Unless there is great duress, a college board goes in the direction the president desires and sets. With the concurrence of the board’s chairman and input from chief administrators, the president oversees and approves the framing of agendas for board meetings.
The Erskine board meeting in Due West last Thursday and Friday (February 21 and 22) was not an exception to the rule. The outcome saw the fulfillment of President Rob Gustafson’s agenda: the betrayal of those who worked to make him president. That is, the betrayal of those he convinced his vision for Erskine was a Christ-centered college, an Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church controlled college, Christian liberal arts college, and a college which emphasized academics over athletics.
So, what happened at the board meeting?
Two things happened:
- the board voted to petition General Synod to restore the president of the quasi-Erskine Alumni Association to the board with “voice” but without “vote”; and
- the board petitioned General Synod to remove the Moderator of General Synod from the board as a “voting” member and to redefine the Moderator’s role as one with “voice.” Therefore, making the Moderator of General Synod and the president of the quasi-Erskine Alumni Association equals. These two actions equal betrayal by Gustafson.
Remember the quasi-Alumni Association is an arm of the Erskine Administration which is allowed to function as though it were an independent entity with a mandate to determine the direction of the college of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Remember the Moderator of the General Synod is the chief officer of General Synod, elected by the majority of the delegates at the annual meeting of General Synod. The Moderator of General Synod is the chief officer of the denomination which owns Erskine College, Inc., and the president of the quasi-Erskine Alumni Association is the head of a quasi-organization which has no title to anything which is Erskine. In other words, the Moderator of the General Synod and the president of the Alumni Association are not equals when it comes to matters regarding the Erskine board.
Furthermore, (and I will speak to this again) are the members of General Synod prepared to sanction a board member who is not only a non-Christian but outspokenly opposed to evangelical Christianity? Remember the quasi-Erskine Alumni Association is not a Christian organization. It is a loose association of some Erskine grads (and, yes, many Erskine grads refuse to participate in it, saying, “It doesn’t represent us!”). It is not necessary for their president to be a Christian. Also, (and this is easily established by the comments on their Facebook site) many of the members of the quasi-Erskine Alumni Association reject the traditional values of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church on marriage, sexuality, and abortion. Does this not concern the board? Does this not concern the leadership and faculty of the seminary that a situation may soon arise where a board member does not only reject the basic tenants of our Christian faith but despises them? The 2018 Synod preempts these issues. Dr. Gustafson cheered the action of the 2018 Synod. Why is he now bringing back what he sanctioned and cheered last year? Why is he revisiting a settled issue? Have we forgotten the events that led to the “Snow Synod”?
One can only ask: President Gustafson, what are you thinking? Why are you pandering to the godless? Why are you going to Christ’s enemies for help? Why are you seeking aid and comfort from those who mock evangelical Christian beliefs?
“Toys-Я-Us” may be bankrupt, but “Athletes-Я-Erskine” is doing well in Due West — so far! Indeed, a student who is not an athlete is not easily found.
What is the prediction for this fall? Presently, a Head Football Coach has been hired and two assistant coaches; and, at least, two more assistant coaches are expected to be hired — and this while the college has no foreign language department (or the expectation of one), and this while there is an inadequate number of faculty members to deal with future enrollment needs, and this while present faculty members (both college and seminary) are awaiting relief from the draconian pay cuts of the Kooistra Days. Amazingly, funds are found and allocated for coaches, coaches, coaches!
Nevertheless, the administration is jubilant with the expectation of 100-plus football athletes this fall, which should bring enrollment to the max of 700. Indeed, whatever is left of the historic “Due West Women’s College” is now a paragraph in the history of Erskine. The female dorms are being prepared to house male athletes. I understand housing off-campus is being sought for female students. Look for a male-to-female ratio of above three-to-one. Effectively, Erskine is a male athletic camp where one can also obtain a college degree — maybe. But, degree or no degree, the average student will leave the environs of Due West with a massive load of student loans.
To provide entertainment for the male-dominated student body, the administration has provided a women’s beach volleyball program. I suppose the beach on Lake Academic, west of the baseball field and just past where the bass boats are moored, will be used for matches (and, if you are not in the know, bass fishing is now a sport at Erskine). It is rumored about a coach has been hired, and she has asked for a barrier of barbwire and Concertina wire be setup around the beach in order to protect her players from the female-starved male athletes. I do not believe the rumors about the building of a wall with gun towers. Now, of course, I am writing tongue-in-cheek; nevertheless, a women’s beach volleyball program is now a sanctioned sport at Erskine. I suppose a coach will be hired. The Lord be praised! This is just precious!
