published Friday, April 4th, 2014

Bryan College faculty prepare to leave over evolution controversy

  • photo
    Bryan College students Sara Beth Crockett, left, and Amy Bailey leave chapel at the college in Dayton, Tenn.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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Bryan College could shed up to a quarter of its full-time faculty by fall if nobody blinks.

Faculty members say that a recent clarification to the school's statement of belief that embraced a more narrow view of human creation was the last straw in their ongoing issues with administrators. That sentiment was solidified in February, when professors approved 30-2 a vote of no confidence in President Stephen Livesay (six abstained).

But Livesay has held steadfast and retained the support of the board of trustees.

Now that the deadline for returning next year's contracts -- which include the clarification to the statement of belief -- has expired, some instructors are finding other jobs. One has retired in protest. And others still don't know whether they will be employed at the small Christian college in the fall, meaning the much-cherished faculty could look entirely different next year. The change is primed to especially hit the sciences.

Figures provided to the Times Free Press show that of 44 full-time faculty members:

• Seven faculty members are leaving for various reasons, including two who are retiring.

• Five faculty members received extensions on their contract deadlines.

• Two faculty members wrote an addenda affirming the original statement of belief in the school's charter and rejecting the recent clarification.

In adding an addendum to his contract, education professor Steve DeGeorge cited the school's charter, which states that the institution's statement of belief cannot be altered "so long as it shall endure."

"The charter says no changes and that's what it means," DeGeorge said.

Stephen Barnett, professor of natural sciences, added a similar qualifier to his contract's signature.

"I neither affirm nor deny any statement of religious position or belief other than the Statement of Faith," he wrote.

Barnett and DeGeorge's objections weren't about the substance of the clarification, but the process employed -- especially the precedent of making changes to long-held community beliefs.

Neither has heard whether their contracts were accepted.

"This is all uncharted territory," Barnett said. "People don't usually write amendments to their contract. But if they did, one would expect either an affirmation or a rejection of the contract. I've gotten neither. So I don't know what it means."

Students next year could see a very different science faculty. Barnett's position is in limbo. Associate professor of biology Brian Eisenback is leaving for another college. Another professor is considering a job at a school that "holds to a conservative, literal 6-day creation view in Genesis." And sources say department chairman Marty Hartzell will retire a year early.

"He is a Bryan College legend and I can't think of any good reason why he should have to shave off that last year," DeGeorge said.

Uncertainty in the biology department is notable, given recent standardized test scores that put Bryan's students ahead of other college students. On the ETS biology exam, a national standardized test for college students, Bryan's seniors scored in the 95th percentile and finished in the 99th percentile in both the ecology and population genetics and evolution categories.

"It's a double-edged sword, because some of the professors that have made this possible aren't going to be here next year," Barnett said.

Salvatore Musumeci, associate professor of European history and Italian cultural studies, said he asked for a contract extension to wait and see how the board of trustees would respond to recent events at the college.

Aside from the faculty's vote, students and alumni have penned petitions, one trustee has resigned and the small college has attracted widespread media attention. Students and staff have reported low morale on campus and students recently organized a faculty appreciation day. Trustees plan to visit the campus next week.

"I'm waiting for our board of trustees to see how they're going to handle the situation and more specifically the vote of no confidence, the student outrage, the signing of the petition," Musumeci said.

So far, trustees have affirmed their support of Livesay.

"How could you still back a leader with a 30-to-2 vote of no confidence?" Musumeci said. "That's significant."

But Bryan's community is not united against the administration and its stand on creation.

Bonnie Edenfield, a 1974 Bryan graduate, said she agrees with the clarification. The discord at the college didn't happen overnight, she said, and faculty members could find other ways of addressing their issues aside from the vote of no confidence.

"They've done more harm to Bryan College in the last few months than Dr. Livesay possibly could have done in the last 10 years," Edenfield said.

Professors who don't want to be there or who don't agree with the change should leave, she said, rather than breed discontent.

Late last month, Livesay told the Christian News Network that Adam and Eve are foundational to understanding original sin and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross. If they were not historical people, "then the credibility of all Scripture is at stake," he said.

He told the news site that college students should be well-versed in the various theories of origin through rigorous discussion and debate.

"For believers to end the discussion as open ended, however, undermines the authority of Scripture," he said. "The merits of any theory must be judged by a literal interpretation of creation as recorded in Genesis."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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