Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sheldon Jackson College—Transform or Close? (Part 6)

Dahlia of the day: Sugar Cane.

In Thursday’s post I said that it would be an embarrassment to the PCUSA if Sheldon Jackson were to close its doors. So… what should happen to SJ?

The answer to this question has to be rooted in the needs of those in Alaska.

Alaska is unlike anywhere else in the U.S.A. Most of Alaska’s population is centered in Anchorage and Fairbanks. These cities function like small cities in most states. If a person could live in Boise, Idaho, they could live in Anchorage. If a person could live in Bend, Oregon, they could live in Fairbanks (as long as they could put up with the long, cold, dark winters). However, it is difficult to compare the rest of Alaska to other places in the U.S.

People in Alaska have deep spiritual needs. These needs are similar to the spiritual needs that people have in the Lower 48. The context in which those needs are addressed is what makes things so different in Alaska. Small, rural churches are the norm in Alaska. Regardless of denomination, most village churches tend to be Pentecostal/charismatic in practice. The Native folks seem to be in touch with the “spirit world” in a way that most non-Natives cannot understand.

Alaskans live a subsistence lifestyle. They hunt, fish and trap to provide for their needs. Native Alaskans can (and do) legally hunt seals. The potluck meal at a small village church along the Kuskokwim River had swan, moose, caribou, bear, salmon and berries. Seal oil would be used for dipping various foods. The foods and the procurement of them are very important to the Native population of Alaska.

You might ask, “Why would you mention the subsistence lifestyle of Alaskans when talking about the spiritual needs of Alaskans?” Just look at most Presbyterian pastors! Most Presbyterian pastors do not hunt. The men of most villages would not respect a man who doesn’t hunt. Many pastors would seriously offend villagers by refusing to eat seal, whale, swan, herring eggs and Eskimo ice cream (don’t even ask!).

The worst pastor for most village churches is one trained by one of our seminaries. Taking a person away to seminary for years at a time changes a person. Most of our Presbyterian seminaries are fairly theologically liberal—which goes over like a lead balloon in rural Alaska. A pastor that didn’t believe in the virgin birth, the miracles of Jesus and a fairly literal interpretation of the Bible would not be welcomed in most village/rural churches. In my humble opinion, seminaries do a horrible job of preparing a person to be a pastor of a church in the Lower 48. If they do such a horrible job training Lower 48 pastors just imagine how bad of a job they do at training pastors for the Alaskan experience!

I served as the moderator of the Committee on Ministry in Alaska Presbytery. I watched a steady stream of potential pastors seek calls within the bounds of our Presbytery. Those seeking calls in our village churches had no clue of what they were getting into. They hadn’t even done their due diligence in research. The pastoral turn over in our village churches was unbelievable! Lay pastors were by far our most successful pastors in village churches. These folks lived in the community in which they served. These folks had jobs that provided most of their living age. These folks knew what village life and customs were like. The training these folks received was from our Presbytery!

Sheldon Jackson could have a significant impact on Alaska by becoming THE training place for pastors and church leaders in the State of Alaska. They might be able to partner with Vancouver School of Theology in this endeavor—VST has a fantastic pastoral training program for Native pastors. Pastors and church leaders could come to SJ for short-term classes and training. Staff from SJ could go to the village churches to provide on-site training. SJ could lead in developing Bible study and Sunday School curriculum that was sensitive to the Native/rural culture. SJ could use current technologies to deliver distance learning classes through the use of Skype or other video conferencing technologies. I am confident that grant $$$ could be obtained to help make many of these changes.

Sheldon Jackson could have a powerful impact on the spiritual life of the Alaskan people!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sheldon Jackson College—Transform or Close? (Part 5)

Dahlia of the day: Todd H.

What does God have in store for Sheldon Jackson College? It would be an embarrassment to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) if SJ has to cease operations! We say that racial/ethnic ministries are important to the PCUSA. How do we back that up in real life? Mary Holmes College, with its long tradition of educating African American students, closed its doors in 2005. Mary Holmes was founded in 1892 by the Presbyterian Church’s Board of Missions. SJ was founded in 1878 and is the oldest institution of high learning in Alaska. Two down and not many more to go!!

It is time for SJ to transform once again. It is not time for SJ to close!!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sheldon Jackson College—Transform or Close? (Part 4)

Dahlia of the day: Wicky Woo.

The high cost of tuition was a cause of Sheldon Jackson College’s failure.

It is expensive living in Alaska. Food has to be shipped in. The winters in Southeast Alaska are cool, wet and long—not terribly cold like up north. It costs $$$ to heat a house or a dorm room. These costs are to be expected when living in such a remote area! The beauty and setting of SJ more than offset the cost of room and board. Where can you go to school and see bald eagles almost every day? Where can you go to college and see humpback whales? Where can you go to college and have your outdoor laboratory just a few feet from the dorm? Where can you attend college and live in such beauty created by the Creator? Sheldon Jackson College the only place where you can do all of these things! As a student I hiked, camped, fished or used the student government’s boat most weekends. The expense of living in Alaska was well worth it!