Ruble, Norman, and Kooistra spoke of turning Erskine into an athletic camp; Gustafson has achieved it. But at what personal cost to his soul? Just after Gustafson was elected president, former board member Ms. Dody Morris hosted a dinner in Atlanta for Gustafson to meet friends-of-Erskine, and I attended the dinner. At this meeting, he was asked what needed changing at Erskine. He said a divarication between academics and athletics had occurred whereby athletic programs triumphed and academic program were withering; moreover, he said a reversal of the condition was essential for the survival of Erskine as a legitimate academic institution. Sadly, at this point, Dr. Gustafson appears to resemble a carpetbagger.
As a matter of fact, when Gustafson worked for former President Kooistra, this was one of the issues over which they clashed. As a matter of fact, in my presence (and two others) at lunch in Anderson, SC, Gustafson unequivocally stated if Erskine were to become an athletic camp there was no reason for Erskine to exist. Well, Dr. Gustafson, Erskine has become an athletic camp. Is there any reason for Erskine to continue? Do we now operate Erskine to the glory of God in order to compound athletic programs for less than stellar student athletes because each one brings revenue of about $20,000 per year in order to facilitate the paying of the salaries of some rather unremarkable coaches? Regrettably, Dr. Gustafson makes it difficult to trust his word.
At Synod this year, look for the proliferation of balderdash in the Erskine report. There are two things which will be shoveled on Synod’s delegates like fertilizer on a field in spring. The first is the idea of a Worldview Institute. This is a sort of think-tank for academically-minded students to think Christianly about apologetics, politics, morality, culture, and other subjects. But where are the academically-minded Christian students to be found for such an academically challenging program? At this time, it is very difficult to recruit non-athletes to a campus which is saturated with athletes. The balderdash about the Worldview Institute is about smoke screening Synod’s delegates. It is political candy. Gustafson is well aware Associate Reformed Presbyterian ministers are academically inclined, and a conversation about a Worldview Institute just may divert attentions enough to minimize hard questioning. In the words of the Wizard of Oz, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”
The second piece of balderdash is a program which makes it possible for an Erskine student to get both a BA from the college and a MDiv from the seminary in five years. This is a terrible idea if one is actually attempting to prepare ministers for ministry. However, ministry is not what this is about; the program is about grant money. Well, in the words of John Calvin: “Good luck!” I hear the congregations which make up the Erskine Seminary catchment are flooding the seminary office with requests for 22-year-old ministerial candidates.
The motion asking General Synod to restore the president of the quasi-Erskine Alumni Association is not only an act of pandering to the loud voices of godless alums, it also is an act of throwing-friends-under-the-bus. Last year when the motion to remove the president of the Alumni Association as a voting member of the board was brought to the floor of General Synod, the motion was not done without the concurrence of and the buoying up by the president. Yes, Gustafson knew what was taking place and said it needed to be done. Permission was asked and permission was given to those who brought the motion to the floor. Remember the motion was passed overwhelmingly, and followed by a standing ovation by the delegates. Why is Gustafson now retracing his steps?
Gustafson and the board are pandering to the members of the quasi-Alumni Association who (by way of their Facebook site) have made it abundantly clear they are opposed to the evangelical faith of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Dr. Gustafson and the board are now pandering to a godless mob in the hope they will give something to Erskine. So, may I be so bold to ask, what has been promised? However, if past performance is an indicator of future actions, they will not give much. One is a fool to trust the promises of these people!
As far as regular members of the board are concerned, they are vetted by General Synod’s nominating committee as to their willingness to serve on the Erskine board and their compatibility with the doctrinal standards of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. I know this to be true because I have gone through the process. Now, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is asked to accept a board member who has not been vetted by our committee on nominations. Interestingly, the members of the quasi-Erskine Alumni Association do not ask whether their president is a Christian, let alone whether he/she agrees with the standards by which other board members give assent. Essentially, this establishes two levels of board members. In the past, Gustafson has stated it is ludicrous not to expect board members to affirm the standards of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. If that is the case, why is he getting back in bed with the devil?
In these matters, personally, I feel a great sense of betrayal. As readers of ARPTalk are aware, I refrained from writing about matters regarding Erskine for a year. Because of what Dr. Gustafson told me, I felt compelled to give him space to do what he said to me he was going to do. He even said to me that I should not withhold my public comments and analysis if I saw he was leading Erskine in a direction which is contra to what we discussed. Yes, he invited my analysis and dissent. Well, I now feel compelled to write. I feel deep sadness. I feel I have been manipulated by one who called me “Brother!” I feel a great sense of betrayal, as do others who esteemed him highly.
These are my thoughts,
Charles W. Wilson