Accrediting Panel Report on Erskine slams ARP Synod

The recommendations and comments, if approved, will require Erskine to clearly separate itself from any direct influence by the ARP Church.

The Aquila Report has obtained a copy of the SACS Special Committee Report which was triggered following ARP Synod actions in March. While just a recommendation (final action by SACS will be later in June) the recommendations and comments, if approved, will require Erskine to clearly separate itself from any direct influence by the ARP Church.

As reported here previously, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, through is Commission on Colleges, appointed a special committee to investigate the situation at Erskine College and Seminary following recent actions by the ARP Synod to replace the Board of Trustees (http://bit.ly/bAfsnv).

The special committee visited the Erskine campus on May 4-6 to complete its investigation. Members of the committee included the President of Garner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, NC (Committee Chairman); the President of the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, KY; a former Trustee of Mercer University in Macon, GA; and serving as the required COC Staff Representative, the Vice President of the Commission.

On May 21 the Committee sent their report and recommendations to Dr. Randall Ruble, President of Erskine College and Seminary, pointing out that the report remains preliminary and is not official until approved (with or without changes) by the full SACS members at their annual meeting later in June.

(It should be noted that SACS does not require that contents of their report remain private.)

The report includes a summary of recommendations page. Those recommendations are:

1. The institution demonstrate that the Board of Trustees is not controlled by any organization or interests separate from it.

2. The Board put in place policies to protect the institution from unwarranted intrusion by external forces even if those forces are from its religious body.

3. Steps be taken to clearly delineate the policy-making function of the governing board and those responsibilities be clearly communicated to the institution’s faculty, staff, students and alumni. Further, since the Board has clear authority to deal with policy matters, the Synod should refer such matters to the board.

4. The institution have and enforce adequate procedures for safeguarding and protecting academic freedom.

While these recommendations in and of themselves may or may not bode well for supporters of the ARP Synod, and especially for the actions taken in March, it is the explanation sections of the SACS panel report that produce the most revealing nature and meaning of the report.

For instance, in explaining the first recommendation, the panel said they found no evidence in the bylaws or minutes of control by an outside source, but through interviews of three members of the Moderator’s Commission, “it was revealed that the APR Synod desired a board that would take Synod’s instructions and move forward.”

Again, in explaining the second recommendation, the panel said that ‘the institution has experienced undue influence from its religious body as a result of a small group of faculty, students, and alumni appearing before that religious body to express a complaint about the lack of Christian presence on the institutions campus” which resulted in the March actions of Synod. Clearly ‘undue influence’ is anything that appears to ‘direct’ the Board to do certain things.

Once more, in explaining the third recommendation, the panel said that Synod “must work with the Board to prevent undercutting the authority of the Board” and accused the Synod that their ‘undue influence’ described above as having ‘created an unhealthy and unworkable governance structure.”

Further, in explaining the fourth recommendation, the panel said that “the apparent incentive behind the Synod actions and the general tenor of what has been said and written could lead a person familiar with academia to be extremely fearful for academic freedom at Erskine College if the Synod prevails in this situation.”

As serious as each of these explanations might seem, what might be considered the most scathing indictment of the action of the Synod did not result in a recommendation for change, but rather in an approbation of the Board for resisting the change in its structure through the March Synod actions.

In that regard, the report states that “in response to this intended threat by the ARP Synod, the Board of Trustees took appropriate action to ensure that its own bylaws and policy regarding dismissal of Trustees was protected and upheld, and that any future or advised modifications to such policies (through the By-Laws) would be reviewed in due course through the existing government framework.”

The Aquila Report will be seeking comment on this story from Erskine Board members, members of the Moderator’s Commission, as well as from those involved with other institutions whose Boards are appointed by a religious denomination. (Those desiring to comment should contact the author at don@metokos.org)