The trustees of Erskine College & Theological Seminary met on Thursday and Friday, Feb. 14-15. Chairman David Conner chose “God’s Sovereign Providence” as the theme for the two days of meetings.
That theme was referenced in various ways throughout the meetings, as well as in an opening devotional each day. Dr. Jim Meek, dean of the seminary, gave Thursday’s devotional and the Rev. Fred Carr, associate pastor at Church of the Atonement, Silver Spring, Md., got things started on Friday.
Thursday’s joint meetings of the board and advisors featured presentations from President David Norman and cabinet members. Reports covered a variety of operational issues, including a new comprehensive development plan and an update on current and planned activities related to accreditation.
Vice President for Advancement David Earle reported strong levels of giving from November 2012 through January 2013. While November and December are typically strong giving months, January is not, Earle said. “This is very encouraging and we are grateful for God’s provision through the generosity of our alumni and friends.”
Dr. Brad Christie, senior vice president for academic affairs, and Dr. Bryan Rush, dean of students and institutional effectiveness, presented a progress report on efforts to date and future plans to address concerns raised by SACS, Erskine’s regional accreditor. Erskine was placed on warning status by SACS in December.
Christie stressed that the board and anyone else concerned should understand that Erskine’s accreditation remains fully in force. “There is considerable work to do, and quickly,” he said, “however, contrary to some common misconceptions and rumors, Erskine is accredited, and we will get these current problems fixed to ensure that does not change.”
“With very few exceptions, the items under review are primarily administrative in nature and do not affect students’ day-to-day academic or campus life experience,” Christie said. Erskine has until September to submit its report to SACS demonstrating progress in the areas of concern. It then has through early December, when the Commission on Colleges meets to review Erskine’s status, to send supplemental reports.
Rush explained that most of the issues deal with tracking, reporting and utilizing assessment data to monitor and improve the institution’s overall effectiveness. Over the past decade since Erskine’s last reaffirmation, the expectations and methods of SACS and peer schools have changed. “Our task now,” he said, “is to get up to speed on how we manage, use and report our data.”
After dinner Thursday evening, at which new faculty and staff were introduced, an evening joint session of advisors and trustees focused on the relationship between Erskine’s board and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.
Last summer both the ARP General Synod and Erskine trustees established committees to discuss options and chart out how parts of this historic relationship might need to be clarified, refined, or altered. Historically and currently, the ARP General Synod appoints trustees to a self-governing Erskine board.
Both committees are scheduled to provide recommendations by this summer and have been engaged in these discussions independently and jointly over the past months. Thursday evening’s discussions centered on approaches being considered by the trustees.
Max Bolin, chair of the board’s ad hoc committee considering the relationship between Erskine and the ARP, facilitated the discussion. Bolin encouraged trustees to continue thinking and praying about what would produce the best possible relationship. The session ended with an extended session of silent and corporate prayer.
In a statement to the Erskine faculty and staff Friday, President Norman stressed the importance of giving the trustees sufficient space and privacy to allow for these discussions.
“These are sensitive issues,” he said. “As with any considered change to policy or procedure, part of the process is offering and discussing various options, implications, and desired outcomes…many ideas, perspectives and proposals may be considered.”
The president reminded the campus that “only when a formal decision is reached and that decision is officially communicated can it be considered official.” Rumors and unofficial reports, regardless of accuracy, he said, “remain only part of a comprehensive discussion to which only the board and those committees have legitimate access.” The trustees did not take up the issue in the business meeting Friday.
Friday’s business meeting began with a devotional, followed by the President’s report. David Norman introduced his report with silent and corporate prayer focused on thanksgiving for God’s providential blessings over the past several years, and a time of supplication for future needs.
The board heard a report on the progress of the joint effort by the Erskine board and the ARP Synod to improve the process of identifying and vetting potential trustees. Board member Judy Boyd ’72, chair of Erskine’s Committee on Trustees, and the Rev. Kyle Sims ’93, pastor of First ARP Church, Lancaster, S.C., and a member of the Synod’s Sub-Committee on Nominations for Erskine (SCONE), gave the report.
SCONE was established in 2011 to provide Erskine and Synod with a vehicle to generate a broader pool of nominations and provide a more collaborative and effective process for vetting trustee candidates.
Sims, reflecting on the process followed prior to the current model, said that for the Synod committee members, “it felt like throwing darts. We had very little information on candidates.” Since working jointly with Erskine’s committee, however, he described the process as much smoother.
“This is a great example of an Erskine committee and a Synod committee working together well,” Sims said. “We’re a little later than planned, the process needs some fine-tuning and relationships need cultivating, but I am thrilled with the results of this first year.”
“I love Erskine. I love the ARP,” Sims said with some emotion. “I think this process can help bring us together rather than tear us apart. Gospel healing can take place.”
The board also recognized Nan Campbell ’86, thanking her for her excellent service as president of the Erskine Alumni Association. Conner presented a gift to Campbell on behalf of the board. “I have received more than I have given,” Campbell said. “I encourage all of you to do all you can for Erskine.”
In selecting a slate of officers for the 2013-14 year, trustees voted to reelect the current officers. David Conner will continue as chairman, Bill Cain as vice-chair, and Max Bolin as secretary.
During their meetings the trustees also:
- Approved Spring 2013 college and seminary candidates for graduation;
- Adopted a motion to award the Doctor of Ministry degree posthumously to Billy Shane Stauffer, a U.S. Army chaplain and Erskine Seminary student who died in an automobile accident in May 2012;
- Approved the addition of the Alpha Kathryn Shuler Smith Scholarship Fund to the endowment;
- Welcomed Dr. Robyn Agnew, vice president for student affairs, back from sabbatical; and
- Expressed excitement over Erskine’s winning basketball season.