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Greenville University, we have a problem—and that’s putting it lightly. You may have read another recent Papyrus article discussing the removal of the art major from GU’s academic catalog, but this seems to be is only the tip of the iceberg. Presently happening is the removal—or “letting go” if you wish to be cordial—of a number of
The issue, however, is not one contained solely to the current faculty fiasco, which has now occurred twice in less than four years (spring of 2016), nor is it even localized only to Greenville University. The larger issue being accentuated here is a national problem of transparency at not-for-profit, private, Christian universities. While the purpose of this article is not to diminish the intensity of the circumstances at GU, the current situation does serve as a particularly valuable case study and critique for the systemic problem of transparency at educational institutions in the US. And to be clear, this article has not been produced with the intent of demeaning the efforts of GU’s administration and the intended results of their decision to downsize; what has been done may well be the best business course of action. This article does, however, challenge the impact of GU’s current procedures on the lives of real people in regard to how it handles the transparent communication of its administrative, institutional, and financial health with students, faculty, and all other stakeholders.
At Greenville University itself, transparency has been an issue of student advocacy for a number of years. The most recent round of community conversations began in the spring of 2018 among student government members as part of an unpublished Student Senate proposal (courtesy of the current Student Body President Sidney Webster). The research behind this eventually emerged as one of the major visionary points of GSGA and Student Senate’s 2018-2019 student advocacy agenda. The issue of financial transparency during the 2018-2019 school year reached critical mass at the Student Senate sponsored All-Town Meeting, where it was presented openly for an organized discussion between students and administrators directly. While administrative participation was appreciated, the discussion at this event and other conversations like it were not entirely satisfactory, as noted by former GSGA President Jantzen Michael who helped organize the event and participated in many other administrative meetings on the matter.
Despite meetings like this, which provided at best technical and confusing information and at worst inflammatory and inadequate answers, the issue of transparency between administration, faculty, and students is one that is far from being solved at Greenville University or across the country. On a larger scale, former GU faculty member Dr. Larry Sayler published a study in 2004 (along with Whitworth University’s Margie Ness LaShaw) in the Journal of Biblical Integration in Business that graded a sample of “100 US-based Christian schools nationwide” on institutional transparency. Sayler’s results disappointingly revealed that barely 40% of the schools achieved an “A” or “B” rating, while over 20% received “D” or “F” ratings. Among the many applicable results of his analysis, there were namely two concepts that are pertinent to the current situation at Greenville University to which this institution should be held accountable—accountability that leads to trust and the obligation to have integrity.
First and foremost, transparency can lead to greater accountability in order to increase trust. Grace is easy to extend when trust is in place; however, when this is put into question, it becomes far more difficult to believe that the institution has a student’s best interests in mind. Part of cultivating this trust also involves including student voices and presence in administrative decision-making. As the primary “product” of the institution, directly listening to those participating in the student experience is vitally important to delivering a satisfactory experience.
Secondly, there exists a Christian mandate for transparency in any church-affiliated institution such as GU, and even more particularly for Free Methodist institutions for which institutional secrecy and economic hostility is explicitly critiqued. The ultimate goal here is to lead to an improved perception of institutional integrity. Regardless of whether or not there is a legal mandate for the release of potentially damaging information, it is indeed inherently Christian to be open about mistakes that are made in the form of institutional confession, which in many cases is a prerequisite of grace from stakeholders. This may very well require that an institution operating under the accountability of this Christian mandate release more information than is legally mandated, all for the sake of integrity and transparency in communication.
Although Sayler’s study is already fifteen years old at the time of this publication, the sense of déjà vu and uncanny familiarity with the current situation certainly indicates its continuing relevance to the state of affairs at Greenville University. Unfortunately, GU is not alone but is a member
The proposition to Greenville University and its struggling peers, therefore, is clear. There is the potential for transparent change to occur through systems that regularly, habitually, and accessibly communicate with all stakeholders, and particularly with students, on the state of the institution in all matters, be they financial, faculty, administrative, or organizational issues. The resulting accountable trust and exemplary Christian integrity has the potential to bring students alongside administration to creatively solve the problems at hand. Otherwise the warning has been issued to Greenville University and other schools across the nation: a lack of transparency only spells distrust, frustration, and dismissal of the current educational model and institutions.
Media by Thomas Broomfield