Part 2 of 2. In Part One of this article, United List backed President Harrison’s and Secretary Sias’ plan to eliminate all Concordia University Presidents and Boards of Regents was exposed. Congregations Matter believes Harrison’s plan to centralize control of our local Concordias under one President and one Board of Regents is a dangerous power-grab and not in the best interest of our Synod’s Concordia University System. Who gave Harrison and Sias the authority to do this?
The answer is “no one.” That’s why we need a change of leadership in Synod.
Give Them an Inch…
How did we get here? It started out innocently. At the end of the Milwaukee Convention in 2016, Resolution 7-02B was adopted by the vast majority of the delegates. The desire the convention expressed was to ensure the continued connection of all our Concordias with the LCMS. A noble thought. CLICK HERE to download and read the entire 7-02B resolution.
The Pretext Was Better Communication
Resolution 7-02B’s stated desire was for greater communication between Synod and our Concordias. The change that was proposed? In order to assure the connection with Synod, a new and novel powers were given specifically to the Synod President and his Praesidium (made up of the Synod President and six Vice-Presidents – all from the United List).
What was this new power? To appoint one additional member to the Board of Regents of each Concordia. And it’s purpose? This appointed member would “ensure communication and mutual accountability while ensuring that the governance of CUS institutions remains with their respective boards of regents…”
Isn’t that why Synod has a Concordia University System board? Obviously, that wasn’t enough control for President Harrison.
Harrison’s Motivator Was Fear
The fourth “whereas” clause of 7-02B tells the story. President Harrison’s appointed floor committee with a United List majority set the table for what seemed an innocent resolution:
“Whereas, To preserve the Concordia colleges and universities as institutions of the church, it is necessary to strengthen their structural bonds with the Synod, lest the institutions be lost to the church through inattention or the temptation to compromise with secularism;”
Inattention and temptation to compromise with secularism? Our Concordias? The Boards of Regents voted in by Synod in Convention? The University Presidents approved by the Synod President, the Chair of the Concordia University System and the local District President?
Delegates may not have seen this coming because it was buried in the whereas clauses, but this paragraph will lead to President Harrison and Secretary Sias and others proposing even greater centralization and control of our Concordia Colleges and Universities.
Using Fear to Grab Control Harrison’s Norm
Raising fears regarding our Concordias seems to be Harrison’s norm. In his report to Synod at the 2016 Milwaukee Convention (Today’s Business, President’s Report, Part 2 on page 21), Harrison raises the specter of government intrusion, faithless LCMS members and the need to control our Concordias so that perhaps “one or two institutions sufficiently endowed” would survive.
“The Synod Board of Directors, with my encouragement, passed a resolution requesting study of the issue of closure, divestment or consolidation of our universities in the event of catastrophic financial failure. I believe we are but a court decision or two away from a scenario where the federal government could eliminate our ability to participate in federal student loan programs, and thereby quickly make it impossible for our schools to survive. We face threats from the Department of Justice, Department of Education, EEOC and others.
There will be voices among us calling for compromise on the sexuality issues in order for us to “continue the mission.” This will be the death knell of genuine Lutheran university education. In the event of a catastrophic court decision, the Synod will need to be able to act decisively to consolidate resources, properties and schools — perhaps into one or two institutions sufficiently endowed to survive without federal money or interference. I pray this does not happen. The alternative will be to simply watch the universities drift away into religious and moral ambiguity. The universities don’t want this. I will do everything in my power to prevent it.”
A Lack of Trust
Voices among us calling for compromise on sexual issues? Threats from the government? The death knell of genuine Lutheran education?
Harrison’s answer to these phantom fears is taking control of the university system from local control and closing or selling schools in order to “sufficiently endow” one or two institutions that survive Harrison’s imagined attack.
Does President Harrison have so little trust in elected Boards of Regents, Concordia faculties and local supporters of our schools? Is centralization of control under one President and one Board of Regents a good answer to calm his nightmare scenario?
President Harrison’s dark future for our Concordias matches his dark predictions for the direction of the rest of Synod. Doesn’t the LCMS deserve a leader with a hopeful vision rather than a plan to divest, close, or consolidate this jewel of our Synod, our faithful Concordias?
A Task Force Was the Instrument
Resolution 7-02B in its second resolved clause identified a narrow charge for a renewed Task Force. It called for the continuation of the 5-01A Task Force with four specific purposes:
- Strengthen all CUS institutions’ connection to the Synod
- Review the composition, size and selection of boards of regents
- Review of governance structures
- Review the process for selecting presidents of institutions
The resolution seemed harmless enough. An occasional review may even be a great idea, given all of the changes our Concordias have experienced in the past 50 years.
