Tyndale University College & Seminary gets it’s ‘profile raised’

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.

via: unrepentant old hippie and Thinking Out Loud

About Bene Diction

Have courage for the great sorrows, And patience for the small ones. And when you have laboriously accomplished your tasks, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.
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10 Responses to Tyndale University College & Seminary gets it’s ‘profile raised’

  1. BD says:

    Good post at the Catalyst Foundation.

    Someone who says they are from Tyndale says:

    “President Nelson even said in the townhall meeting that we were canceling the event because the Tyndale community isn’t ready for it and there are concerns over whether we could provide a hospitable environment for the guests. The scheduling issue was that Tyndale canceled.”

    What was the itinerary?
    Were the breakfast guests and G.W. Bush and his handlers scheduled to hop over to Tyndale after the Hilton?
    Was there going to be a discussion with faculty and students?
    There is no indication this was anything but a fundraiser at the hotel.

    “This is the first of a series of events that Tyndale University College & Seminary plans to host.”

    Good. Where is information on this series of events posted on Tyndale’s website?
    I’d appreciate it if any Tyndale student, alumni or faculty were able to point me in the right direction.

  2. BD says:

    More numbers crunching from an emailer, for which I am grateful.
    This is about the former US president’s speaking fees.
    Since I used a quote in the post from another source, I won’t change it, instead I’ll post the email.

    Hello Bene,

    I used the calculator and crunched the numbers 1,500,000 and 140.
    The result is closer to $10700.

    That results in a lower speaker fee than some motivational speakers or Al Gore. At that amount, his star has definitely faded

    You may want to check the figures yourself and modify some of the text accordingly.

  3. dan says:

    Hey Bene,

    I’m not sure if the update is accurate. I don’t know everybody on the list, but all the one’s I do know are former students. Those who have disliked our website have tried a number of dishonest tactics to discredit it — including efforts to hack it in more than one way (examples: we had to change the coding for the petition because people were going on with bogus names and entering negative numbers in order to wipe out the tally; some were also trying to enter coding that would erase any data that had been previously entered… thankfully, my friends know way more about computers than I do!).

    As for letting people sign anonymously, well, we did that not in order to artificially inflate the numbers but in order to permit those who are currently at Tyndale to sign-on, while also recognizing that some people may be anxious about what that might mean for the status of their employment or their enrollment. Surprisingly, this has been more of the case than I imagined it would be. What does it mean about a place when their faculty, staff and students are too afraid to speak up?

    Also, the tally of money represents the money given by all the people who signed the petition — not just be the three of us who started the opposition to this event.

    That said, many thanks for this piece. Hope all is well with you and yours.

  4. Richard Ball says:

    Prem Watsa and his golfing buddies? What do you know about Prem Watsa and who he associates with? Sounds like arrogance and envy talking. Come on, Tyndale donors, you know, the ones who put Tyndale in a new what is it $60,000,000 campus — hand over your money and, to use another of your utterances, shut up.

    This just gets worse and worse.

  5. Brooks says:

    Benediction, just to be clear the three alumni in no way gave the school $800K. In fact that sum was quasi-duplicitious. It included tuition for pete’s sake. I personally know a lot of people who signed the petition and they a) don’t have a lot of money and b) if they did, would most likely not give it to Tyndale.

  6. Bene Diction says:

    Hi Richard:

    I only know about Mr. Watsa from articles etc.
    Is he the one who pushed this event through?
    Given what I’ve read about him, this kind of pushiness seems improbable.

    Someone interested in raising money did not think this event through, and did not think that the Tyndale community was worth informing. It isn’t the first fundraiser fraught with good intentions that was poorly executed and disconnected. Won’t be the last.
    Nice kind people who are hugely successful in their field, don’t always come up with good ideas.
    There is a disconnect in this that needs to be looked at seriously by administration and the rest of the Tyndale community.

    One thing I’ve read is that Mr. Watsa isn’t thin skinned. Students on the other hand are getting a life lesson they weren’t anticipating and the lack of life skills are evident.

    So I’m hearing you say that no one can say to our Canadian rich folk, ‘bad idea, try another approach?”
    Why not?
    Too bad Tyndale admin didn’t ask whomever to re-think, if disconnects had been thought through, you wouldn’t be engaging me on a blog.:^)
    I see this publicity and fund raising decision as an opportunity. Given the dialogue going on, elsewhere and here, on one level some positive is already happening

    Whoever did this, Mr. Watsa, his people, whoever…if the shoe fits.

