The Erskine Board of Trustees convened in a video conference format Friday, May 15, taking as its main topic of discussion Erskine’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Opening the meeting with a devotional was the Rev. Clint Davis of Chester, S.C., an Erskine Theological Seminary graduate, pastor of Chester ARP Church, and vice chair of the Board of Trustees.
“The most important question facing us right now is: ‘Can I trust Jesus?’” Davis told the trustees, citing the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John. “The answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ All the signs in John’s gospel are meant to show us that He is indeed trustworthy and capable of fulfilling all His promises to us, even in the uncertain times of the pandemic.”
Erskine President Dr. Robert Gustafson recalled that two months ago, on Friday, March 13, he announced that classes would be offered online only, beginning the following week. He commended the “extraordinary efforts” made by the faculty and staff to accomplish the transition.
Vice President for Student Success Dr. Wendi Santee spoke about the second half of the spring semester, in which most students left the campus and all students made the move to online learning. She said a senior task force is now at work evaluating the challenges of bringing students back to campus. Subcommittees are considering preparations needed for the fall semester, including those related to health concerns.
Dean of Enrollment Dr. Tim Rees assured the trustees that enrollment is on track to meet admissions goals for the fall. About 100 students participated in Admitted Student Day online, more than twice the number who had registered for the originally planned campus event. A virtual Junior Preview Day was similarly successful, with more than 100 participants. Rees said a summer program to assist both new and returning students is in the works.
Vice President for Advancement and Alumni Relations Paul Bell said more than 1,000 people participated in this year’s Virtual Alumni Day. He was happy to see a high level of alumni engagement online, but said, “We look forward to the time when we can be hugging alumni.”
Provost of the Seminary Dr. Michael Milton noted that the seminary has offered theological education in several modes—on-site classes, online courses through Erskine Virtual Campus, and hybrid courses combining virtual and in-person delivery— since well before the COVID-19 crisis. He said the seminary is looking at record enrollment numbers for the summer and fall semesters.
Milton also praised the president’s handling of the crisis. “I’m impressed with Dr. Gustafson’s calm, steady hand on the helm,” he said. “We serve with one of the finest educators in this country.”
Provost of the College Dr. Tom Hellams said that in light of Gustafson’s leadership during the pandemic, “I am even more convinced that Rob is the man for such a time as this.”
Board of Trustees Chair Jill Gazzaway, who conducted the meeting, announced a challenge gift of $20,000 to be met by members of the Board of Trustees and the Alumni Board. Bell, who is in charge of the planning for Erskine’s second annual Day of Giving on June 10, thanked the anonymous donor and said, “We are hopeful, we are encouraged, and we are praying.”
In a highlight of the meeting, the trustees took a virtual tour of “The Villages,” student apartments currently under construction, and saw the progress made since their last meeting in February.
Gazzaway expressed gratitude for the good news shared with board members, and said, “Dr. Gustafson has led with strength, dedication, and integrity during this unprecedented crisis. He has been tireless in his efforts.”