A crowd of more than 50 students and faculty gathered on campus Wednesday night for a question and answer session about Goshen College’s hiring policy.
The event, hosted by Student Senate, brought a panel of administrators, including Carlos Romero, executive director of Mennonite Education Agency; James Brenneman, GC president; Anita Stalter, vice president for academic affairs; and Bill Born, vice president for student life, to field questions.
Senate’s goal for the event was to learn more about how students fit into the broader governing system of higher education, as well as how Goshen College and its president’s council relate to the wider body of Mennonite churches and boards, specifically in discussions
The panel began by outlining Goshen College’s relationship with MEA and the larger Mennonite Church. Romero described the relationship as one of “interdependence and mutual accountability.” MEA is one of five program agencies that are part of Mennonite Church USA; the GC board is accountable to MEA, and MEA is in turn accountable to the executive board of MC USA. The Church is currently debating the acceptance of same-sex individuals and, according to several policies, Goshen College and its president are held accountable by larger church boards to “not allow any practice, activity, decision or organizational circumstance that violates the ethics espoused by MC USA.”
Brenneman voiced the need to start with this background in order to show the complex nature of the college’s accountability in regards to any possible change, including the hiring policy.
“When we want to work through a significant change on campus, that affects the rest of the denomination that sponsors us,” Brenneman said. “When you become a president of a Mennonite institution, you’re buying into a whole congregational model of living together in relationship with each other. Sometimes that can be very frustrating depending what the decision is, but we love the notion of community and
Students were invited to submit questions to the Senate, which were then answered by the panel. Questions ranged from personal opinion and support for current LGBTQ students on campus to conversations within the wider framework of the Mennonite Church.
When the panel was asked if personal opinion affects the hiring policy, Romero spoke about the need to stay away from personal opinion in his role as a denominational leader.
“While we are in the midst of this conversation, there is significant siding and stress and possibilities of groups leaving the denomination,” Romero said. “This leaves those in leadership positions to be in mediator positions to allow people to talk to each other. Because conversations are so polarized, if I am out there stating my personal opinion, that will only add to polarization.”
Born believes that his obligation is to work hard to create a safe space where many different voices can be heard on campus.
“This place and many other small faith-based colleges are unique in that they are great spaces for difference of opinion and engagement and conversation,” Born said. “Student Senate has been able to raise the issue [of the hiring policy] and engage the board formally for the last
Students also asked what concerns panelists had about keeping or changing the
Brenneman said that, as someone who has dedicated his life to the denomination, it is important to look at the
“If we can find a win-win on this, with the process at the denominational level that somehow allows for variance, that invites some patience,” Brenneman said. “It’s worth the wait if we can stay with this body that we’ve connected to for about 120 years.”
Brenneman sees enough happening in the church right now that’s moving conversations forward and he believes it is the “slow, methodical, careful, excruciating process that has kept the peace of the Mennonite
Yet while change takes time, individuals can still attempt to spur those changes.
Brenneman said, “There’s nothing that keeps individuals from being prophetic or congregations from being prophetic, but institutions by their varying nature take time to get to the places the individuals are.”
Bethel: changes to language, not policy
When Bethel College (Kan.)’s faculty passed a proposal for revision to discrimination language in their Human Rights and Affirmative Action Policies with a 29-5 faculty vote last Tuesday, some thought the action was a changed hiring policy to include professors of openly same-sex orientation. To clarify, the “We Support New BC Hiring Policy” Facebook page misinterpreted the meaning of the action, according to Lori L. Livengood, vice president for marketing and communications.
“The proposed revisions to statements in the faculty handbook reflect a clarification of discrimination language, not a change in hiring policy,” said Livengood. “As the guiding principle for its hiring policy, Bethel College has historically sought full compliance with the Equal Employment Opportunity Act and its spirit of non-discrimination. The faculty’s recent vote signals support for more precision within the institution’s human rights and affirmative action statements and an attempt to more closely align that language with existing non-discriminatory practices
BC’s Board of Directors will meet this week to review the vote and may adopt the revised language.