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Creation debate roils Bryan College

"Creation debate roils Bryan College" Continued...

The clarification as worded would not seem to bar teaching Bryan students about evolution as a theory. But it would preclude any professor or staff member from believing Adam and Eve evolved from earlier hominids, or teaching such a position as fact.

“I think the college has been concerned that Bryan looked publicly too liberal,” Jones said. He noted that Ken Ham, president of the young-Earth creationist organization Answers in Genesis, has made critical statements about the school in the past. Jones said he felt comfortable signing the new clarification himself, but he and others on faculty believe it was pushed forward too quickly. 

“We feel like the clarification has been ramrodded through in very great haste,” he said. “It’s been unloving to the Christian body here.”

Randall Hollingsworth, a professor of communications at the college, said he and his colleagues received an unusual email around 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 16—a Sunday morning. It contained a revised agenda for a scheduled Monday morning faculty meeting in which, the email said, the board of trustees would present a clarification statement.

At the Monday meeting, the board gave a 20-minute presentation introducing the new clarification. They said it would apply immediately to new faculty contracts, which are due to be signed by March 28 for the upcoming school year. The board then opened the meeting to questions.  

“It didn’t take long before people were standing and expressing their concerns,” said Hollingsworth, who described the meeting as “emotional” and “impassioned.” 

“Why did it have to happen immediately?” he asked.

Hollingsworth and Jones said the faculty was concerned that a rush to push through the origins clarification on short notice was unfair to members who might not be able to sign it with a clear conscience. Professors who do not affirm the clarification statement, will lose their jobs at the close of this semester. “They have mortgages here in Dayton,” Jones said. “They have families to support. And they have no jobs.”

Some faculty members have requested the contract requirement be delayed a year. The board has so far declined.

The board also formed a steering committee, made of board members, that will produce a “position paper” to clarify further Bryan’s position on origins. Though the board said it welcomed faculty input, it asked such input to go through standard department channels. “There was a lack of communication,” said Hollingsworth. “There was a lack of discussion.”

Frustration culminated in a special 50-minute meeting on Feb. 25, during which faculty members held a confidence vote for Livesay, who has led the school since 2003, including through recent years of budget cuts and declining enrollment. Thirty professors voted no confidence, two voted confidence, and six abstained. Hollingsworth, who is also chair of the humanities division, said the vote resulted from Livesay’s leadership style, not simply the recent origins statement.

In a story posted Thursday, the school’s student news website, The Triangle, quoted Livesay telling students after the confidence vote, “It [the opposition to the clarification] kind of surprises me a little bit, because this is pretty basic stuff. I would say for the majority of students, faculty and staff, the vast, vast majority, this is right on target, this is what we believe, who we are.” The Triangle also reported that Livesay told faculty and staff in a March 3 email not to talk to students about the current problems.

Livesay did not return an interview request for this story, but provided a school statement also posted to Bryan College’s website Friday morning. “The Board adopted on Feb. 27 a resolution fully supporting the leadership of Dr. Livesay and expressing their appreciation for the progress made by the college during his tenure as president,” the statement read. It quoted Livesay as saying, “My goal is to continue working alongside our faculty and staff to enhance Bryan’s mission of educating our students to become servants of Christ to make a difference in today’s world.”

A day after the confidence vote, the school’s Student Government Association circulated a petition to express its “strong opposition to the measure to clarify Bryan College’s statement of faith,” and its concern the measure was disregarding faculty input and disrupting “spiritual unity.”

“We could not in good faith recommend this school to potential students or faculty should our mentors and teachers continue to be disregarded and marginalized,” the petition stated.

Student body Vice President Allison Baker said that during a 48-hour window, 303 students signed the petition, nearly half the campus population. She and student body President Joseph Murphy had discussed the clarification effort with Livesay four or five times since early February, she said, but ultimately felt the administration wasn’t taking faculty and student input seriously.

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