By Kavin Carter
A sobering moment in the history of Providence Christian College occurred on Saturday morning, October 22nd, as students stood in solidarity during the Trustee’s board meeting.
Becky McIlhenny spoke prior to the students, upon her request. She delivered a speech in which she expressed her concerns with the direction that the college seems to be taking. She requested that the board respect the opinions of the students and listen to them without belittling or patronizing them.
A letter, that was drafted by the group of students, was then read aloud. The letter, addressed to the board, stated the main concerns that many students have had on the state of the college. It brought into question the ethics of President Dr. Jim Belcher, regarding the rate and manner of action taken at the college since the beginning of his presidency.
Some of the issues included were regarding: chapel and the decrease in attendance as well as micromanagement of the program, favoritism toward Athletics teams in regards to academics and allegations that faculty had been pressured to lower academic standards in the classroom, the possible motives behind the dismissal of both Dr. Reeves and Professor Milton, and semester-long contracts versus year-long contracts (pertaining to faculty employment).
The students then put forth a set of requests stating: “we formally request clear intentionality for implementing checks and balances regarding presidential power”. They requested that “year long contracts for faculty be reinstated as a statement of goodwill toward faculty members that remain.” Students also urged “a re-investigation of the letter addressing grievances regarding the ethics of Dr. Belcher that was scripted by faculty last may.”
Students also made the board aware that members of the UAW Local 2865 graduate student union support the students of PCC in their address and the demands of the students. Resultantly, they issued a resolution statement: “We affirm that PCC’s Administrative actions constitute grave violations of principles of academic freedom, violations of student rights, actions unbecoming of an educational institution”.
After each designated speaker had finished addressing the board, John Jansen spoke, clarifying that the grievances directed at Dr. Belcher was the responsibility and actions of the board and that Dr. Belcher was acting on their behalf, emphasizing team mentality. * Jansen took ownership of the statement, “get on the bus or get off the bus” that he remarked during the Spring semester in a meeting with faculty, administration and the executive board.
It seemed, to some of the students that were able to be present on Saturday, that instead of addressing the problems put forward, certain members of the board saw fit to lecture students about the prospect of sustainability and the mission of the college (a lecture some felt was presented in a manner that was patronizing and even degrading). Not every board member acted in a patronizing way, a few board members seemed to have taken a serious interest in the concerns and requests for improvement by the students. A board member spoke to the students during lunch to inquire and clarify on their statements and requests.
Later that evening an e-mail was sent to thank the students for presenting their concerns to the board. The e-mail also expressed that the board would be praying diligently about what students have said and intend to implement action on these issues. It is also important to recognize that not all students that were present on Saturday, align themselves with the intentions written in the letter to the board. Rather these few students that were able to attend, desired more than anything to show their concern for the direction that our institution is headed in.
It is an invaluable thing, to have a student body that is passionate about their education. To have students that apply in everyday life what they learn in the classroom (in regards to critical thinking as well as standing for what you believe) is precisely the kind of citizens that colleges should seek to produce. The kind of students who, under extreme pressure (some may even say fear) as well as personal expense, would choose to go before the powers that be and present these issues about the social and academic aspects of campus life that we all are affected by, together, each day.
* = Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated:
“Jansen re-stated, ‘get on the bus or get off the bus’, taking ownership of the phrase he coined in May during a meeting with faculty, administration and the executive board, where seven faculty members drafted, signed and addressed their grievances about the trajectory of the college and ethics of leadership.”
and was changed to: “Jansen took ownership of the statement, “get on the bus or get off the bus” that he remarked during the Spring semester in a meeting with faculty, administration and the executive board.”
This was changed for the purpose of clarifying that Mr. Jansen had not re-stated that remark to the students in the context of that meeting, but rather, took ownership of the statement he made. This is relevant because that statement was quoted in the student letter, therefore Mr. Jansen took a moment to briefly defend and own this remark.