published Saturday, July 19th, 2014

Four trustees resign from Bryan College

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Should Bryan College President Stephen Livesay resign?
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    Bryan College's Rudd Auditorium
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Four members of the Bryan College board of trustees have resigned, saying they're upset with the direction that the Christian liberal arts college in Dayton, Tenn., has taken under President Stephen Livesay.

The resignations capped months of discontent on the Bryan campus brought to light by a change to the college's 80-year-old statement of belief but fed by layoffs, dwindling enrollment and a faculty vote of no confidence in Livesay's leadership.

Trustees Jeff Ryan, Gary Phillips, James Wolf and Mark Senter stepped down this week after adding their voices to the concerns over Livesay's leadership, yet failing to convince the other 12 members of the board that something needed to change.

Things came to a head a week ago at an unusual board meeting.

The four men, along with a fifth trustee, Betty Ruth Seera, called the special July 11 meeting to discuss what Ryan said are "the issues and controversies and problems at Bryan College that have developed in the last year."

Bryan College has been in open turmoil since Livesay in February amended the college's statement of faith to say that humanity descended only from Adam and Eve. What Livesay has referred to as a clarification shocked some in the Bryan community and left out faculty and students who believe that God may have used evolution to create human beings.

The board of trustees -- whose members live around the eastern United States and pay for their own travel -- usually meets only twice a year: in April and October.

The closed-door conference didn't produce the results Ryan had hoped for, and in an interview on Friday, he decried what he called "failed leadership at the level of the president and within the board itself."

His letter of resignation explained why he felt the need to step down.

"The board majority has made it clear who the conductors are on this train and it's time for me to step aside and allow them to carry out their vision with those who are unified behind them," Ryan wrote. "A line has been crossed in that I cannot continue to support Dr. Livesay or [board] Chairman Haynes."

Livesay couldn't be reached for comment. But board of trustees Chairman Col. John Haynes issued a statement Friday. It said that during the July 11 meeting, a majority of the board supported the direction the college has taken.

"There was a strong spirit of support by the majority of the board for the wonderful faculty, administration, and staff at Bryan College and continued support for our Statement of Faith and our historical stand on Creation," the statement said. "We are grateful for the time, talents and treasures that have been contributed to Bryan College by each and every member of the board."

Though much focus has been placed on the change to Bryan's Statement of Faith, the clarification had little to do with why the trustees resigned.

Phillips said that he didn't resign over the "clarification" statement -- because he wrote it.

"My resignation had to do with leadership, not with doctrine," Phillips' resignation letter said. "I did not resign due to any doctrinal disagreement."

His letter listed three reasons for his resignation.

"The ongoing narrative from the president's office presents interpretations of facts that differ significantly and regularly from what I believe to be true," Phillips wrote. "Second, I do not believe I could contribute anything substantive to the board that would be heard. ... Third, the president indicated that those on the board who do not support his presidency should resign."

Ryan also said he didn't have a problem with the doctrine supporting creationism, but he didn't like the manner in which the clarification was made.

"In my opinion, it was pushed through at a time when it didn't need to be pushed through," Ryan said.

Despite their resignations, both Phillips and Ryan stressed their support for Bryan College.

"I truly love Bryan College, and I am grieved for the pain and uncertainty on campus, for the loss of friends and colleagues, and for unanswered concerns about vision for the future," wrote Phillips, who taught such classes as theology, philosophy and Greek for two decades at Bryan.

"I have hopes that Bryan will flourish in the future. I will continue to support the school financially and in my prayers, and will encourage others to do so."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.

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about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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