The Andrews University board of trustees votes on the Adventist institution’s next president this Tuesday, March 7. Eight sources representing students, faculty, staff, and alumni expressed worries about one of the candidates. Fearing retribution, most spoke on the condition of anonymity. They expressed concerns that the board, influenced by a deluge of email and online agita regarding a single departmental fight and anti-inclusion attacks on the current administration, could install an underqualified candidate.
John Wesley Taylor V, an associate director of education at the General Conference, has emerged from the search committee as Ted Wilson’s preferred choice. Wilson is a member of the Andrews board and as a General Conference officer has the privilege to confer with the search committee, but only after they have graded the candidates. The other name put forward by the committee is current university provost Christon Arthur. While Arthur has served as provost since 2016, recently he has become the target of an email and online attack that grows out of a departmental dispute around religion, diversity, and local church politics.
Andrew von Maur, a professor in the School of Architecture and Interior Design, recently did not have his contract renewed. While the reasons for this have not been officially disclosed, his supporters have constructed a campaign involving websites and mass emails to suggest that von Maur’s departure, among other issues, leaves the university existentially threatened. One person who has been included in the mass emails by von Maur’s supporters describes the experience as “insane,” estimating they have received 50 to 60 missives on the topic thus far.
According to his online biography, von Maur “has shaped a unique academic experience that interweaves learning about architecture, faith history and Biblical prophecy in historical locations throughout Europe.” He includes readings from Ellen White in his architecture classes. According to two sources who spoke to Spectrum, von Maur, who is not a board-certified architect, questioned the appropriateness of fellow faculty member Mark Moreno, an Episcopalian, teaching at the Adventist institution. Moreno, who has taught at Andrews for 27 years, received his master’s in architecture from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.
Von Maur includes his membership on the Village Adventist Elementary School board and the Village Seventh-day Adventist Church board in his academic profile. This outspoken congregation has hosted Fox News personalities and grown a large online audience by attacking many Adventist institutions for their vaccination policies while ridiculing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. The combination of Village Church members directly emailing university board members and multiple websites echoing this sense of existential threat has had the effect of turning its own board member into a cause célèbre. This campaign expanding to influence the board has raised concerns among the AU campus community that their own voices are being drowned out.
Diversity is central to Andrews University’s appeal to students. The most recent U.S. News Best Colleges rankings, released September 2022, list AU as tied (with University of Hawaii-Hilo) as the number one most diverse university campus in the nation. “When you look at the demographics of campus right now, I think 70% of campus [are] students of color and 30% are white students,” a faculty member said. “But then when you look at the faculty, 70% are white faculty, and 30% are faculty of color.” The professor added that students increasingly notice this discrepancy and recognize that diversity in all its forms is a high priority that defines academic excellence.
Through emails and online articles, the supporters of von Maur have often framed his contract non-renewal as a struggle between faithfulness and diversity initiatives on campus. One open letter by alumnus Daniel Bacchiocchi expresses various ideological concerns, citing a growing influence in Adventist higher education that includes “environmentalism, socialism, gender interchangeability, gender fluidity, war on men, critical race theory, LGBTQIAS+.” Bacchiocchi’s view is that the university administration is complicit in broader educational trends that work “to conform the world into an ecologically minded, humanistically tolerant, and religiously estranged society.”
Critics have identified Black university administrators, including the chair of the architecture program and provost, as potential threats. A letter quickly composed and sent in the last few days by faculty to the university board chair and vice chair states, “At best, these tactics represent the ugly side of church politics. At worst, they represent familiar dog-whistles that are motivated by racial bias. We urge that the board be given the opportunity to hear the truth on these matters before a vote of such import is taken. There are many on campus who would be willing to share the narrative that is closer to the lived reality we have here at AU. Please do not allow a vote to take place that is tainted by misinformation.”
According to the sources interviewed for this story, conflating the issues in the architecture department with too much diversity is an unfair characterization that blows the presidential search situation out of proportion. “Andrews is a great place to work and gives people more opportunities than any other university in this country for interacting with diverse people,” one faculty member said. “And so we have this unique opportunity when you come to interact, to relate, live, work, and pray with people from as many diverse backgrounds as you can fit into this space. And that is a blessing.”