But President Harrison has used his appointed 7-02B Task Force for an additional purpose not mentioned in the Milwaukee resolution. Harrison’s idea of a “review” and a “report” has turned into a proposed power grab.
The Result: Centralization of Control
Despite its charge from the convention, President Harrison and Secretary Sias have used this Task Force for other purposes.
In a July 9 letter from Secretary Sias to President Harrison shared with Concordia University leaders and their boards, the “proposed model” of our Concordia University System was outlined as follows:
- All Concordias would be placed under one President and one Board of Regents with the Concordias “sharing administration and a common online identity, managing programs and geographical / contextual emphases in a sensible way, and operating with a common strategic view, in the interest of the collaborative service of the whole Synod.”
- A local “chancellor” or “campus vice-president” would continue some of the current University President responsibilities and a local “committee” would take on some of the current local Boards of Regents.
- Their precedent is the unique rescue model of Mequon and Ann Arbor. Instead of seeing this as an emergency response to save one of our campuses in a time of dire need, Harrison and Sias have made this the model for all of our Concordia campuses.
- Using this model, Synod, “the true owners of the universities in a governance model sense, retain proper oversight…”
Who Built These Concordias Anyway?
It’s been decades since Synod has significantly financially supported the operations of our Concordias in any significant way. Yes, our Synod has financed some debt for various campuses, but they have not nationally taken on any real responsibility for the system – other than control.
Remember how Synod shorted our Seminaries last year of $400,000 of broken promises over the Global Seminary Initiative? Read about it here.
And how did Synod respond to Selma when they were in need? By a secret vote by the Synod Board of Directors to close the institution? By keeping the 2016 Milwaukee Convention uninformed of a plan to save it? Read about it here.
Has President Harrison’s control of the process and blackballing of qualified candidates for Concordia Irvine’s presidency assisted the university in its mission? Read about it here.
It has been the work of local institutions, local congregations, local individuals that have supported and grown our local Concordias. No longer are Synod coffers depended on for any Concordia viability. Local students, local donors and a variety of programs support the training of Commissioned and Ordained Ministers of the Gospel for our Synod.
Our Concordias have trained tens of thousands of lay folk — Christian students headed for countless vocation in education, medical and other professional fields, strong and biblically prepared lay women and men for our local congregations and communities, equipped to live out and share the saving Gospel of Christ Jesus.
Harrison’s Proposal Is Wrong-Headed
Congregations Matter believes the LCMS needs more local control of its universities and colleges, not more centralized control in St. Louis.
In a world where our schools must be nimble and responsive to local needs, economies and opportunities, the uniqueness of each of our Concordias must be celebrated, not shackled by authoritarian control from the Synod President and the International Center.
Unfortunately, over the past few conventions by delegate vote Synod has imposed a United List majority on the Concordia University System and Boards of Regents on our local Concordias. For more information about the consequences of doing this, read these three articles posted earlier on the Congregations Matter website:
The United Lister control of Synod has brought the LCMS into more dissension, more money trouble, less transparency, and an even greater authoritarian hierarchy.
The damage done by United Listers just since Milwaukee has been immense. Review this short list and click on any item to see the related article explaining the damage:
- Harrison now the ecclesiastical supervisor of all congregations and rostered workers instead of locally elected District Presidents;
- broken funding promises to our Seminaries;
- United Listers allow the International Center headquarters to keep a 6% cut of Disaster Relief donations — and even consider undistributed donations as improved cash flow.
- United Listers help hide Synod’s serious financial woes behind white-out in vast Executive Session sections of Board Minutes;
- United Listers ignored Milwaukee convention overtures from four Districts, three District BOD’s, one circuit and seventeen congregations (representing more than 700 congregations in all) to stop Synod from requiring all congregational mission dollar to flow through St. Louis;
- And in all this, United Listers keep congregations in the dark using excessive executive sessions.
Has this level of control helped our Synod?
Call for Action
These leaders trust our local Concordia Colleges and Universities. Michigan District President David Maier led the effort to save Ann Arbor and has experience in university governance and leadership. He’s just the kind of man we need for such a time as this.
Encourage your convention delegate to elect a Synod Secretary who believes in local control of our Concordias — and will support a new Synod President.
Tell others about this power grab by President Harrison and Secretary Sias the damage being done to our Concordias.
And make sure your circuit is sending a delegate to the 2019 Tampa Convention who will protect and grow our Concordias, not control and close them.
Congregations — and our Concordias — matter.