Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Many Regenerations of Montreat College

Folks who know me well already know that I'm a fan of Doctor Who. For those unfamiliar with the show, which is reaching its 50th anniversary later this year, the main character ("the Doctor") is a time traveling alien. To paraphrase one of my college professors, it is intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer that a show cannot survive for so long with a single main character played by a single actor. Part of the secret of Doctor Who's longevity lies in the fact that the Doctor can "regenerate" after an actor has played the role long enough and wants to move on, allowing the character to continue on with a new actor in the role. To date, there have been eleven (canonical) actors playing the role of the Doctor.

Montreat College is nearing 100 years old (its official opening was in 1916, but even as early as 1913, plans were underway for a school to be built). Although some schools of such an advanced age have no doubt gone through all those years in more or less the same format, this has not been true for Montreat. Indeed, the school currently called "Montreat College" has been through many different formats and names — many "regenerations," if you will — in its history:
  • A "normal school" (essentially, a high-school plus a two-year college, specifically for women who wanted to become teachers)
  • A four-year women's college
  • A two-year co-educational college
  • A four-year college (again offering bachelor's degrees in addition to two-year associate's degrees, but now to both men and women)
  • A college with multiple campuses (also including an online program, as well as offering several master's degrees)
I've seen some of this change first-hand, having been a student when the college changed its name from "Montreat-Anderson College" to "Montreat College" (sometime after the change to a four-year co-ed institution). Although that change was, for the most part, greeted warmly, I'm sure that every one of these new "regenerations" had its skeptics at the time, much as every new "Doctor" in Doctor Who has its opponents among those who preferred the previous actor.

Montreat College is going through a time of potential change once again. The form of this change is not yet determined, but is being brought about by some of the same economic realities that are facing academic institutions everywhere (perhaps among other reasons, but this is what I'm seeing the most of). Even so, it is clear that many of the college's constituents are concerned about some of the potential changes that have been proposed. This often happens when change is imminent.

One of the professors I work with here at Fuller Theological Seminary has often said "people do not fear change. They fear loss." In the case of some of the alumni who have posted on Facebook, there is a particular fear that we might lose the status of Montreat as a campus-based academic institution devoted to Christian values. Montreat has meant a lot to many of us, and the thought that some of the benefits we got from our time there might not be available to students in the future does not set well with us. This has led to a number of heated discussions in recent months, and I think that we would all do well to take a step back and take a deep breath.

I stop short of calling for the ouster of certain members of the Montreat College community and leadership. However, I do agree with those who would hope that the Board of Trustees would look at increasing the percentage of its membership that are alumni of Montreat College (in at least one of its "regenerations"). As the name perhaps implies, a Board of Trustees is entrusted with the well-being of the institution it oversees. However well-intentioned a non-alumni board member may be, there is an undeniable difference in perspective that an alumni of an academic institution will have, and I think that the Board... indeed, Montreat College as a whole... would benefit from more of that distinctive perspective.

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