Five tenured professors were among seventeen faculty members at Grand Canyon University who received notice May 14 that their contracts were not renewed.
Faculty had been immune to major changes at GCU that began in January 2004 when private investors created the first for-profit Christian college in the United States. Students and staff suffered cutbacks in more than 100 staff positions and in scholarship programs as the school slowly morphed from a higher-education model to a corporate model.
Dr. Maxie Burch, associate professor of Christian studies at GCU for the past eight years, was among the five tenured professors whose contracts were not renewed. He said that while he was hopeful about the changes at first, he had philosophical differences with much of what took place.
"The driver for the university was no longer its Christian identify, but profit," he told CT.
He said the past year of uncertainty led most faculty members to seek other employment, and that while receiving a letter in the mail indicating his contract had not been renewed was disconcerting to Burch, it was not a shock.
What was shocking, he said, was the manner in which he came to understand his contract was not renewed. He couldn't log on to campus e-mail Friday, May 13, and was eventually escorted off campus, leaving his books and papers behind in his office, where he still can't access them because the locks were changed.
"The troubling thing to me is the way in which these 17 people were let go," said Bob Andringa, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He told CT, "It seems to me a more Christ-honoring way could have been designed. That reflects poorly on them."
But, according to Michael Clifford, vice chairman of GCU, the school honored all faculty contracts, and the administration held no malice toward faculty. He said administrators did not consider tenure unless it was defined in a contract. Clifford said the university followed procedures outlined in the faculty handbook to notify professors of their contract status.
"As Christians we have got to honor our commitments and our contracts," he told CT. He also said the tenure system was outdated and not financially sound even at nonprofit institutions.
Clifford said GCU is redirecting its efforts according to the demand for various programs, a process he described as "18 months of prayerful agonizing." The online offerings at GCU will increase to meet demands, and the school will focus on nursing, education, and the new Tommy Barnett School of Applied Ministry and Ken Blanchard School of Business.
Faith A. Weese, chief public relations officer for GCU, said she was "not at liberty to answer" questions about why the faculty were not notified about their contracts and how many full-time faculty the school currently employs.
A public statement from GCU president Brent Richardson called the dismissal of the faculty "expected and necessary," and said it was "based on student enrollment and program needs."
Despite his questions about the way faculty contracts were handled, Andringa credits the marketing- and business-savvy investing group for saving the college in the first place. He noted that GCU also hired more faculty in one year than any other Christian institution, when more than 100 teachers contracted to teach online programs. But Andringa said the college may have over-promised current faculty concerning the stability of their positions.
"The whole issue of hiring, compensating, evaluating and terminating faculty is quite different in the for-profit sector," Andringa said.
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News elsewhere about the firings include:
Professor dismissals stir debate on campus | Also, Feds monitoring aid at Grand Canyon U. (The Arizona Republic, May. 19, 2005)
Pink Slips | At least five of the instructors who were let go had tenure, even though they and other instructors at the college say that administrators had assured them repeatedly since a group of private investors bought the financially ailing Christian college in January 2004 that the institution would honor their tenured status. (Inside Higher Ed, May 18, 2005)
Christian University That Recently Turned For-Profit Fires 17 Faculty Members, 5 of Whom Had Tenure | Maxie Burch knew something was wrong when his campus e-mail account stopped working on Friday morning. Then a maintenance man showed up to change the locks on his office door at Grand Canyon University, where the associate professor of Christian studies had taught for eight years. At 3:30 that afternoon, two security guards and a university official arrived to escort him from the campus. It wasn't until Saturday morning that Mr. Burch, who had tenure, received a letter from the university informing him that his contract would not be renewed. (Chronicle of Higher Education, May 17, 2005)
For the Love of God (and Money) | Investors say they will retain an evangelical college's religious character while turning a profit (Chronicle of Higher Education, September 3, 2004)
CT's previously coverage Grand Canyon University's transition to a for-profit model: Christian Ed That Pays Off | Grand Canyon University becomes the first for-profit Christian college. (Feb. 02, 2005)