High tuition is a totally different situation. Every college has some fixed costs and some variable costs related to its operations. For SJ, faculty related expenses were fixed costs. The college did not hire extra faculty members if classes were full. It cost the college the same amount of $$$ for a class that had five people in it and a class with 25 people in it.

What did the airline industry do when it faced the dark days (years) following 9/11? The airline had some fixed costs—they owed $$$ on those jets. It cost the airline approximate the same amount to fly a full jet from Seattle to New York as it did a half-full jet. So what did the airline industry do to fill those empty seats? They cut airline fares! How did Detroit get more Americans to buy their cars? They cut the cost of the cars (or, they gave huge rebates which is essentially the same thing.). What did SJ do to generate more income? They raised the cost of tuition!

The year I was hired as Chaplain at SJ was a record year for student numbers. In its infinite stupidity, the Board of Trustees voted to increase tuition by a significant amount. They must have figured that since students could be recruited at the lower $$$ figure that students could also be recruited at the higher $$$ figure. They were wrong! Attendance plunged the following year—and was never to rebound to prior numbers. Did the college recognize the drop of student numbers and then drop the tuition rate? Absolutely not!

The Admissions and Financial Aid Offices lobbied intensely for a tuition drop. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. Tuition remained high.

To put it bluntly… SJ priced itself right out of the market for their students. Students from rural Alaska could no longer afford to attend SJ. Students from the Lower 48 found it too expensive to attend college in Alaska.

The high cost of tuition helped kill Sheldon Jackson College.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sheldon Jackson College—Transform or Close? (Part 3)

Dahlia of the day: Robin Hood.

I ended yesterday’s post saying that being “Presbyterian-related” helped kill Sheldon Jackson College. Let me continue to explain my reasoning.

Being “Presbyterian-related” means almost nothing. Each college or university seems to be able to define what “Presbyterian-related” means. The Admissions Office at Sheldon Jackson had a difficult time trying to communicate the relationship between the Presbyterian Church and Sheldon Jackson to perspective students. One admission counselor would say one thing and another may say something totally different. Some students would show up and be surprised that they had to take one class from the Religion Department to get a degree from the college. Others would show up expecting a Christian college—like Whitworth College. They would be shocked and disappointed by what they found at the SJ. They would find classes taught by faculty members who hated the Christian church. The toughest new student for us to retain was the Christian student!

SJ had four presidents during my time on campus. The first president was fired by the Board of Trustees. That president wanted to only be close enough to the denomination to get $$$ from it. The second president was an interim president—he had been the Academic Dean under the first president. He had a strong desire to have the college have a close relationship with the PCUSA. It is unfortunate that his time as interim president was quite short. The next president was not from higher education. He had transformed a local state-run boarding high school into one of the leading high schools in the country—perhaps even the world. He had embraced Total Quality Management (TQM) and transformed the school by embracing the concept of Total Quality in Education. Teaching and grading methods were transformed. The high school embraced technology in every aspect of its life. Educational leaders from around the world would come to Sitka, Alaska, to see this special high school. Native students from across Alaska lined up to go to Mt. Edgecumbe High School. The superintendent and brain thrust behind the high school was hired as president of SJ. It was hoped that his contacts and reputation in Alaska would draw students to the college. Larry started the long process of transforming the college. He was very supportive of the Chapel ministry and a strong relationship between the college and the PCUSA. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack in his first year at the college. The next president was on the Board of Trustees and was a local dentist. He was part Tlingit—the main indigenous Native group in Southeast Alaska. He had helped one of the large Native Corporations become profitable. It was hoped that he could do the same thing at SJ. Unfortunately he had no experience in education and hired senior staff that also had no experience in education. Several times he tried to implement policies that were against federal law—generally in areas relating to federal financial aid. Fortunately, there were staff members that pointed out the errors and kept SJ from getting in trouble with the feds. Unfortunately, those staff members paid a high price for going against the president’s desires—even though they kept SJ from getting in trouble with the feds. Only one of these four presidents had experience with church “related” colleges. The rest of the presidents struggled to find a definition that could be integrated across the campus.

As a Presbyterian-related college there were lots of Volunteers in Mission (VIMs) on campus. These wonderful folks were a blessing and a curse to the campus. These VIMs worked for no pay—room and board. The college would have closed years ago with the VIMs! The problem with the VIMs is that their theological beliefs were as varied as the theological beliefs of the PCUSA. Some theological diversity is good. Too much theological diversity (like in the PCUSA) is as deadly as poison. Additionally, many of the VIMs did not understand college students or college life. Some were just a pain in the butt. Most of the VIMs were wonderful people!! Dedicated! Skilled! Student loving! Believers! Praise God for these special angels! It is unfortunate that their presence allowed SJ to under staff with qualified paid professional in high education.

