Trustee resigns from Bryan College, citing concerns about president's actions

Trustee resigns from Bryan College, citing concerns about president's actions

May 7th, 2017 by Kendi A. Rainwater in Local Regional News

Students on Bryan College's campus in Dayton, Tenn., in 2014. (Staff File Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press)

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Document: Cropp's resignation letter

Read Wayne Cropp's entire resignation letter .

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Years have passed since discord erupted on Bryan College's campus, pitting faculty and students against school president Stephen Livesay.

In 2014, eight trustees resigned from the board of the small Christian liberal arts college in Dayton, Tenn., voicing concerns about the school's direction under Livesay. And turmoil has continued, as four vice presidents and a number of faculty members also have left the school in the past three years for similar reasons.

Now another trustee, Wayne Cropp, has resigned because he says Livesay's actions are not transparent and are a conflict of interest.

Cropp, a Bryan alumnus and a Chattanooga attorney, served on the board for nearly 10 years. He was considered the only trustee attempting to hold Livesay and his administration accountable, according to several alumnae and a former board member.

Timeline

› July 2012: A Bryan College Bible professor is arrested in a Northwest Georgia child sex sting, and school administrators tell faculty he did not return to the school “to pursue other opportunities.”

› September 2012: Administrators spike a student’s story exposing the arrest.

› January 2013: President Stephen Livesay announces major budget cuts, after lower-than-anticipated enrollment numbers.

Spring 2013: Citing budget shortfalls, school administrators eliminate four faculty positions and reduce athletic scholarships.

› February 2014: Administrators change Bryan’s more than 80-year-old statement of belief, restricting the view the school’s professors can hold regarding the creation.

› February 2014: Faculty passes an overwhelming vote of no confidence in President Stephen Livesay.

› May 2014: Two former professors sue the school and ask for their jobs back after refusing to sign the new statement of belief.

› May 2014: College cuts 20 staff members, more than a tenth of its full-time staff, blaming dwindling enrollment.

› July 2014: Five trustees resign.

October 2014: Bryan settles the lawsuit with two professors.

› October 2015: Bryan’s administration changes the Faculty-Administrative Guide, restricting how faculty can meet and discuss issues.

In his resignation letter, Cropp wrote, "I have come to conclude that I have not been effective, and cannot be effective in the future, in holding the leadership of Bryan College accountable to certain principles that I consider important for a not-for-profit institution and especially a Christian institution."

In his letter, Cropp details tactics he says Livesay used to transfer land appraised at $6.9 million to Bryan College last year.

The land was previously Fort Bluff Camp, adjacent to the college and owned by the National Association of Christian Athletes. Livesay for years was chairman of NACA's board, and he named enough Bryan trustees to the board, including Cropp, that they comprised a majority.

In June 2016, the NACA board voted to transfer the camp property to the college. Cropp voted against the deal and since has resigned from NACA's board.

Before the deal, the letter states, Cropp confronted Livesay about his apparent conflict of interest, but Livesay denied any such thing. After the land was transferred, though, Livesay announced it was a conflict for him to serve as Bryan's president and be on NACA's board, the letter continues.

One of the factors in Livesay's performance review and compensation package last year was the college's financial performance. Cropp's letter states that acquiring the Bluff Fort Camp land boosted Bryan's assets by $5 million.

"But for the transfer of NACA property to Bryan College in June, 2016, Bryan College would have finished the year with a deficit," the letter states.

NACA's financials also reflect the nonprofit organization faced a loss of $1.67 million because of the deal, Cropp's letter continues.

The resignation letter was provided to the Times Free Press by someone close to Bryan College, and Cropp confirmed its authenticity. He declined to comment beyond what was stated in the letter.

Several people close to the Fort Bluff Camp deal confirmed the details of Cropp's resignation letter.

Livesay last week declined to comment about Cropp's resignation or the land acquisition.

Delana Bice, chairwoman of the Bryan board of trustees, also did not comment on the Fort Bluff Camp property.

But in a statement, Bice said the board accepted Cropp's resignation with regret.

Dr. Stephen Livesay is the president of Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn.

Dr. Stephen Livesay is the president of Bryan...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Wayne Cropp

Wayne Cropp

Photo by Lawson Whitaker

"The Board has thoroughly reviewed [Cropp's] criticisms and taken them into consideration," Bice said in the statement.

She declined to say whether the review led to any changes at the college or on the board.

"We are so thankful for our dedicated faculty and staff members and for our students," Bice's statement continued. "Exciting things are happening on our campus and we are grateful that Bryan College continues to make a difference in the lives of our students and our community."

Three years ago, the faculty at Bryan took an overwhelming vote of no confidence in Livesay, but he's remained at the helm and has pushed out many who disagreed with him.

In 2015, Bryan's administration made changes to the Faculty-Administrative Guide, making it nearly impossible to call a faculty meeting, some professors said. The new policy restricts how faculty can meet and discuss issues. Faculty members previously said the policy was a response to the no- confidence vote. But the school's administration has maintained it was not.

Several alumni and former trustees said they worry about the college's future under Livesay's leadership.

Gary Phillips, a pastor on Signal Mountain who resigned from Bryan's board in 2014, said Cropp's letter shows the board is following Livesay's agenda and is not making decisions on the best interests of the college's students, faculty and staff.

"Mr. Cropp is a man of integrity and discernment," Phillips said. "If he felt compelled to resign, that in itself is a grave concern."

Phillips added that he loves Bryan's heritage and is worried that Livesay and the board will limit what the school could be in the future.

Allison Garnett, a senior at Bryan College in 2014, said the board is supposed to hold Livesay accountable. She worries that Cropp's resignation means no one on the board will do that.

She hopes Cropp's letter may motivate some people to make needed changes at the school and restore Bryan to what it was when she started as a freshman.

"I remain optimistic [about Bryan's future] because I believe the institution and the school is bigger than one person," she said. "But at the same time, one person can do a lot of damage."

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at krainwater@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.

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