Wending one’s way through the Palmer House, the historic hotel in Chicago where “The Future of Adventist Higher Education: Chicago Summit 2018” is being held, is like traversing a glitzy labyrinth. Designer clothing stores and luxury pen makers separated by golden sconces and grand columns line the street level. Banks of elevators are tucked away discretely, each leading to a different set of floors, so finding the right one is a lesson in fortitude.
A group of slightly frazzled attendees to the Summit conferred out loud as they pointed to the varying elevator signs before finally locating the correct one (floor four) with audible relief. Upon registering, attendees were given their name badges, program, and a hefty, 420-page journal. I inquired as to what it was and was told it was “a little light reading.” No further explanation was given. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that the massive volume I held in my hands was The Journal of Biblical Foundations of Faith and Learning (Volume 1, Issue 1).
According to the introduction page, the JBFFL was written and edited by Southern Adventist University employees. The journal website states that it “has been established to share scholarly papers building an intentional Adventist biblical foundation within courses offered on Seventh-day Adventist college and university campuses” and “calls for an intentional paradigm shift from humanism to biblical thinking in college and university classrooms.” The description goes on to say that the journal “is intended to assist professors to teach from an Adventist biblical worldview and make clear distinctions as they analyze their own perceptions through a biblical lens rather than through humanistic epistemologies.”
Some of the articles included in this first volume of the JBFFL are “History Highlights the Fundamental Limitations of Science” by Ken Caviness, “The Development of a Higher Education Biblical Foundation Course Design Model” by Cynthia Gettys and Elaine Plemons, and “College Composition and Biblical Worldview: Redesigning College Composition with the Biblical Foundation Course Design Model” by Kathy Goddard. According to the JBFFL website, each of the 15 papers in volume one were originally presented at the 2015 Biblical Foundations of Faith and Learning Conference, sponsored by Ed and Ann Zinke. The dedication page of the journal thanks the Zinkes for “their commitment to grounding Adventist education in the Adventist Biblical Christian worldview.” Subsequent volumes will include papers presented in other years of the BFFLC.
According to several individuals who had attended the teacher’s convention immediately preceding the Summit, the peer-reviewed journal was also passed out at that time, but no explanation was given then either. Attendees were left to make their own assumptions on why they were receiving a journal the size and weight of a textbook. One Summit attendee said he had paid to FedEx the journal back home, while another admitted his had ended up in the trash. Still another said she would be leaving the journal in her hotel room, adding that perhaps it would convert a member of the hotel staff, though her tone made it clear this was a tongue-in-cheek comment.
After a light reception of cheese and fruit, attendees filed into the conference room for the Opening Ceremony of the Summit. Ron Carter, provost of Loma Linda University Health, spoke first, giving a brief introduction to the necessity of the Summit. “We must develop a new science, a human science, of being in the world but not of the world,” he said.
Gordon Bietz, NAD associate director for higher education, and Larry Blackmer, NAD vice president for education, took the stage next. “Another convention,” Blackmer said with a sigh, eliciting laughs from the audience, many of whom have already been in Chicago for over a week for the teacher’s convention. “But,” Blackmer continued, “one that I think is essential for our future.”
Bietz’ announcements were more maintenance-related, as he introduced attendees to the sli.do app, a polling platform for questions and discussion. He encouraged us to send questions through the app during the keynote address, which was up next and given by Dick Hart, president and CEO of LLUH.
Hart began his address on a somber note, reminding the audience that over ⅕ of Adventist primary and secondary schools have closed in the last 15 years (248 out of 854). On the higher education side, one of the 13 Adventist colleges and universities has closed, and overall enrollment has seen a 2% decline over the past five years (from greater than 26,000 students to less than 24,000).
His list of reasons for decline was lengthy, including quality of education, cost vs. perceived value, convenience, change of cultural expectations, lack of pulpit support, and competition. He noted the difficulty in finding good teachers, saying “we take our most precious resource—our kids—and pay our teachers minimum salary to train them,” which elicited a hearty “Preach!” from one audience member.
Hart then asked if there are “valid reasons to keep our system going?” The answer is yes, he explained, outlining several reasons including church growth, preserving our unique Adventist culture, a place to find an Adventist spouse, developing lifelong friends, reinforcing core values, and finding meaning in life. “How many here found their spouse at an Adventist school?” he asked the audience. Over half of the 200 or so attendees raised their hands. On finding meaning in life, Hart cited a recent study on how many alumni felt their alma mater had given their life purpose. Loma Linda topped the list with 91% of their alumni agreeing their alma mater had given them purpose. In comparison, Harvard landed at 56% on the survey and Yale at 55% of alumni.
Periodically throughout Hart’s address, Bietz relayed audience questions that were coming in through the sli.do app. Most attendees offered personal anecdotes that reflected and built on the points Hart was discussing. One individual expressed frustration through the app, asking that questions be saved until the end so Hart could finish his presentation without interruption. Bietz read that concern out loud and then relented, saving the rest of the questions until the end.
Hart wrapped up his address by reminding us of the need to preserve and capitalize on the uniqueness of Adventist education, which offers a variety of important “soft skills” to students like greater world awareness through a focus on mission, connection to nature, emphasis on music, and work-study opportunities.
A few more attendees ventured questions, but with the clock ticking past 8:00 p.m., most seemed restless and eager to leave for a few hours of sleep before Friday’s 7:00 a.m. meeting time arrived. Bietz, perhaps sensing the atmosphere in the room, dismissed attendees to their rooms and a good night’s rest.
With a conference room full of the upper echelons of Adventist higher education and a lengthy list of prominent speakers, the Future of Adventist Higher Education Summit promises to be an eventful next three days, no matter the outcome of the Chicago Declaration.
Alisa Williams is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
Image courtesy of adventisthe.org
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