What was the board thinking? I missed this earlier last week.
The sort of short version.
1) On September 13, Tyndale President and Vice Chancellor Dr. Gary Nelson goes on Facebook to announce a swanky breakfast at the Toronto Hilton for 150 invited guests. He made the announcement after The Star wrote about the visit.
As many of you have already read online in the Toronto Star, there will be a breakfast next week featuring George W. Bush. The breakfast is sponsored by Prem Watsa, a supporter of Tyndale University College & Seminary and CEO of Fairfax Financial Holdings. Tyndale believes in freedom of speech and took this opportunity to host an historic figure, and to acquaint a new group of people with Tyndale.
This is the first of a series of events that Tyndale University College & Seminary plans to host. In the spirit of free of speech and thought, the events will feature a variety of influential individuals speaking on the role and issues surrounding privately funded, publicly accountable higher education and faith. Tyndale does not necessarily endorse the views or actions of the speakers.
Oh. New group of people. Gee, my grandmother used to tell me you’re known by the friends you keep. The breakfast guest comes as an understandable shock.
2) Tyndale alumni set up a website protesting George W.’s appearance. The Toronto Star reaches out to Tyndale on Facebook.
The Star reports a lot of Tyndale alumni, staff and students are not impressed. A long time Tyndale employee quits. A petition is started, a website put up, and a letter is written to Nelson.
Nelson says regarding G.W.: “ “This is a critical historical figure,” he said. “And as a university, it’s someone we need to listen to just like other points of view.”
3) More media pick up the internal debate and dissension. Let’s get real. A closed invitation only event to hit up wealthy donors is not about dialogue, free speech and academic freedom. That kind of criticism being levelled is a red herring. If media had not picked this up, most of Tyndale would not have been aware Bush was getting paid to ‘raise their profile.’
4) Bush’s breakfast gets cancelled a few hours after a Tyndale town hall meeting. Media duly notes Bush isn’t coming to Tyndale for this event or any in the foreseeable future.
A brief note posted on the university’s website Wednesday afternoon read, “Unfortunately, due to scheduling change, the breakfast on September 20th 2011 has been canceled.”
A university spokeswoman confirmed the event featuring the former U.S. president would no longer be going ahead, but she said she could not provide any more information and no one from the university administration was available to provide an explanation.
”Scheduling conflict’ is a catch-all face saving pr term. It’s entirely possible someone jumped the gun and announced Bush was showing up before his schedule was firmed up. Or not. Nelson had to head cross-country for a funeral, so the brief statement is all Tyndale administration has to offer at this time. Prem Watsa, who has been dubbed Canada’s Warren Buffet, hasn’t said a word. He’s an overachiever, a philanthropist and Chancellor of University of Waterloo.
Tyndale got it’s profile raised. Good on alumni and students for letting the administration know what their values are. This is not about free speech and academic freedom, it is more about monied interests making a misstep and assuming a student body and countless alumni would trot along.
Wrong critical person, wrong place, wrong time.
If I had money I’d be someone who’d fly to TO if Bush was speaking to protest. Tyndale wouldn’t be able to handle the crowd that would show up. There are plenty of ‘critical historical figures’ Tyndale can appeal to, to raise money, Bush does not have to be one of them. What does he has to say about the role of privately funded faith institutions that benefits Tyndale? Confrontation in institutions of higher learning is not a bad thing. Tyndale has a stellar reputation for turning out students who get a first class education. The alumni who started the petition and website care about their former school, as do students, employees and faculty. Money talks, but there are times when money needs to back down and shut up.
The three former alumni who started the website/petition have donated to their school.
800 thousand dollars, (I wrote that badly. Alumni have given generously, but I was amiss putting up a nebulous figure when I don’t know the amount. My apology – BD)
Alumni may not be able to raise as much as critical historical figure G.W. Bush can raise, or Prem Watsa and his golfing buddies, but alumni raised important points that transcend dollar amounts. They were well taught, and did not go into their protest blindly. That one of them would be threatened with bodily harm stepping on campus is over the top.
When G.W. Bush wanted his presidential library at Southern Methodist University there were protests and petitions. Like Tyndale faculty, alumni and students stood up for their reputation. Bush won, and exceeded his fundraising goal by 100 million dollars.
Breakie with George for 150 invited guests is probably not cheap. Who got the invitations?
Bush is with The Washington Speakers Bureau. He has racked up 1.5 million dollars for 140 speeches since leaving office according to his spokesman David Sherzer. That’s an average of 110 thousand per appearance. His first was in Calgary in 2009:
Bush is charging a six-figure fee, plus private jet transportation or first class for a party of four – when he launches onto the lecture circuit. The former president’s first gig, entitled “A conversation with George W. Bush,” is scheduled for March 17th in Calgary, Alberta.
5) Because Dr. Nelson had a funeral to attend, a meeting between two of the petitioners and Nelson was cancelled. It will probably be held at a later date, the Tyndale community needs to talk and needs to be open about this kind of conflict. This is not the kind of profile this school is used to. Inviting Bush is something we’d expect to see from Charles McVety. Tyndale got a dose of social media backlash from its own. I don’t see that as a minus. Interestingly 120 people signed the petition, 85 signatures were confirmed, 10 people backed off and asked to be removed. (Not uncommon in an evangelical setting) For a school of 1400 students, that’s not a bad showing.*
What touches me is the way the petitioners chose transparency. It is causing them personal anguish and some second guessing. I’m seeing salt and light, and I commend them. They did not take the easy way out, there will be a personal cost for each of them. The website features different voices, different points of view, censorship and secrecy is not being practised. I hope the website is not taken down, there are lessons left to be learned, community resolution left undone, and an ending to be presented to a watching international audience.
*Update: This is from an emailer who took a close look at the petition signatures.
1) does a petition signee count if they don’t publicize their name, or give their full first and last name? If not, that brings us down to 79.
(2) I know most of this list. Many are not students or alumni.
(3) Even so, there *are* many alumni. But there about 8500 alumni + about 1400 students. So, at best it’s 79 out of about 10,000.
Realistically, I estimate about 65, counting students and alumni.
Update: Tyndale and Tyndale.co meet.