Two Mars Hill trustees resign, call for inquiry
May 22 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Two Mars Hill trustees resign, call for inquiry | Thursday, May 22, 2003

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Two Mars Hill trustees resign, call for inquiry

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

Two trustees from Mars Hill College, including chairman Fred Pittillo, announced May 20 that they have resigned from the board, citing dissatisfaction with the behavior of other trustees and expressing concerns that the college has strayed from its Christian roots.

Pittillo, of Fruitland, and Richard Bullard, of Charlotte, said Baptist State Convention President Jerry Pereira had invited them to speak to the state convention's Executive Committee. They were expected to report on Mars Hill's search for a president and the recent hiring of interim president Dan Lunsford as the permanent president.

Instead, their report outlined a series of concerns about the college and its new president. Lunsford was elected on May 9 after the candidacy of Rick Brewer, who was promoted by Pittillo and Bullard, was derailed by stiff opposition from the faculty, students and a majority of the trustees. Brewer is vice president for planning and student affairs at Charleston Southern University in Charleston, S.C.

After Lunsford's election, Pittillo had said "We are proud of the accomplishments Dr. Lunsford has made during the past year and a half, and we look forward to his continued commitment of leading Mars Hill College."

On May 20, he and Bullard were less complimentary. Bullard displayed a power-point slide entitled "Administration" that included a picture of Lunsford and four bulleted items. The administration has demonstrated a lack financial management abilities and business acumen, he said, as well as an "inability to follow instructions" of the trustees' executive committee.

Bullard and Pittillo also suggested that Lunsford was not a good candidate for president of the school because he was "not Baptist as an adult."

Lunsford grew up as the son of a Baptist minister and has spent most of his life as an active Baptist. He told the Recorder that he did join an Episcopal church some years ago for a brief period. Lunsford is currently a member of Mars Hill Baptist Church in Mars Hill.

The former trustees also criticized the faculty at Mars Hill, saying they have transformed the college's mission to provide a rigorous liberal arts education into a promotion of liberal theology. The faculty and staff tend toward secularism, are confused as to what represents academic freedom, and exercise too much control over the administration and some trustees, they said.

Pittillo and Bullard distributed copies of six e-mail messages from four different faculty members. Each was addressed to about 20 colleagues, about a fourth of the faculty. The e-mails related concerns about Brewer's candidacy and discussed what questions faculty members should ask when he visited the campus, to help them identify his goals for the college.

In an interview the following day, Pittillo told the Recorder the e-mails were given to him by a faculty member. He did not consider the messages to be private communications, he said, because they had originally been addressed to multiple recipients, rather than to an individual. Bullard told the Recorder that a faculty member who was on the mailing list had supplied the copies of those and other e-mails.

The Recorder learned several weeks ago that some faculty members had stopped using e-mail to discuss the matter due to suspicions that someone on campus was disclosing copies of their messages. The distributed messages were all dated between April 18 and 21.

The two former trustees said there are problems with students as well as faculty. They expressed concern about the amount of visitation allowed between male and female students and said there are "sexual issues" of concern on campus.

According to the Mars Hill student handbook, co-ed visitation is allowed in residence halls noon until midnight, with the hours extended until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Visiting students must sign in and be escorted by their host.

Some students had feared that Brewer would implement a policy allowing no co-ed visitation, as is reportedly the case at Charleston Southern University.

Bullard displayed several quotations from Mars Hill students or staff, some intended as examples of liberal teaching and others from persons expressing a desire for the school take on a more distinctively Christian character.

Both Pittillo and Bullard said students and staff have told them that they have been ostracized for openly expressing their Christian faith on campus.

The two men presented a list of recommendations to the executive committee, asking the committee to establish a special commission to investigate Mars Hill and the other Baptist colleges, to establish an accreditation process for schools to demonstrate that they are "Christian colleges," and to base convention funding on compliance with the established standards.

"If we're going to take money as a Christian school, we should have evidence of that," Pittillo told the Recorder.

After announcing that he and Bullard were resigning from the board of trustees, Pittillo distributed a copy of his letter of resignation, which was carbon-copied to the Biblical Recorder.

Pittillo said he was "bringing these issues to the forefront" as a matter of his Christian obligation to "to be very honest about what our school is and not to let misleading facts continue to be presented ..."

In the letter, Pittillo said other trustees had held conference calls and made decisions without his knowledge. "I feel that my presence as chair is not needed. ... So for that reason, I am resigning as trustee and as chair of trustees at Mars Hill College."

Pittillo concluded "If Mars Hill College can go back to her roots, and be a campus that has faculty, staff and a president who are not ashamed of Jesus Christ, let me know and I will gladly help her any way I can."

Pittillo and Bullard then left the meeting. After discussing the perceived irregularity and unexpected nature of the presentation, the Executive Committee voted to refer the matter to the Council on Christian Higher Education (CCHE) for study, instructing the council to report back to the executive committee in June.

Pittillo later told the Recorder he did not realize the presentation would be surprising or deemed inappropriate to the Executive Committee, since Pereira had invited them. The convention president is a member of the Executive Committee, but the president of the General Board chairs the committee and sets its agenda.

Pittillo said he and Bullard "had no ax to grind and were not mad," but were just trying to express what they believed to be legitimate concerns about the colleges.

Neither Lunsford nor CCHE executive director Wayne Wike had been informed about the presentation, and were not present.

In an interview later that day, Lunsford said "Thirty-plus trustees voted to ask me to be president of Mars Hill College. I've agreed to do that out of my love and devotion for the institution and the mission it has to deliver a liberal arts education in a Christian environment. I will do my best to honor that."

Lunsford said faculty, students and alumni had all responded very positively to the announcement of his election by the trustees.

He also pledged full cooperation with the CCHE in gathering information or in helping to analyze the issues raised by Pittillo and Bullard.

Wike said "The council has received the Executive Committee's request and it has taken steps to act upon it. I am grateful for Dr. Lunsford's pledge to support the council's process."

When asked about the charge that persons who openly declare their faith on campus are ostracized, Lunsford said "Categorically, I have not seen that." Instead, he said, "I have seen so many affirmations of students expressing their faith on campus. I've personally said to our faculty that we need to respect the young people who come here, and their different interpretations of Christianity and their own faith."

Lunsford cited a number of campus organizations and opportunities through which students are "supported and encouraged in their faith."

Derek Hodges, a rising senior at Mars Hill who is editor of the student newspaper and president of the Christian Student Movement on campus, said there are always some students who don't participate in religious activities on campus and who might be critical of others' faith. But there is no campus culture that denigrates people who openly express their faith, he said.

With Pittillo's resignation, leadership of the trustees falls to vice-chairman Troy Day, of Kannapolis.

Lunsford was introduced to the General Board on the evening of May 20. In brief remarks, he reflected on the contributions Mars Hill College had made to his life, both as a student and as a faculty member.

"I am proud and very humbled to be the president," he said. "I hope in this process as president to give back something to students who come to Mars Hill with a faith in Christ and to some who do not, but who may come to have faith and give back from their own faith."

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5/22/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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