Many institutions are experiencing high rates of transition these days. This is especially true for churches and Christian nonprofits, including colleges and universities. Fresno Pacific University has not been immune. As I watch the landscape of higher ed, I’m well aware of the structural upheaval at institutions like Shorter University, Cedarville University, Bryan College, General Theological Seminary, and others.
The chaos is sometimes related to theological shifts. Some institutions have added morality clauses which faculty members are forced to sign. Others have refined belief statements to include positions on creationism or homosexuality. Still others have debated Calvinism with a new vigor.
Unsettling transitions can also be caused by shifts in leaders. There are many styles of leadership, but the default in times of crisis favors heavy management. This is easy to see in churches—when a congregation is threatened by declining attendance, budget shortfalls and deteriorating facilities, people often put their hope in one man with lots of charisma and experience in top-down management. This is comforting for both employees and congregants because it assures people that someone is in control.
Another reason for ongoing chaos is financial instability. Economies are not as neat and predictable as they once were. For many, expansionary efforts are the presumed answer for economic downturns. It’s believed that adding more products will increase attractiveness. In the evangelical church, this is the game—work hard to add more goods and services so that people will be more likely to come (as opposed to attending another church with not quite as good of a selection).
For all of these reasons, and more, many people in Christian churches, agencies and institutions are experiencing great loss. And as mentioned earlier, despite record enrollment (something we’re very grateful for), my institution has not been spared. Through waves of budget reductions, salary cuts, employee terminations, forced resignations and administrative appointments, the loss is very real.
Having said that, here are some things I mourn at FPU.
I mourn the loss of those who have quietly disappeared from our midst. Most notably, former President Pete Menjares and his charming wife, Virginia, have virtually been erased. Dr. Menjares said at his inauguration two years ago, with tears in his eyes, "You honor me. You honor my family. You honor my community." Unfortunately, his speedy departure has cast a shadow of shame upon him and his people, something that the Hispanic community understands far better than most of us in a majority culture. With no chance for even a “goodbye,” the Menjares’ departure is not so much a reflection on their character as it is on ours. We used to recognize and honor those who left our campus. We’d know their names, celebrate the years they’d been with us and hear stories from their tenure. I’m not sure why, but we don’t do that anymore. Maybe the list is too long.
I mourn the loss of discussion and dialogue. I understand the need for expediency in a crisis situation, but I wonder if it isn’t counterproductive in the long run. Quick decisions and streamlined processes give the appearance of action, and certainly offer some needed correctives, but the drawbacks may not be immediately obvious. FPU has been committed to open conversation and has accepted, even encouraged, divergent ideas in the past. We believe that “community expresses itself in patterns of leadership and governance that are servant oriented and participatory and which lead toward consensual decision making.” (FPU Idea) Regrettably, crisis situations have the potential to supersede such core values.
I mourn the loss of future departures and colleagues who look elsewhere. A sad reality is that we hear often of peers who move to other institutions. With announcements coming out weekly of those who are retiring early or being laid off, many current employees regularly peruse the online job boards. Requests for letters of reference follow. It’s a bittersweet task to compose a laudatory recommendation for a colleague I don’t want to lose.
I mourn the loss of resources that would help students have an amazing academic experience. This is perhaps the hugest loss of all. My colleagues and I care deeply about our students, give them our very best and always want to provide more opportunities and experiences that help them develop into keen scholars and thoughtful practitioners. But financial crises limit that ability. While no student’s academic success is in jeopardy, we are sad when we can’t provide what we would hope to.
Some organizational transitions are good. Some are bad. Some are necessary. I’m not arguing one way or the other in the case of FPU. I’m more concerned with the loss that these transitions bring, and the lack of opportunity to process that loss. FPU is precisely the kind of community where this can and should happen. This is the thing that sets us apart from our local competitors and those institutions listed at the lead of this post. Our Anabaptist center demands it.
One of the tasks at hand, in the chaos, is to name the losses, acknowledge the disruption and take the time to discover underlying causes and issues. Short-circuiting this process might feel comfortable, but it also might not serve the institution well in time.