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Max C. Torkelsen Issues Statement In Response to Questions Surrounding Rejection of Alex Bryan’s Nomination


The following is republished from the North Pacific Union Conference’s online news magazine

Max C. Torkelsen, North Pacific Union Conference president and Walla Walla University Board of Trustees chair, issued the following statement on July 10. It is an expanded response to questions on the process and July 1 decision of the board regarding Dr. Alex Bryan.

Before and after the July 1 decision of the Walla Walla University Board of Trustees to not elect Dr. Alex Bryan as WWU president, there has been a great deal of speculation about the decision. It seems sometimes that rumor can travel around the world before fact reaches next door, especially within the digital domain. Many are seemingly eager to share incomplete or faulty information. But I hope each of our members will seek to play a productive role as we together seek the very best for Walla Walla University. Since I have been involved with the presidential selection process throughout, I wanted you to know my observations based on firsthand participation, not second-hand reports, hearsay, or speculation and “spin” you may read from other sources.

Prior to the July 1 meeting, the WWU Board of Trustees and the Presidential Search Committee responsible for bringing a recommendation to the meeting, sought to make the process as transparent as possible. That opened the door for input and observations from a variety of viewpoints, central to the representative process we tried to follow. The Trustees do not reflect just one community. They represent our entire Northwest membership. They are tasked to preserve and nurture the unique role of Adventist higher education at its best.

Observations on the recent actions in the presidential selection process:

1. When the name of Pastor Alex Bryan, our WWU Church senior pastor, was formally submitted for consideration by the Board, two distinct groups voiced their opinions strongly. One was adamantly against his nomination, and the other just as passionately in favor of his selection.

2. Some who were concerned with his potential selection circulated an anonymous email listing alleged issues that would purportedly disqualify him for the position. I received a number of personal queries and comments regarding this. Many forwarded this email to their own email network, although they did not personally know Pastor Bryan, or the credibility of the source.

3. Others, some of whom were WWU faculty and staff personally acquainted with Pastor Bryan’s work and ministry, expressed their unequivocal support for his nomination.

4. Pastor Bryan personally responded to each negative allegation from the anonymous email in a written letter he made available to the search committee, board members and others.

5. I recognize the inclination of some to suspect undue and unjustified political pressures at work in this process. There were indeed many efforts to sway the WWU Board of Trustees toward a particular viewpoint or vote. In spite of those efforts, however, I observed that the board, as a whole and as individuals, worked intentionally to be as objective as possible.

6. The WWU Presidential Search Committee attended the morning portion of the July 1 Board of Trustees meeting to summarize the process they used to arrive at the recommendation of Pastor Bryan and answer any questions from the Board.

7. Out of a possible 29 members of the Board, 25 were present at the July 1 meeting, significantly more than the 15-member quorum required for an official vote. The final vote on the motion to approve Pastor Bryan’s name was 9 in favor and 16 against.

8. After the Board action, I released an initial statement that may have led to some ongoing confusion. I stated the Board “decided with a two-thirds vote to not approve the recommendation of Alex Bryan as university president.” Some, doing their own math, have taken issue with that, and rightly so. It would have been more accurate to say “nearly two-thirds.” The facts of the vote are as I have stated them above in point 7.

9. The vote which failed to approve Pastor Bryan was in no way a confirmation of the allegations raised in the anonymous emails and rumors circulated about him. In fact, the Trustees felt Pastor Bryan’s written responses to the allegations were entirely satisfactory and that the concerns raised should not and would not be a factor to disqualify him from consideration.

10. But the Board also recognized that Pastor Bryan’s name had become a polarizing factor, which would likely create a challenge for him to adequately represent the university to our larger constituency throughout the Northwest and beyond. It felt this would be unfair to both Pastor Bryan and the unified support necessary for the university.

11. I believe the key reason Pastor Bryan was not elected is the fact that the Trustees recognize that being president of a university is a very complex administrative task, and he has no previous educational administrative experience.

12. The Trustees specifically voted an appreciation and affirmation of Pastor Bryan’s ministry at the Walla Walla University Church. In his current role as WWU Church senior pastor, Pastor Bryan has my support and that of his conference president, Robert Folkenberg Jr.

13. While the Presidential Search Committee seeks another candidate for the permanent position of president, it has also been tasked with bringing a viable candidate for interim president to the board. In the meantime, Steve Rose, WWU vice president for finance, is the acting president.

We are always in need of your prayers as we seek what is best for Walla Walla University. I urge each of us as Northwest Adventists to follow the Apostle Paul’s good counsel to focus on what is true and of good report, on fact and not fiction. May the grace of Christ attend all that we do and say.

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