    I’m prepared to re-think. Whoever dreamed this up and pushed it through might be well served to speak up – to the Tyndale community. An explanation at the very least, and if needed, an apology.

  7. Bene Diction says:

    Hi Brooks:

    Thanks. I’ll correct accordingly.

  8. Bene Diction says:

    Hey dan:

    Thanks, I’ll correct that figure.

    Shooting the messenger is the first line of defense, when people believe defense is needed.
    Defense and defensiveness are not the same thing.

    Having been hacked I know the alarm and annoyance and the need for skilled friends.
    Freeping is juvenile and all too common.
    The second this event hit the national stage, interested parties would have piled into the petition.
    It’s distracting, stay focused eh?
    What you were able to accomplish over a few days with the petition is remarkable.
    I don’t believe for a nanosecond you and your co-bloggers had any intention of inflating numbers and I’m sorry to hear about sabotage.

    In broadcasting one person speaking up represents a thousand who don’t.
    I do not see the petition numbers as insignificant, and I wonder how many emails Tyndale has been receiving.
    The lack of awareness as The Star articles filtered through the Tyndale community is an embarrassment to the reputation of Tyndale.

    I don’t believe for a nanosecond you and your co-bloggers had any intent of inflating numbers.

    Fear and unease does seem to be a motivator, (anger being a companion) and I can understand students would be anxious – they operate in a closed community and their employment certainly could be affected. I’m seeing a fair bit of defensiveness. Certainly student peer relationships could change which is primary concern to a younger student age group, and fear about grades etc. While I don’t doubt students are awesome at doing what is familiar (such as urban ministry, helping churches etc) as an observer I think speaking up about Bush, values and Tyndale’s reputation is outside a comfort zone for some if not many.

    10 or 20 years from now I wonder what students who backed away from speaking up to will think about their decision? How embarrassed would students be if they watched protesters getting shoved around by Toronto’s finest at the breakfast venue?
    The life lessons can’t be bought with all the tuition money in the world, and this botched fundraiser is an opportunity for students that probably aren’t feeling so good right now.:^)

    It was and still is an opportunity for administration, staff and faculty, and I can’t cut them the slack I’d cut anxious students.

    Public relations has been non-existent, and when a story goes national and international this response is not acceptable.
    The lack of communication means gaps get filled with speculation and misinformation, hyperbole, high emotion and defensiveness.
    Leadership certainly could have stepped up while Dr. Nelson buried his friend. Administration has chosen not to (the exception being the English prof who went on Corens show. He couldn’t say much of anything because he wasn’t told anything. Part of his job is being concerned about his colleagues and academic freedom and while he got steered, I applaud his effort, it was a no-win 10 minutes). A studio is not a classroom, I sincerely hope the prof doesn’t take too much flack from his peers and administration.

    Tyndale leadership has done the damage to it’s reputation itself.
    And collectively chosen not to step up and address it.
    And shown those watching and those involved that as administrators they don’t have the tools to communicate effectively.
    It is not an either or situation, both internal and external communication needed to occur sooner than later.
    This is not about personalities, it is about a multi-million dollar organization failing to deal with what was in front of them.
    Leaving an uniformed pr person to keep repeating a stock phrase to media and other queries is appalling.

    1. Someone in charge step forward.

    a) Explain how the Bush appearance was planned who was involved, and why it was decided to engage him.
    b) Explain clearly why Bush was a no show.
    c) Acknowledge concerns and problems go far beyond a petition, questions, disagreement and a breakfast.
    d) Acknowledge systemic mistakes in the approval of this event.
    e) Stop the passive aggressive defensiveness and start discussions.
    f) Encourage and train leadership start modelling for students.
    f) Be forth coming and publish the other events in the series, make a commitment to improve relationships and respect.

    2) Put a working proactive pr plan and people to execute it in place.

    It’s been quite a week for this school and for those who care about it.
    Be blessed.

  9. BD says:

    I asked, “What does he (G.W, Bush) has to say about the role of privately funded faith institutions that benefits Tyndale? ”

    Thanks to L who emailed:

    “In May, 2005, George W spoke at the convocation of Calvin College in Grand Rapids. He did touch on issues surrounding Christian education and made, as his centrepiece, the work of Abraham Kuyper as a pastor, publisher and prime minister of Holland, over 100 years ago.”

  10. Pingback: Bush, Tyndale and the dilemmas of Christian leadership | Bene Diction Blogs On

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