The Student Movement

Letters to the Editor

Jim Walters

Challenges Facing AU, My Alma Mater

I’ve heard good things about AU’s new administration, headed by President John Wesley Taylor, V—a good man who’s personable, open. Further, he informally meets with students on a regular basis. Also, he can think outside-the-box, musing about AU becoming a “green campus,” informed by the doctrine of Creation!

But I’ve also been perplexed about Board actions and AU administrative decisions, particularly in regard to top-level diversity officers. AU is arguably Adventism’s finest broad-based university, with Richard Hammill serving as president when I attended seminary (1968-70), followed later on by Niels-Erik Andreasen, and Andrea Luxton.

Taylor is stepping into some distinguished, big presidential shoes at AU. His administration should be granted some slack, some growing room as it’s only ¾ through its first year.

But overall, from what I understand about AU’s current administration and AU’s continuing maturation, I fear a clash of cultures. On the one hand, AU is boldly venturing toward an open future, embracing the best of our religious heritage. This, as opposed to AU being led to cautiously back into a settled past that’s questionably adequate for today. 

Recent issues of the Student Movement (helpfully now online!), demonstrate how AU’s Christian commitment informs life and practice. (Of course, the illustrations immediately below may not be typical, but from limited checking with on-campus sources, they’re fair indicators.) For example:

  • Love, surely the leading Christian/human virtue, was applied to contemporary life in an interview with an AU person who identifies as “aromantic.” Agape was upheld as the most highly regarded form of love, as it and three other expressions of love were explored—all in light of contemporary knowledge of the complexity of our human nature’s gender and sexuality.
  • Empathy was the central theme examined in the SM’s several articles on campus architecture and students with special physical needs. Of particular note is the piece on how Professor Mark Moreno’s religious commitments inform his teaching and practice: he prioritizes “authenticity,” and his “profound sense of compassion” prompts him to prize “inclusive design.”
  • Listening to and identifying with others appears to characterize the SM’s modus operandi. The most recent issue of the SM included this editorial note: “Hearing from our students is an important step in understanding the experience of mobility issues on campus.” See “Humans: Andrews Accommodates Experiences.” 
  • Two socially contentious issues on campus concern LGBTQ+ persons and dorm curfews, and both emerged at a recent AUSA forum. The Coming Out Ministries’ purchase of a building adjacent to campus only after the installation of the new administration, was implied as being only a coincidental occurrence. Rather than give reasoned positions for the administration’s religiously conservative stances on LGBTQ+ and curfew-matters, the administration cited church policy and comparative institutional practices.

Admittedly, I’ve been away from AU for many years. And the snapshot of AU life that I suggest above may be seriously off-base. However, what I cite regarding AU’s administration comports well with what President Taylor says about his philosophy of Adventist education—as heard in his presentation on the topic at Hartland Institute last year. (Hartland, in rural Virginia, is a self-supporting Adventist educational institution of less than a hundred students).

Dr. Taylor’s presentation utilized two pie-graphs: one showed “Bible” as but one of several liberal arts disciplines; the other showed “Bible” (not, e.g., Christian principles) at the core/center of every educational discipline. “The Bible is not in competition” with other disciplines. Secularists would have the Bible “relegated to being a slice of the pie, of our lives, and this is tragic.” “The Bible is core—at the center,” affirmed Taylor. Taylor cited several Bible texts, and some Ellen White passages—particularly from the book Education. Adventist educational philosophy is “found in the Bible,” but true Adventist education is “guided” by the writings of Ellen White.

“Bible talk” is impressive at a popular level, but when examined can merely cloak Biblical idolatry—bibliolatry. The Bible can inform us positively, as in Jesus’ propounding the Great Commandment. But it also illustrates what we should abhor—as when acts of genocide are ascribed to Yahweh himself (see Deut. 20: 10-18). Obviously, Biblical genocide isn’t what anyone today would consider endorsing, hence the problem with flat, unqualified Bible talk.

The possible trivialization of Christian faith is my basic concern. The AU community—students, faculty, and staff—deserve to understand the undergirding philosophy of the AU administrative team. The flag of Biblical truth was raised at Hartland, and appeared to be continuously saluted in an unnuanced, totalistic manner. I hope that my understanding is wrong, as it would strike at the very essence of a Christian institution of higher learning—where the boundaries of knowledge and wisdom are being furthered every day.

A carte blanche salute to the Bible doesn’t easily translate to effective Adventist university operations, to say nothing about exploration of knowledge and “think[ing] beyond the boundaries and pioneer[ing] new methods” (“Living Our God-Given Values,” Focus, fall, 2023). That’s why the best of Adventist tradition says that in the world-to-come we’ll be simultaneously learning the new while “unlearning” some old, cherished notions. And this spirit of a commitment to open pursuit of truth, to Christian principles, and to a high appreciation for the prophetic ministry of Ellen White, is an appropriate perspective from which a committed Adventist university administration should, in my opinion, approach governance.

I conclude these observations with a suggestion.

What about the AU administration and the AUSA together sponsoring a discussion of Andrews University’s Philosophy of Education Today? President Taylor would give a thirty-minute plenary address. A Seminary and a College representative would give responses. A moderated discussion among the three would be held. And an open Q&A would ensue.

Such a session, coming toward the close of this administration’s first year, would allow a somewhat wobbly start to realize a steadier conclusion—one in which the president could expand on his Creation-informed “green campus” dream. Further, the administration could demonstrate a solid grasp of how core Christian principles and the Adventist experience can creatively inform the major contours of this leading Adventist research university.

The Student Movement is the official student newspaper of Andrews University. Opinions expressed in the Student Movement are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors, Andrews University or the Seventh-day Adventist church.