A majority of faculty members favor the university hiring Christian faculty outside of the Churches of Christ, according to a recent faculty survey conducted by the Faculty Senate at the request of the Board of Trustees. At the same time, an even larger majority said the board should conduct a comprehensive study of potential effects of changing the policy or leaving it the same before making a decision.
Faculty members answered an eight-question survey this fall regarding church membership requirements for faculty. The results of this survey were presented to the Board of Trustees during their regularly scheduled meeting last weekend along with a Faculty Senate resolution.
The Board of Trustees discussed this issue with the chair of the faculty senate, Dr. Neal Coates, who presented the Faculty Senate resolution, and with a faculty panel including Dr. Cheryl Bacon, Dr. Carisse Berryhill, Dr. Stephanie Hamm, Adam Hester, Dr. Dana McMichael, Robert Oglesby, Dr. Rusty Towell and Dr. Phil Vardiman.
Dr. Barry Packer, chair of the Board of Trustees, said the panel of faculty expressed a diversity of opinion among faculty about this issue.
Packer said, however, the board made no decision regarding a change in the current employment policy.
“The survey was an important step in helping the board to understand the diverse perspectives of our faculty,” Packer said. “We value their input and thinking, which will enable us to have greater insights as we further contemplate the best course of action to take. The board desires to be very thoughtful and intentional as we discern what is in the best interests of ACU.”
The survey reported 62.10 percent of the faculty agreed or strongly agreed that ACU should change the faculty employment policy to allow Christian faculty outside of the Churches of Christ to be hired. 14.53 percent disagreed, and 23.46 percent of faculty strongly disagreed with the question.
About 78.45 percent of faculty agreed or strongly agreed that ACU should thoroughly study the impacts an employment policy change would have.
In another question, 79.44 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed that ACU should make no changes to the current policy, granting no exceptions.
About 71 percent of faculty disagreed or strongly disagreed that ACU should keep the current policy but allow the Board of Trustees to grant exceptions.
This question in the survey was related to a suggestion made by Dr. Robert Rhodes, provost of the university, in the faculty pre-session last summer. The Board of Trustees had allowed the university to hire two faculty who were not members of the Church of Christ – one in the School of Nursing and one in the School of Social Work. Rhodes suggested the board allow eight faculty exceptions to be hired outside of the Church of Christ over a time period of four years.
About 53 percent of faculty agreed or agreed strongly that, if a policy change does occur, the change should not apply to faculty in the College of Biblical Studies.
Coates, chair of the Department of Political Science, said the board accepted the faculty’s recommendation that no change should be made to the policy until a quantitative and qualitative study be conducted.
“There is a concern about what sort of a policy change would have what kind of effect on current faculty, faculty recruitment, student retention and recruitment, alumni relations, donor relations, community relations – all those kind of things could be affected by a substantial change in policy,” Coates said.
The Board has asked that it be provided with further information by its August 2014 meeting.
Coates said this study will include several groups on campus who will report back to the provost’s office.
Several factors are driving this discussion.
In August, Rhodes said the faculty employment policy will be at the center of campus conversations this semester.
Rhodes said other sister universities are seeing a decrease in Church of Christ student enrollment, as well.
“Not only is there a change in number of graduating Church of Christ students, but there is a change in preference,” Rhodes said in August. “Families are looking at things differently.”
Another factor is the availability of faculty as the university maintains accreditation and grows, Coates said.
“What has led this discussion so far is the question ‘what do we do if a department may not be able to get its accreditation or do we have enough faculty as the university expands?’,” Coates said.
Coates said it’s difficult for smaller universities to compete in bidding wars that occur to hire professors that fulfill accreditation requirements.
“What that does especially for religious institutions is it forces the question ‘is the accreditation more important than the religious identity?’,” Coates said.
Coates emphasized the importance of ACU’s history both as a religious and academic force that has constantly been improving since its beginning.
“ACU has not only been influencing students for 100 years, we have 100 years of being a part of the community and churches,” Coates said. “There’s a lot to think about for a policy change to be made, so we were thankful that the board considered the main recommendation from the faculty survey to conduct a study.”