Southern Seminary Changes Mind on Northland

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Greg Long's picture

Wow.

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Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Larry Nelson's picture

 

"Trustees also voted to revoke its prior acceptance and decline the gift of a Wisconsin Christian university campus, as well as to decline to establish an extension campus of Boyce College, the seminary’s undergraduate school.

Mohler said he has “great disappointment” that the gift of Northland International University campus in Dunbar, Wisconsin, had to be declined.

“We had entered with energy and hope in anticipation that we would be able to have a successful transition in terms of receiving the campus and then opening a Boyce College Northland campus this fall,” he said. “We knew from the beginning that it would be a difficult challenge, but we also saw it as a great opportunity.”

Mohler added that the seminary “is no less committed to work in partnership with the state conventions in the upper Midwest to try to do everything possible to encourage church planting, theological education, and every other good work."

http://news.sbts.edu/2015/04/22/southern-seminary-trustees-elect-new-faculty-celebrate-historic-enrollment/

 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

My sympathies to everybody involved there. Whether you're a fan of the whole SBC idea or not, all these changes are surely difficult for faculty and staff and their families to navigate. Pausing to pray for NIU today.

mmartin's picture

Why didn't Southern think of this months ago?  After all the time and money promoting and celebrating the NIU/Boyce partnership, shouldn't they have done their due diligence beforehand?  Useful information yesterday folks!

While Southern and NIU didn't specify the reasons for Southern backtracking, it is a virtual certainty it comes down to finances and the amount of money Southern would have to pump into NIU over time to make it viable and self-sustaining.

This is sad, but not surprising to me.

Jonathan Charles's picture

Has Northland been taking registration for the fall 2015 semester? 

Bert Perry's picture

Speaking from a corporate perspective, what I read in the articles is that when the initial acceptance was given, the board was divided--that's what Mohler's comment about knowing about the difficulties means--and they all knew that there would "be some doing involved" in making NIU work for them.  I would have to guess that after the initial acceptance, someone on the board got the willies and decided to reexamine the business case--and found (rightly or wrongly) that the business case really didn't make sense.  Now the board is on board--perhaps unanimously--saying that they'd better not do this.  

Although such a process can be acrimonious or underhanded, it doesn't have to be.  I know because when I was serving a church as a deacon, we'd gone through budgeting--God had been very good to us the year before--and therefore our initial budget was fairly optimistic.  What I did when I got the willies was to ask the treasurer for the overall numbers, and they illustrated what I suspected; the budget was fairly optimistic and we were fairly sure the economy was heading into recession.

So I made this point in an email, and the whole board was--again rightly or wrongly--convinced.  So this kind of thing is out outside the realm of respectability.  It is most likely just a second look at the business case, and in a case where the business case was much more difficult than a little church's budget.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jonathan Charles's picture

What's weird is that the website for Northland Lodge has a link to Legacy Hotel, the hotel for Southern Seminary in Louisville. 

mmartin's picture

I just saw someone post on another blog, "I believe the main contributing factor was that the quota of students signed on for the fall semester was not met." 

No support or source for it was given.  Don't know if that is true or not, I haven't seen a confirmation of this yet.

However, from a business perspective this makes sense.  Why would Southern sign-on to accept NIU if there wasn't some level of confidence about the amount of revenue they would receive the next year?

Jonathan Charles's picture

One would think that a top-notch institution like Southern, with financial professionals on staff and on the board, would have done thorough due diligence before they ever agreed to accept Northland.  And surely such due diligence would have included an expectation that in the short-term enrollment might have dropped until the existence of an extension school of Boyce became widely known by Southern Baptists.  

Greg Long's picture

Jonathan Charles wrote:

What's weird is that the website for Northland Lodge has a link to Legacy Hotel, the hotel for Southern Seminary in Louisville. 

And the home page of the camp web site still says "Northland Camp is a ministry of Northland International University and Boyce The College at Southern" 

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Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Jay's picture

I think that there are bigger and more immediate problems at NIU than whether or not the webpages are updated for right now.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

mmartin's picture

mmartin wrote:

I just saw someone post on another blog, "I believe the main contributing factor was that the quota of students signed on for the fall semester was not met." 

No support or source for it was given.  Don't know if that is true or not, I haven't seen a confirmation of this yet.

However, from a business perspective this makes sense.  Why would Southern sign-on to accept NIU if there wasn't some level of confidence about the amount of revenue they would receive the next year?

Just read a post on FB that seems to confirm the idea about enrollment for the next fall wasn't high enough to sustain a viable financial model for Southern.  It would've cost Southern too much money.  The word used to describe current enrollment for next fall was "pathetic."

