘due influence’ on the Board and the school for good and important reasons, the Board must ultimately ensure that none of these ‘external’ influences—and I am using that word in a governance and not in a relationship sense—compromise the Board’s influence.”
Norman expressed solidarity with alumni in their commitment to the institution.
“I want to believe that we share a love for Erskine, even if we have real differences,” he said. “The difference between most of you and me is that most of you were able to experience Erskine even before you knew how much you needed it. I have had to look for Erskine for a long, long time….And so I am joining with you in your passion for it.
“And you are having to trust me to be a good steward of your alma mater,” he added. “And I know that trust has been hard sometimes over these past few difficult years. But I thank you for having me. And I welcome you back to campus.”
The president issued his own request for support.
“We have an endowment that is strong enough to ensure that we will be around for many years to come, but we need you to give sacrificially so that we can continue to provide the scholarships students need without having to cut deeper into an already heavily strained operating budget,” he said.
“If Erskine has helped you, please be very generous in return….We need you now more than ever.”