Where Merit Matters

More than affordable, more than accessible, Christian higher education needs to be reliable.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

College President's Résumé Fails Student Exam

Published: May 14, 2003

TOCCOA, Ga., May 13— When people here suggest to Joel Elliott, the soft-spoken student newspaper editor at Toccoa Falls College, a tiny evangelical institution tucked into the northeast Georgia hills, that he ''do the Christian thing'' and soft-pedal a story, he now has a ready retort.

''What about, 'The truth will set you free?' '' he says.

Mr. Elliott, 24, has learned a lot this semester. His big lesson began in January, when a fellow reporter at the town's twice-a-week Toccoa Record, where Mr. Elliott works full-time to pay his tuition, relayed a tip: rumor in town had it that the college president's credentials were not what they were supposed to be.

Mr. Elliott, coincidentally, was also taking an advanced reporting class, for which one of the semesterlong projects he could choose was to write biographical sketches of all the college's presidents, past and present. So he figured he would put the rumor to rest and kill two birds with one stone.

He hunted around and found a number of college publications, dated as recently as April 4, saying the current president, Donald O. Young, had earned a master's degree from the Fuller School of World Missions in Pasadena, Calif. He checked with the Fuller School, and learned, to his surprise, that Mr. Young had never completed his master's studies.

He confronted Mr. Young, who insisted that the claim of a master's was a mistake made by a former secretary who had typed up his résumé, that he had caught the mistake upon his arrival at Toccoa Falls in 2000, and that his lack of a graduate degree was common knowledge among the faculty -- in short, that there was no story.

Mr. Elliott interviewed the chairman of Toccoa's trustees, who said that the mistake was anything but common knowledge, and that Mr. Young would not have made the first cut as a candidate for the presidency if the board had known he did not have a graduate degree.

Then he wrote up the article.

''Some people thought it would be better to handle this in-house, rather than to bring it before the public,'' Mr. Elliott said. ''I said it would have been better to handle it in-house, but it's too late. It hasn't been.''

Published in The Record on April 29 and in the student newspaper on May 2 -- under the hardly hard-hitting headline ''TFC trustees support Young'' -- his articles nonetheless dropped like a thunderclap on the campus of the 96-year-old college, named for a 186-foot waterfall that cascades from the foothills of the Appalachians.

Faculty members and administrators seemed to fear Mr. Elliott's scoop would wash away the college's credibility -- at a time when Toccoa Falls was already struggling with money shortages and a drop in enrollment to 785 from as high as 927.

''It's negative publicity that we wish we were not experiencing right now,'' David G. Reese, the academic dean who is the college's official spokesman, said of the articles.

Other professors point with some pride to the way the 47-member faculty responded: on May 5, it met in secret and recorded a vote of ''no confidence'' in Mr. Young. On Saturday, Mr. Young -- who calls himself Dr. Young, on the strength of an honorary degree that Toccoa Falls awarded him a few years ago -- resigned. He did not respond to messages left on his cellphone today.

For Mr. Elliott, meanwhile, the turmoil his articles stirred up here has affected him, too. Other students have questioned his integrity, his manliness and even his faith.

But Mr. Elliott was no ink-stained interloper in the Bible belt. His parents in even tinier Howe, Ind., staunch Baptists, had home-schooled him. Dissatisfied with Indiana University at Fort Wayne, he had transferred first to Pensacola Christian College in Florida before switching again to Toccoa Falls, which is affiliated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, three years ago.

Until Pensacola, Mr. Elliott said, he had no experience with journalism. But he said he was kicked out of that college after not quite three semesters for a litany of reasons, including two illicit body-piercings and -- more tellingly -- posting a few items on an online, underground newspaper on which students complained about the college's ''oppressive'' environment.

When he arrived at Toccoa Falls, he decided to major in journalism. His professor, Oliver Witte, a veteran of The Milwaukee Journal, says Mr. Elliott ''has what I can't teach -- the fire in the belly.''

But not everyone on campus is so approving. Dr. Reese, for example, says that Mr. Elliott found himself at a fork in the road between the Christian way and the way of a newspaperman, and chose newspaperman. ''The prescription that Jesus gives us in the Gospel of Matthew if we find someone overtaken in a sin, or who has wronged us, is to go to them, privately, and if they recognize it and show a readiness to make it right, you've accomplished your mission,'' Dr. Reese said. ''Joel's view was that it would all be swept under the rug. That is a choice he had to make.''

He added: ''As a Christian, I feel it could have been better handled.''

