Tag Archives: Bethel College KS

Confusion and poor communication from the House of God

I am confused. 

As I write this post, Bethel College in Newton, KS (my Alma Mater) is in a "Presidential Transition".  While I understand what that means, I do not understand the impetus.  I've included all of the information I have received concerning this matter below.  Since this information is limited, I do not want to speculate.  I do want to express my frustrations and concerns.

I have been frustrated with Bethel's opaque and disorganized communication procedures many times in recent years.  My frustration has increased.  I believe that if Bethel is to survive their current travails and prosper in the future, the Board of Directors needs to immediately adopt a policy of transparency in communication.  The Board is defined (and should act) as representative.  Instead, they function as sequestered oligarchs.  The institutional communications are disorganized, poorly scheduled, and obtuse.  And the pattern of such is long.  From poorly communicated program reviews to budget cuts without clear foundation and forward to this "Transition".

Yesterday, I received two emails from Bethel.  The first was the official press release:

Here is a link to the Official Press Release which does not specify why the change was made and names John Sheriiff (EVP for institutional development) as interim replacement.

The second email I received was a forward of Barry Bartel's message to the Bethel Campus.  I have included that message below:

From: Bartel, Barry C.
Sent: Monday, August 17, 2009 3:06 PM
To: community-announce; All Students at Bethel College
Subject: Presidential Transition

Bethel College Community:

Yesterday morning I was informed that the Bethel College Board determined in a special session on Saturday that it is in the best interest of Bethel College to change presidential leadership. While I disagree and while this is very painful, Iwill do everything I can to help ensure that the transition is smooth and that it helps to strengthen Bethel College. While the Board develops a search process, the Board has asked and John Sheriff has agreed to serve in an interim role beginning immediately. I fully support John moving into this role and am confident in his leadership in this transition.

This is a difficult time for Bethel College. In the face of our challenges, faculty leadership and Cabinet members have been developing plans for the new year. John will provide leadership as the campus community comes together at Fall Retreat on Friday. I believe in all of you, in this community, and in the Bethel Experience. I believe in administrative leadership and the strategic planning that is  occurring, I believe in our students, and I believe in Bethel. This is a critical time to bring energy together in a positive way to move Bethel forward. I know that will happen. Thank you all for your contribution to this special place, this house of God, Beth-el.
It has been a special privilege to serve Bethel College as president these past three years. I have given it my all. We have celebrated many successes, and confronted our share of challenges. Where I have fallen short, I apologize. In accomplishment and in disappointment, my spirit is always lifted when I see the dedication and commitment of the campus community, when I hear testimonies of how  Bethel has changed people's lives, and when I witness students exceeding their expectations.

We were settled in Denver when the inquiry came from the search committee over three years ago. We ultimately felt that God had a role in calling us to this position, and it has been an honor and a privilege to serve Bethel College and the Mennonite church in this way. As we enter a stage of uncertainty in our lives, I trust that the Board is seeking and is being guided by God's hand. We appreciate your prayers for our family and for Bethel.

Brenda and I, along with John and Elsie, plan to host the campus community for the First Supper on Sunday. I look forward to seeing you there.

Barry C. Bartel, President
Bethel College
300 E. 27th St
North Newton, KS 67117-0531
(316) 284-5241

This second email was apparently supposed to be selectively released, but was leaked and then hastily distributed to the original intended recipients.
Once again, I admit to not having much information.  And, I will not speculate on what is the truth behind this matter.  My perception is dis-organization and poor leadership on the part of the Board.  The timing is horrible.  The message is poorly crafted and can only fuel rumor, dismay, gossip, and frustration.

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.