Looks like Southern is doing some things to help out current students and faculty & staff.

Andrew K's picture

Jim wrote:

It's shocking when it goes down but not a surprise


 

The Wind Has Such A Rainy Sound

The wind has such a rainy sound
Moaning through the town,
The sea has such a windy sound, -
Will the ships go down?

The apples in the orchard
Tumble from their tree. -
Oh will the ships go down, go down,
In the windy sea?

-Christina Georgina Rossetti

dgszweda's picture

Guys, no worries, this is Northland, next week Southern will be back on board.

T Howard's picture

Jonathan Charles wrote:

One would think that a top-notch institution like Southern, with financial professionals on staff and on the board, would have done thorough due diligence before they ever agreed to accept Northland.

This is an assumption that may not be reality at Southern. Having had a friend or two who were familiar with how Southern's administration runs the seminary and college, I can tell you that Mohler runs the show, and what he and his top men want they get regardless if it makes good financial / business sense. It's very frustrating to many on faculty and staff to see money spent on various unprofitable projects / conferences while professors and staff often get the shaft.

Dean Taylor's picture

This whole process has been agonizing to watch. Taking teens to camp in the early 90s, attending Family Camp with 25-30 families from our church in Wisconsin in the late 90s - early 2000s, graduating from there with my D. Min., knowing and loving the Ollilas, Olsons and many faculty, having children and church members who worked at camp there, etc., etc. etc. - my life, family, and ministry have been woven together with Northland for many years. My only consolation is that Northland is not the church. Jesus said He would build the church, and He is. Parachurch ministries come and, sadly, go.

I hope there is a way forward for Northland that will fulfill not only its mission but God's purpose. But, while I have a special place in my heart for Northland and its people, it is not the church. The church will live and thrive until Jesus comes.

              DeanHTaylor.com 

Jim's picture

An analogy would be the breakup on the Comcast | Time Warner merger announced today.

The cooler financial minds from the Southern board did not see a compelling business case to go forward. To pour good resources after bad would have hurt Southern / Boyce. Board members have a fiduciary responsibility to protect their own ministry. Because the deal was to close August 1st they were within their rights to pull out.

 

mmartin's picture

I was no fan of the change in direction and philosophy by NIU; however, the way SBTS & Mohler handled this entire affair was wrong.

Regarding Mohler's statement/non-apology today and Southern's acceptance & rejection of NIU, I was thinking it’s like having no date to the Prom, but then Cindy Crawford agrees to be your date.  You are excited about it, but when you go to pick her up she says she didn’t realize your face was full of zits so now she’s not going because “It’s the right decision for her and she wasn’t sure about it all along anyway.”  However, to try to smooth things over she did get Suzie Plainface to be your date for the evening.

Jonathan Charles's picture

What does this from Mohler mean?

"Second, in conversation with accrediting agencies and in accordance with our own commitments to academic strength and quality, we came to the conclusion that we could not accept students into a program of studies that we did not believe had an adequate chance of thriving and continuing over the course of their studies."

Sounds like he's saying that the students accepted at Northland could not academically survive at Boyce. 

dgszweda's picture

Jonathan Charles wrote:

What does this from Mohler mean?

"Second, in conversation with accrediting agencies and in accordance with our own commitments to academic strength and quality, we came to the conclusion that we could not accept students into a program of studies that we did not believe had an adequate chance of thriving and continuing over the course of their studies."

Sounds like he's saying that the students accepted at Northland could not academically survive at Boyce. 

No it means that they did not think it could last four years in a viable financial state, and so they would have felt bad bringing in freshman, when they knew there was a high probability that they might not graduate because it might not work.

PhilKnight's picture

mmartin wrote:

I was no fan of the change in direction and philosophy by NIU; however, the way SBTS & Mohler handled this entire affair was wrong.

Regarding Mohler's statement/non-apology today and Southern's acceptance & rejection of NIU, I was thinking it’s like having no date to the Prom, but then Cindy Crawford agrees to be your date.  You are excited about it, but when you go to pick her up she says she didn’t realize your face was full of zits so now she’s not going because “It’s the right decision for her and she wasn’t sure about it all along anyway.”  However, to try to smooth things over she did get Suzie Plainface to be your date for the evening.

Someone questioned earlier whether SBTS had  done enough "due diligence" before entering into this endeavor. I have no doubt that with hindsight they themselves could find some things they would have done differently.   However, I think a healthy measure of grace is warranted in evaluating SBTS's role and actions here.  I have had at least some minor experience helping create financial models in the business world--not enough to be considered an expert by any measure, but enough at least to appreciate the predictive limitations of "due diligence" in a decision as complex as this one.  