Mr. Elliott acknowledges the dilemma, and says he faced a similar, if more abstract, one on an exam in his reporting class not long ago. ''The question was, 'What's the difference between a journalist and a Christian journalist?' '' he said. ''But I'm not so much concerned with that.''

For now, he says he is more concerned with finishing his own degree in the fall, and then looking for a job at a somewhat bigger newspaper. (He is willing to move anywhere.) He is re-examining his own faith, he said, unsure in which Christian denomination he will find his home.

And he is still struggling with what he has wrought, here in Toccoa.

''I didn't want to bash the school,'' he said. ''I love the school. It was a rough thing to write, a story that had great potential for causing damage to the school. But if I can't handle a situation here, when I'm still a student, with something that's close to my heart, and do what I feel is right, how can I expect to do the right thing later on when I'm on the job?''


Accessed February 23, 2011

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Bob Jones University Considers Possible Cutbacks

Spokesman Says Evaluation Of Operations, Academic Programs Is In 'Early Stages'

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Administrators at Bob Jones University are considering internal adjustments, according to a spokesman.

Brian Scoles told WYFF that the school is in the early stages of evaluating whether any cutbacks in the faculty, staff or academic programs are necessary.

"These are challenging times for higher education, and we're doing everything we can to produce highly trained graduates who find value in what we offer," Scoles said.

Scoles declined to give reasons that would necessitate any changes, but said the school wants to make sure everything is operating as efficiently and effectively as possible.

"Like any institution of higher learning, BJU continuously looks at all operations -- our academic programs and academic support operations -- to make sue we are effective and efficient in all we do," Scoles said. "We are focused on maintaining the quality ... value and affordability of a BJU education. We care about the families we serve and want to keep our quality high and programs affordable for the broadest number possible."

Scoles told News 4 the tuition for a full-time student is $5,960 per semester. He said students from all 50 states and 40 foreign countries attend Bob Jones University.

Myra Ruiz, WYFF News 4 Reporter
POSTED: 7:57 pm EST January 26, 2011
UPDATED: 9:33 pm EST January 26, 2011


Accessed February 5, 2011

Generic Christian U.

"Ties that bind church schools are loosening."

Bobby Ross Jr. | posted 1/14/2011 09:42AM

Faith-based universities with historically strong denominational ties—Nazarene, Mennonite, and Southern Baptist schools among them—are enrolling fewer students from within their own ranks.

Paul Corts, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), said the trend, seen even in institutions with "very strong, close connections" to denominations, is bound to shape future denominational leadership.

For example, at 18 schools associated with the Churches of Christ (non-instrumental), members of associated churches composed 70 percent of first-year students a decade ago. By fall 2009, that figure had dropped to 53 percent, according to a study by the Harding University Center for Church Growth.

The perceived high cost of a Christian education alongside drops in denominational loyalty have contributed to the changing demographics, said Corts and others.

"So many people now think that everything is just a different flavor," said Mike O'Neal, president of Oklahoma Christian University, a Church of Christ school. "If I'm a Methodist, generally I don't care that a university is Nazarene or Calvinist or whatever. The perception is, we're all alike."

At Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, Mennonites represent 45 percent of undergraduates, a decline from previous decades, said president Loren Swartzendruber.

"We know from surveys that a Mennonite student who attends a Mennonite college will be far more likely to be active in a Mennonite congregation as an adult," he said. "Consequently, this trend not only impacts potential leaders but general membership."

Over the past decade, the proportion of Nazarene students at Point Loma Nazarene University has dropped from 30 percent to about 20 percent, said Scott N. Shoemaker, the San Diego school's associate vice president for enrollment.

"The loyal adherence to attending a denominational institution has certainly been diluted through the weakening of historic ties to the church and its clergy," he said.

Union University, a Southern Baptist school in Jackson, Tennessee, has bucked the trend "with intentional outreach to Baptist students," said Rich Grimm, senior vice president for enrollment services. Its entering class is about 65 percent Baptist.

However, Grimm said that by design or not, "There are a number of schools enrolling significantly fewer Baptist students."

Amid heightened competition for students, some universities acknowledge marketing more aggressively outside their denomination. Phil Schubert, president of Abilene Christian University in Texas, said that his school is no less determined to reach out to its Churches of Christ base, "but we're also making a direct appeal to students who [value] our brand of Christian education."

Much of the evidence of the trend remains anecdotal, Corts acknowledged. "I don't know that anyone has done a detailed study on why it's the case," he said. The CCCU might conduct just such a review.


Accessed February 5, 2010