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Long search, short tenure

"Long search, short tenure" Continued...

Issue: "The Battle for Africa," Feb. 8, 2014

Philanthropist Roberta Ahmanson, the opening-night keynote speaker at next month’s Forum, says the CCCU Board should have more carefully reviewed Blews’ educational background: “If they did know, then they really need to do some soul searching about why they went ahead and hired him.” I contacted Kim Phipps and the current CCCU Board chair, Chip Pollard, president of John Brown University, but they both declined to comment. I left voicemails for Blews and visited his home in Washington, but he did not return my messages.

BLEWS’ TENURE CAME as the council already faced significant challenges. According to the most recent data available on GuideStar, which collects nonprofit financial reports, member dues accounted for only $1.4 million of the CCCU’s $12.6 million budget in 2011. Three-fourths of it, $9.5 million, came from off-campus student programs, including a journalism program in Washington, a film-studies program in Los Angeles, and study-abroad programs in countries around the world. 

Former employees confirmed enrollment in those programs is down dramatically in recent years, as more institutions create their own study-abroad programs and seek to keep student dollars on campus. Some schools are saying scholarship money cannot be used for off-campus courses. Former president Andringa, now a nonprofit ministry consultant, said many campuses suffer from dwindling denominational support, have already deferred campus maintenance, and have mandated hiring and salary freezes. 

The CCCU Washington administrative staff is barely half the size it was a year ago. Blews’ contract may leave the CCCU in a financial bind: When he first met the staff in July 2012, he boasted that his “ironclad five-year contract” could not be voided even if he was fired with cause. No former employee would reveal to me the details of the contract, but according to GuideStar, Blews’ predecessor had an annual salary of almost $320,000. If Blews was making that amount and the contract is as ironclad as he thinks it is, the Council could pay as much as $1.6 million over five years—a lot of money for an organization that cleared only $33,299 in fiscal 2011.

Blews may sue the CCCU over his dismissal, and this would create more uncertainty for an organization that, according to Andringa, has “lost a lot of credibility, unfortunately, in the last year.” Although acting CCCU president Bill Robinson made Forum planning his top priority, and registration went online days after the firing of Blews, as of mid-January the Council was still scrambling to secure enough registrants to cover the Los Angeles hotel contract.

Former CCCU president Corts told me the CCCU is a crucial defender of Christian institutions’ right to hire only believers: Without that right, Christian institutions cease to be Christian and “all the rest is for naught.” The Obama administration has argued the religious exemption to laws against hiring discrimination should not exist, but the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 ruled unanimously in favor of keeping it. “It’s such a fragile thing,” Corts said. “In virtually every Congress there is legislation introduced to take that right away.”

Colorado Christian University vice president Christopher Leland said it’s becoming increasingly difficult to convince accrediting bodies that educational excellence can go together with a uniquely Christian vision: “We have a lot of Christian colleges and universities who are doing a lot of good work and need help.” Some CCCU members want an organization that will engage not only Congress and the Department of Education, but scholars and writers who critique higher education.

Andringa said Christians should rally around the CCCU: “The Council is critical to the body of Christ in the next several decades.” Without accountability, says Ahmanson, scandals are inevitable: “It’s time for evangelical institutions, especially in higher education, to assess their boards. … They need to also understand that being supportive means asking hard questions.”

J.C. Derrick
J.C. Derrick

J.C. is a reporter in WORLD's Washington Bureau. He spent 10 years covering sports, higher education, and politics for the Longview News-Journal and other newspapers in Texas before joining WORLD in 2012. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.

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