A college being “Presbyterian-related” is a lot like being a “little bit pregnant.” You are either pregnant or you aren’t pregnant. A college is either a Christian college or it isn’t. The PCUSA needs to demand that a college or university must be a Christian college in order to be “Presbyterian-related.” “Presbyterian-related” is impossible to describe and market to perspective students. “Presbyterian-related” makes it impossible to hire staff with unified focus. This lack of focus helped kill Sheldon Jackson College.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sheldon Jackson College—Transform or Close? (Part 2)

Dahlia of the day: Paper Moon

Sheldon Jackson (the man) refused to take “no” as an answer from the Presbyterian Church. Jackson had asked the denomination for money to begin a Presbyterian mission in Alaska. He was short in stature but gigantic in faith and perseverance. He was able to convince the women of the denomination to support his efforts. Thus, the women of the Presbyterian Church (not the national Church) made Presbyterian mission in Alaska a reality.

Sheldon Jackson (the school) started as a boarding trade school for native Alaskans. It is too bad that most missionaries to Alaska (except the Russian Orthodox) tried to wipe out native culture. Fortunately we have learned from their mistakes. The Sheldon Jackson Museum (located on campus) has one of the most extensive collections of native artifacts in the state or country. The college tried to correct many of its wrongs by offering classes and activities to build up Native culture.

Sheldon Jackson (the school) has been successful in transforming itself as educational needs in Alaska changed. Various stages in the school’s history are:

· Boarding trade school.

· Boarding elementary school.

· Boarding high school.

· Junior college.

· Four-year college.

Many leaders in Alaskan villages and Native Corporations were educated at SJ. Degrees in Aquaculture, Business and Education were geared for rural Alaska.

SJ’s downfall began the moment it became independent from the Presbyterian Church.

For a moment I am going to move away from writing about SJ and talk about Presbyterian-related school and colleges—of which, SJ was one.

My eyes into Presbyterian-related schools and colleges were opened when I went to SJ as Chaplain. At that time there were two higher education groups in the PCUSA. United Ministries in Higher Education (UMHE) was the group that worked with Presbyterian ministries on State University campuses (they did not work with ministries supported and staffed by local Presbyterian churches). The oversight of UMHE ministries was the Synod. The other group was the Presbyterian College Chaplains Association. This was the group for Presbyterian ministries on our Presbyterian-related college campuses.

I believe that it was my first year at SJ when the UMHE national meeting was held in Fairbanks—at U of A Fairbanks. I went to that meeting to get to know other people who were working in college/university ministries. I was shocked by what I saw and learned. Most nights huge numbers of these church workers would migrate to the local bars! They had no idea of the damage they could be doing to Presbyterian (or any other church) ministries throughout the State of Alaska. Alcohol was and is a HUGE problem in Native villages. If word of Presbyterian university/college staff people hanging out at the bars had reached the villages it would have had serious negative repercussions to those village churches! Additionally, there were two ordained Presbyterian pastors who were in the leadership of UMHE national group. They service on neighboring universities elsewhere in the county. It was common knowledge in UMHE circles that they lived together and were not married. It appeared as though this had gone on for some time. They had chosen to get married while on a cruise to Alaska just prior to the UMHE meeting. No one in leadership in UMHE or the denomination staff seemed to care that these two pastors were living together and not married! My time at the UMHE gathering opened my eyes to a side of the Presbyterian Church that I had never seen face-to-face.

The Presbyterian College Chaplains Association was only slightly better. It was at those meetings that I came to realize how little “Presbyterian-related” really meant! At the time I was at SJ, only four of our almost 70 Presbyterian-related Colleges could meet the qualification of the Christian College Association. This is a little secret that most in the PCUSA don’t even realize! Occidental College (in the Eagle Rock section of Los Angeles) had tried for years to disassociate itself from the Presbyterian Church. I had served as Youth Director at Occidental Presbyterian Church for two years while at seminary. The church was just a few blocks from the campus. There was no indication of any kind from the college that it was related to the PCUSA! In fact, there was every indication that it was anti-Christian—if anything. Being “Presbyterian-related” has almost no “real” meaning.

Being “Presbyterian-related” helped kill Sheldon Jackson College.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Worship bouquet!

One of the ladies at Evergreen is VERY creative and makes most of our table decorations. She and her husband just returned from a two month visit with family. She called and volunteered to use some of my dahlias to put together a bouquet for worship. The photos do not do it justice. People could not believe how beautiful it is. "Click" on each photo to enlarge the photo.

Monday morning it will head down to The Oasis. I have been keeping them in dahlias for the past month. They will be blown away with this bouquet.

Weekend dahlia photos

Here are my weekend dahlias. Listed from top to bottom they are:

· Glenn Valley Cathy

· Fire Mountain

· Amorus (or Amorous)

· Islander

· Mingus Tony

· Miss Rose Fletcher