November 20, 2017

Higher Education Faces Difficulty Nationwide

Blanchard Hall at Wheaton College. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This is one article in a series explaining changes at Gordon College, called Define: Gordon

By: Madeline Linnell ‘17

Managing Editor

In the summer of 2015, Forbes Magazine graded U.S. private higher-educational institutions’ financial health. The article evaluated endowment assets, core operating margin, tuition, admission yield, and other pieces of critical criteria. Gordon College received a C, as did other Christian institutions that fall under the CCCU umbrella. Calvin College, Seattle Pacific University and Eastern University received Cs as well. George Fox University got a D. However, there are also institutions like Wheaton College, Biola University and Westmont College that received As and Bs.

Alexander Hall at Seattle Pacific University. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Gordon College’s budget prioritization process was issued because of two consecutive enrollment years that failed to meet the budgeted target numbers set by senior administration. The College is heavily reliant on tuition dollars. The Forbes article referenced earlier said, “Universities where tuition revenues account for more than 60% of their core revenues tend to be at higher risk. Price discounting can have a big effect on their viability and enrollment shortfalls can mean budget misses, and potentially layoffs or cost cutting.”

Gordon can attest to this as can others. According to Biola University’s student newspaper The Chimes, Biola missed its budgeted admissions goal by 120 incoming students fall 2016. As a result, the institution cutted back on “personnel’s typical raise,” “employee health benefits” and “additional administrative positions.”

Higher education is a competitive business to be in. The U.S. News Higher Education reported that the increase of 18 to 24-year-olds “considering college” has “fueled in part” the uptick in competition.

This usually leads to top-ranked national institutions and public state schools to increase their selectivity. The U.S. News continues to say that “smaller, lesser-known private colleges” are being “less selective” as a result of competition among other factors. This yields true for Gordon College.

According to IPEDS, the College admitted 88 percent of applicants in fall 2014 and in fall 2015, 93 percent.

The changes seen in the admissions rates have affected the atmosphere in classrooms. Professor Graeme Bird of the Languages and Linguistics Department said, “In some of my classes, I sometimes have felt a lack of engagement, and I wonder if that is because students are tired from working on all these other things, such as jobs, or are distracted by social media. It’s a change.” He added, “I still love my classes; I have great students who are, most of the time, really working well for me, working well in the subject.”

Another change pressing many Christian evangelical institutions like Gordon College is the federal law’s adoption of LGBTQ+ rights.

Megan DeFranza is a Christian theologian who specializes in sex differences and sexual identity and is regularly asked to speak at Christian campuses. She offers her expertise to better “equip conservative Christians with language and insights to navigate challenging conversations with grace, patience, careful scholarship, and humility,” as it states on her website. DeFranza, Ph.D., has been invited to Calvin College, Azuza Pacific University, Eastern University, and Taylor University. To a Tartan reporter, DeFranza said that many Christian universities are trying to find ways of creating safe space for dialogue on the subject of sexual identity for their communities.

Yet this can be a fine line for an institution to tow when also sticking to a same-sex relationship convictions: that it is sinful. This is what Gordon’s Board of Trustees assert as the Biblical truth. The Board issued the “Statement on Sexual Ethics,” which says same-sex attraction constitutes as sexual immorality.

Wheaton College hired Julie Rodgers, a gay Christian blogger, to minister to sexual minorities on campus; however, Rodgers wrote in a Time article that the College would dismiss her attempts “to create a positive narrative around being gay rather than one of “brokenness” and the need for healing.” Rodgers said President Philip Ryken eventually informed her that numerous alumni and donors had expressed concern about her Rodgers’ ministry to students. Ryken encouraged Rodgers to resign.

Blanchard Hall at Wheaton College. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Rodgers wrote in the article, “Wheaton has shown flashes of courage and their choice to hire me was a brave one. What’s sad is that they caved, capitulating to the fears of one part of their very broad constituency. Hiring me for the reasons they initially said they did was an opportunity for them to communicate to LGBT students that God loves them and Wheaton wants them.”

Messiah College President Kim S. Phipps wrote an email to the entire student body saying the College’s “Foundational Values affirm the importance of a person.” Days before, students wrote and drew on-campus sidewalks with chalk with some illustrations of rainbow hearts and rainbow-colored words “Stand UNITED.” Only these statements were allegedly washed out.

Conservative Christian institutions face pressures from legal and theological expectations, said DeFranza to the Tartan. DeFranza said that for many schools the “policies are not changing anytime soon,” which “has a lot to do with where the money is coming from.”

Policies on same-sex relationships can put faculty and staff in a difficult situation as well. “I know of many professors at a number of different Christian institutions who want to openly support LGBTQ people, but also want to hold onto their jobs,” said DeFranza.

From fall 2011 to spring 2014, DeFranza was a part-time theology professor at Gordon. She taught “Christian Theology” and “The Great Conversation” courses. Despite receiving strong student reviews, her position was declined. When her department failed to hire anyone to fill the post, she was told her part-time contract was not renewed without explanation.

 

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