Alumni also express concerns about how the board’s choice might hurt the reputation of the school as they try to pursue professional success beyond the campus. “Architecture is an explicitly empathetic profession,” said Timothy Zork, a graduate of the Andrews University architecture program and an architecture and planning professional. “We design buildings and places for others to experience. Even in designing a building for ourselves, we are aware that it will stand long after we are gone, serving unknown future generations. Considering the lives, needs, and experiences of others is an inextricable part of education and practice. Diversity and inclusion should be foundational principles of any educational experience, but they are especially important to ours.”
“I think that the culture of diversity and inclusion that we’ve had at Andrews is really what makes going to AU worth it,” said Solana Campbell, an honors student majoring in business administration. “It’s been wonderful to see it supported by the president’s office these past few years, and I really hope that the future of AU continues in this direction. The truth is that life at Andrews really rotates around our diversity—it’s our cultural clubs that provide most of the recreational and social events on campus, and the respect for diverse perspectives is so clear in every class you take. If that changes, AU will struggle to engage [its] student body.”
Ted Wilson’s Head Elder
The other name brought to the Andrews University board by the search committee is John Wesley Taylor V. He is the Associate Director of the Department of Education for the General Conference. For about 12 years Taylor has been leading the Adventist Accrediting Association, the GC-run body that gives the denomination’s stamp of approval on schools, colleges, and universities.
In January of this year, Taylor was the featured speaker at self-supporting Hartland College, where he gave a series of talks on “The Schools of the Bible,” emphasizing a higher educational ideal based solely on biblical principles.
Providing insights such as, “the words of God are to form the basis of the educational endeavor,” and, “true education prepares us for a life of witness, with courage and humility,” Taylor invokes Ellen White’s words: “The System of Education instituted at the beginning of the world was to be a model for man throughout all aftertime.” Drawing exclusively on scripture and the works of Ellen White, Taylor’s philosophy of education does not address any of the complexities facing a modern Adventist research university.
In another talk, Taylor states that professors who merely include a devotional before each lecture are not doing enough. Instead, each lesson should integrate a biblical truth. He provides examples, such as “provide an analysis of theocracy when examining forms of government,” “mention pertinent Bible prophecies when discussing world empires,” and “note the biblical view on sexuality when discussing STIs.”
To summarize his educational philosophy, Taylor adapts Joshua 24:15: “Choose you this day whom you will serve—whether the gods of traditional education that your mentors served, or the gods of this secular age in which you now live. But as for me and my classroom, as for me and my school, we will serve the Lord.”
In addition to his Hartland talk earlier this year, Taylor spoke to the faculty of Weimar University to kick off the current academic year. Eight years ago, in an earlier video, he praises the school for its model of academics. It was not accredited at the time.
Taylor has never led an entire higher educational campus and last served in an academic setting over a decade ago. He led graduate programs in Asia and Mexico but has never served as a vice president of academic affairs, much less as the president of any educational institution. The past two presidents of Andrews University have been tested in executive roles before assuming the position. Niels-Erik Andreasen was the president of Walla Walla College. Andrea Luxton combined being a vice president for academic affairs with serving as the president of two higher educational institutions—in the UK and Canada—before leading Andrews University. Christon Arthur has worked with Luxton for the last six years.
Until last year, John Wesley Taylor was also the head elder of the Triadelphia Seventh-day Adventist Church in Maryland, Ted Wilson’s home church. In addition to not allowing women to serve as pastors, one member reported that no women have served as elders nor has it even been discussed at the church in over ten years. There is little public evidence of Taylor supporting issues of equity, particularly regarding women in ministry. The president of Andrews University oversees women seeking both the undergraduate religion department as well as women at the seminary seeking ordination to Adventist ministry.
Screenshot from Triadelphia Seventh-day Adventist Church website.
Since 1874, what is now Andrews University has transitioned leaders less than 30 times. When the story of this change is written, what will Adventist historians record? In this defining moment, will the trustees of Andrews University model the institution’s mission to seek knowledge, affirm faith, and change the world?
Alexander Carpenter is the executive editor of Spectrum.
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