By Will Jones
On Tuesday, Feb. 25, the faculty of Bryan College submitted to the Bryan College Board of Trustees a 30-2 vote, with six abstentions, of no confidence in the leadership of President Dr. Stephen Livesay. The vote came after weeks of turmoil regarding the trustees’ decision to clarify the Statement of Belief that all faculty, staff and some student leaders must sign.
This is the first time faculty have submitted a vote of no confidence against a president in the school’s history.
Dr. Kathryn Saynes, chair of the faculty, met with Livesay along with Professors Dr. Steve Bradshaw and Dr. Adina Scruggs at 4:45 p.m. that same afternoon to inform him of the results.
The faculty also voted 38-1 to ask the Board of Trustees “for a one-year moratorium on signing the contracts with the clarification statement.” The faculty also agreed to teach overtime loads without pay this fall in order to reduce the number of professors who may lose their jobs due to budget cuts.
Both Livesay and Vice President of Academics Dr. Bradford Sample declined to comment for this story.
In a public meeting with students at 9 p.m. on Feb. 25, hours after receiving the results of the vote of no confidence, Livesay told students that he believed the majority of faculty supported the substance of the clarification.
When asked to respond to the outcry over the clarification to the Statement of Belief, Livesay said, “You know, I really don’t think there is [an outcry].”
“It [the opposition to the clarification] kind of surprises me a little bit, because this is pretty basic stuff. I would say for the majority of students, faculty and staff, the vast, vast majority, this is right on target, this is what we believe, who we are.”
Livesay said that members of the faculty would still be required this year to sign the Statement of Belief in light of the clarification or leave. He did, however, add that “the Board is very compassionate and understanding. They’re not out to get anybody or anything like that.”
When asked what would happen to faculty unable to sign the clarified Statement of Belief without adequate time to find new employment, Livesay said, “No one’s being terminated. We offer them something [a contract], and they can accept it or not.”
“When we think about the fact that God is such a great God, and His care for all of us, and that sort of thing, my thought is for those who choose for whatever reason [ . . .] I am confident that the Lord will provide for them,” Livesay said minutes later.
In a March 3 email to faculty and staff, Livesay told employees of the college not to speak to students regarding problems at the school.
“It is not appropriate to take your concerns to our students. If they are distracted and cannot focus because of the issues we bring to them, we are robbing them of their opportunities as students.
“I have said at nearly every convocation and commencement for the past 11 years, that ‘as the faculty go, so goes the college,’” Livesay added.
Faculty, however, think that they have been ignored and disrespected by the president.
According to Professor of Natural Sciences Dr. Stephen Barnett, the vote of no confidence reflected a deep dismay at how the administration has treated faculty throughout Livesay’s tenure.
“There is a disconnect [between the administration and faculty]: it does not consult faculty when it makes crucial decisions. It has no obligation to do so, but effective leadership should seek wisdom where it may be found and involve stakeholders in decisions that affect them.
“I believe a vote of no confidence indicates that we don’t think he is the man to lead the college,” Barnett said.
Barnett noted that the faculty had not been hasty in their judgment; the vote represented the culmination of a long pattern of dissatisfaction and disaffiliation.
“Failure to communicate has been a hallmark of this school for a very long time. These people [the faculty] are not quick to slander or rush to judgment. These are people who love the Lord, who care about their disciplines and who care about students.”
Dr. Kathryn Saynes, chair of the faculty, noted that the vote was unprecedented: “I would like the general public to understand that this was not a rash or hasty decision, or a joyful occasion.”
Communication Studies Assistant Professor Chris Clark said that this action was not taken on the basis of a single issue.
“We also see the Statement of Belief as a symptom of a larger series of crises in leadership. You can look at College Plus, at the Dr. David Morgan situation and at the financial shortfall and cutbacks of 2013, and you can see a clear crisis of leadership, a pattern of serious, damaging mistakes,” Clark said.
Editor’s Note: The David Morgan mentioned above is not David Morgan, Bryan College director of Physical Plant.
“When the stakes are so high, we can’t afford to have a series of missteps like we’ve had. The faculty have overwhelmingly said that it is time for a leadership change.”
Professor of Education Dr. Steve DeGeorge said that the clarification is only one of many problems facing the school: “We have a very pressing problem with enrollment and a serious financial deficit for next year. If the clarification makes the retention of students difficult, our enrollment will drop even more, putting us in an ever tighter financial bind.
“A vote of no confidence is stronger if the majority is stronger, if there are numerous reasons and if these reasons have a definite pattern over a period of time,” DeGeorge said. “The burning issue is that we are trying to sign contracts by the 28th of March, and we don’t want to see the landscape at Bryan affected.”
DeGeorge noted that Bryan’s administrative scheme is “very pyramidal and focuses all power at the top.” The Board of Trustees can ignore student petitions or a faculty no-confidence vote if they so choose.
The faculty were reminded by Assistant Professor John Carpenter prior to the vote that “a vote of no confidence is a formal statement of the faculty’s feelings and includes the two concepts that: 1) the faculty do not believe that the current leader is fit to lead, and, 2) that the faculty do not see any realistic possibility of being able to change that in the near future.”
On Feb. 28, faculty received a half-page response from the Chairman of the Board of Trustees Col. John Haynes, saying that while “the Board appreciates the faculty’s concern for the college,” they had voted and fully endorsed Livesay’s leadership.
A long-time professor summed up the faculty’s feelings at the Feb.25 meeting: “We have a culture of FEAR, not a culture of LOVE on our campus. We have lost our way. We have lost our vision.
“Thus, we are in danger of losing Bryan College.”