Bethel Thoughts

The following my part of a discussion via email with other Bethel Alumni.


I've been thinking about these issues sporadically (and, in full disclosure, probably without the proper amount of focus) over the past few days.

One of the primary things I keep struggling with is an institutional hedging on choosing clearly how to operate Bethel.

Bethel wants to be in the world but not of the world.  And, I'm not entirely convinced that is possible. I continue to think about other Mennonite institutions.  Bluffton grew their enrollment significantly in 1990s.  But, this came at the cost of a clear identity as a "Mennonite" school. Hesston has been consistently able to build new facilities, but they remain a 2 year school and an environment that is often considered insular in respects to the world.
Bethel has tried to walk the line and remain a "Mennonite" school while
providing all the worldly resources and experiences.  And I think this is a truly special and noble effort.
In order to continue this walk, I think there needs to be truly radical
change within the way the institution operates.
First, cut all school sponsored athletics and athletic scholarships.
Bethel is an institute of higher learning, not a training ground for
professional athletes.  I agree that nourishment for the body should still remain a part of the institution.  But do collegiate athletics really have a place at an institution like Bethel?  I struggle with this.
Second, focus on revision-ing the core of the Bethel College experience to properly equip students for the world.  Even if Bethel is not of the
world, their output (in terms of students) is certainly going to be.
Maybe it shouldn't be a "Computer Science" degree.  Maybe instead, it
should be a "Technology" degree providing experience on how to utilize and develop technology to improve the world.  And, instead of specific
language majors couldn't the resources be made available to learn and
appreciate the wide range of languages that dominate our daily lives?
Third, run the operational aspects of the institution like a real-world
business.  This ties in with the push from the accrediting entities push
to operate on an actual budget.  My grandfather taught economics and
business at Bluffton for 35 years.  Perhaps the best thing I ever learned from him was, "The only things you should ever borrow money for are to build or buy a home, or to start a business".  Bethel is past the starting phase.  And, to be blunt, those entrusted with managing the budget and other monetary resources (like the endowment) have failed.  I don't know the details, but I can imagine that the drop of value in the endowment was based on investing in instruments that offered the potential of great reward, at great risk.  And we're certainly on the great risk side of that equation right now.  I do not advocate a "conservative" approach to much in life.  Money and it's subsequent management should be approached conservatively.
Finally, use common sense.  I am still baffled by the "oversight"
regarding academic scholarships.  Bethel suffered financially because it
didn't have the foresight to see the number and quality of those receiving academic scholarships?  Poor management. There should have been a check/balance for that. I also think about how the Program Review was handled back in 2005.  Extremely poor communication to students and alumni.  If you reduce the entities involved in Bethel to purely business ones, the students and the alumni are the employers and
the faculty and staff are the employees.  Tuition, and donations pay the
bill and if the bills ain't being paid, the business goes under. Yet, the people paying the bills had little or no say in the decisions.

I know this is rambling and I'll stop now.

3 thoughts on “Bethel Thoughts

  1. Mark Arganbright

    There’s a lot to think about Matt. I agree we should think more about creating a more academic based institution, but I also acknowledge that athletics is how Bethel creates most of its student body diversity.

    The administrators have been struggling ever since the embezzlement crisis of the 1990’s. I wonder if that has lead to a number of the choices Bethel has made as an institution. Bethel has made several poor choices (in my humble opinion) on how to market itself to new costumers and still keep the past customers happy. The change in logo was supposed to help the school market itself, but a logo in itself does not create an identity, and there has been a lot of identity crises at Bethel. Personally I think Bethel ought to market itself as a school that can take mennonite ideals work in the real world i.e. how to start green businesses; how to manage, create, and promote a grass roots movement; how jesus as a peace-maker can resolve inter-religious and political conflict. These are what makes Bethel different, other than theatre I know I had a difficult time finding training in other areas where I use my degree now.

    hope this isn’t too much for just a comment 🙂

  2. Jen CD

    Thanks for these comments, Matt. It is going to take a significant amount of creativity and push to get us through this, for sure!

    I learned today in my Division meeting at Bethel that 60% of our students are involved in athletics….not sure what eliminating those programs might do to out numbers….

  3. Stephanie K

    Thanks for sharing this link, Matt. This is a really smart and thoughtful analysis. I like especially your comments about Bethel needing to prepare students for the world. I sometimes feel, based on both my experiences and those of younger students I know, that Bethel faculty simply don’t think that it’s their job to do this. (Though of course, I was in no mood to hear practical career advice when I was in college, so I best not judge too harshly.) It would be nice to see this goal become part of an institution-wide revisioning, as you suggest. Of course there might be detractors who claim that this will happen at the expense of Bethel’s core ideals, but it seems to me that the Bethel community tends to rely on a false choice between ideals and practicality, which compromises Bethel’s effectiveness at teaching both.

    The board and admin do seem to have some real issues with communicating to everyone else. It seems like these new budget cuts aren’t being handled with much more grace than the program review was.

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