As those who have been  involved in overseeing or managing the budgets of Christian educational institutions know well, the main driver of operational viability--the one that dwarfs all others unless there is relatively large income stream from an endowment--is enrollment levels.  At institutions that have had a long history of stability, enrollment is not especially difficult to extrapolate reasonably (at least on a year-to-year basis). However, the situation at Northland was different.  Not only had there been recent instability and upheaval, but there were many other complicating factors.  If I imagine myself in the place of someone being asked to do "due diligence" during the exploratory phase prior to this decision last fall, here are some questions I would have been considering:

  • Under the auspices of Boyce College, Northland will now be able to target the much larger constituency within the SBC (over 15 million strong).  What assumptions should we make in order to estimate what percentage of that new constituency Northland will be able to attract?
  • How will Northland's remote northern location affect their ability to draw from their constituency--especially given the fact that SBC churches are concentrated in the south?
  • Will the net effect of the existence of a new Boyce campus be primarily to draw students that otherwise would attend the Louisville campus, thus having the net effect of spreading Boyce's resources thin (in terms of both faculty and money)?  How much of a distraction will this be to the leadership at the main campus?

There are many other questions that could be asked, but even if one assumed (for sake of illustration) that those were the only unknowns, any credible model that one came up with would need to have a very wide range between the "reasonably likely best case" and the "reasonably likely worse case."   If I were doing it, I'd have created a preliminary model, then set up a plan to adjust the model once new data points were available.  And the main data point I would focus on--the one that would have the most predictive value for assessing the financial viability of the endeavor--would be the enrollment number for the next school year.  Also, given the fact that there was a deadline for closure of the contract, I would have picked a target date with a target enrollment number that had to be reached in order to have assurance that the decision to move forward was a wise one.  That target date would be chosen balancing two factors: on the one hand, waiting as late as possible in order to allow recruitment efforts to  yield the best possible enrollment number we could get and, on the other hand, making the decision early enough to allow those affected by any "no go" decision to adjust and adapt.  From what I've read, that seems to be almost exactly what SBTS did.  So, did they do the proper due diligence?  My view is that something like the whole process they went through was required in order to perform proper "due diligence" and that, because of their "due diligence," they avoided moving forward on a decision that they determined would not be the wisest course.

I strongly disagree that "the way SBTS & Mohler handled this affair was wrong."  The primary responsibility of Dr. Mohler and the board is be good stewards of the ministry that God has Providentially entrusted to their oversight: SBTS and Boyce College.  It is easy to see how the gifting of Northland to SBTS could potentially have been a means of great blessing and growth to both Boyce and Northland--which is what made the long "due diligence" process a worthy endeavor.  However, it's also easy to see that there were many complications and pitfalls that added significant risk--which is what made the long "due diligence" process a necessary endeavor.   My opinion, considering the complexity of it all, is that it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to come to a firm conclusion about the viability of the transaction without a lot of work--and the kind of work that requires taking the route they took.  SBTS graciously spent time and money pursuing a course that would help both Northland and SBTS.  From my perspective, they went about it with about as much wisdom as anyone could reasonable expect given the situation.  Contrary to what some seem to believe, I don't believe SBTS had any moral obligation to accept the gift.  In fact, I would go further: Once SBTS determined that accepting the Northland campus would likely create long-term, unwise financial drain on SBTS and Boyce (or a distraction or anything else that would hurt the overall effectiveness of the ministry or put it at unnecessary risk) they would have been wrong to go forward with the transaction.

I know personally, people who have been placed in great difficulty by this situation and I am very, very sorry for their pain.  However, based on what I've read,  I don't place any blame on SBTS for the failure of Northland. If anything, SBTS probably just delayed what was already practically inevitable.  I believe Mohler and SBTS acted wisely in this situation--in a way that is best for SBTS, which is their primary responsibility, and which ultimately will be best for the Body of Christ.

Disclaimer: Other than knowing some former Northland staff & grads and being an admirer of the college since its early days, I have no relationship to Northland.  I've never even visited the campus. 

Philip Knight

Bert Perry's picture

To be honest, for a campus in Dunbar to work, what needs to happen is for God to bless the evangelical and fundamental churches to grow immensely, beyond the ability of Faith & Maranatha to handle their students.  Hard to write that into a business plan, though I'd be delighted if it happened.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

PhilKnight's picture

I should have included in my disclaimer that I also have no relationship or ties with SBTS or Boyce College--in fact, even less than with Northland since I've never been part of the SBC "orbit."

Philip Knight

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