By Maddie Silva
On Saturday, October 22nd, a group of students addressed the board. The students called into question the leadership of the college, the layoffs of two full-time faculty members, and the school’s commitment to its mission statement.
They made requests for a re-investigation of the faculty letter sent in May of 2016, more checks and balances for the president, and year-long contracts for the faculty. Later that day, the board sent an email to the students, thanking them for speaking and assuring the students that they are,
“100% behind the mission of the college and it is our first and foremost obligation to protect and maintain the mission of the college to be a Reformed institution of academic excellence.”
The email added that the board would take time to deliberate and seriously consider the concerns and requests laid out in the letter.
On November 9th, as Americans went to the polls and anticipated the results of the election, the students were prompted with a response from the board. The letter began by thanking the students again for their concerns, reassuring the students that they took those concerns, “very, very seriously.”
“Your letter and the representations you made to us outlined a variety of problems as you see them,” the letter began, “Three are four particular requests that we specifically wish to address.”
The first concern was the letter of grievances sent by the faculty. The board letter asserted that “confidentiality and privacy concerns” prevented further disclosure of specifics of the investigation, but the letter did divulge general information about the conduct of the investigation in hopes that students would feel confident in the integrity of the investigation.
The November 9th letter continued by stating that the Executive Committee acted immediately. Each person who made an allegation was interviewed by the head of Human Resources and the chair of the Academic Affairs Committee. The letter claims that,
“Even indirect and hearsay allegations were investigated fully and seriously with those who were allegedly involved.” The board reviewed the transcripts of these interviews and found that no disciplinary action needed to be taken. They recognized that reparations still needed to be made, so the Peacemakers organization was brought in. The November 9th letter maintains that,
“No punitive actions of any kind were taken against those who refused to participate.”
The letter also holds that a re-investigation is not warranted because the board felt that the initial investigation was adequate.
As for checks and balances for the president, the board found this desire to be superfluous because the president is held to his job description by the board and must report to the board in the three annual board meetings. Administrative departments report on their activities, e.g. student life, admissions, academics, etc., and the board sees these reports as indirect reflections of the President. The board also wrote that they felt they adequately oversaw the administration of the college and hoped that the letter demonstrated their participation.
As for the faculty contracts, the board wrote that the students incorrectly assumed that the procedure had been changed. “All full-time faculty appointments are made without a term. The appointments are reviewed and renewed annually.” The board maintains that this in in accordance with the Faculty Handbook.
The letter concludes that the board does not expect their letter to the students to “answer and alleviate all of your concerns.” The board sympathizes with students’ feelings of confusion and hurt following the faculty layoffs but also writes that students are misinformed.
In a contradictory statement, the letter encourages students to continue to ask questions, but respect the decisions made by the board and administration.
The letter ends with a seemingly benign admonition of peace from theologian Charles Hodge who is, “simply following God’s word when he says that perpetual resistance and a refusal to submit is unacceptable for a child of God.”
While the letter answered several questions, students are left at a difficult crossroad of uncertainty and indecision as to how to proceed. Another board member emailed the students a separate letter that day stating that not all board members endorse the letter sent out from the Board and signed by John Jansen. All sides agree that recovery will be long and difficult. Then, in the spirit of Kitchen Table Day, Dawn Dirksen sought reconciliation of her own volition with a group of students on November 11th. Perhaps reconciliation is not as inconceivable as one would have thought.