February 3, 2011

Northland International University’s Music Department to be Dissolved

A major change has been announced at Northland International University (NIU). In his Open Letter to Friends in the Ministry Dr. Matt Olson wrote, “Our Music Philosophy: Philosophically, it is unchanged. Let me say it again... unchanged.” He went on to note that,
Our Director of Fine Arts, Kevin Suiter, has recently informed us he does not believe he can take us forward in this way and thus has announced his plans to move on. We wish Kevin and Grace the best and thank them for the investments they have made here.”
We are now learning that news of the Suiter’s departure was merely a precursor to what has just taken place at NIU. On Monday, January 31 NIU informed the faculty, staff and students that the Music Department will be disbanded and reorganized. Music will no longer be offered as a major at NIU.

To break the news about changes to the music program a meeting was called for the music majors and minors on Monday. According to NIU faculty who were there this meeting was conducted by VP for Academic Affairs Antone Goyak. Students were assured that they could finish their degrees if they wanted, but he did not offer a plan for how that would happen. Presently it is uncertain whether any qualified music faculty will stay on to finish those needing to complete degrees.

Some NIU staff and faculty leaving NIU have signed the intent not to return. Kevin and Grace Suiter, as well as voice teacher, Shelli Beeman left of their own volition. Other music faculty members have been notified they will not be retained for the 2011-2012 school year. It appears nearly the entire music faculty is departing, one way or another, over the new way of doing music at NIU. To date, I have not ascertained whether faculty/staff departures are with immediate effect or with closure of the current academic semester.

The change at NIU calls for the Music program to be offered through the Bible Department, converting it to a minor and/or an emphasis on philosophy and song writing, rather than a degree program. Dr. Olson’s intention is to implement this change with the Fall 2011 semester.

Music is one of the highest cost majors for small Christian colleges to provide. Its remote location is one of NIU’s biggest challenges to a music program. Largely because of NIU’s remote location it would never be able to offset the cost. No real adjunct or part-time teacher base exists such as can be found and utilized in a city. The ratio of 1 to 1 for lessons is cost prohibitive. There is little opportunity for concert revenue. Larger schools like BJU and PCC located in more densely populated regions are able to infuse funds into their music department by selling tickets to big events like concerts and artist series.

Others indicate there are additional reasons, beyond cost cutting, for the change in the Music Department. It may be that NIU wants to make music instruction accessible to all students. The change in Fine Arts at NIU has not touched the Speech program.

There are colleges where students once were taught a conservative philosophy of music that focused on uplifting the Lord and not the performer or the personal listening tastes of the hearers. Today they have become an environment where music has no moral quality, style is supposedly unaddressed in the New Testament, and institutional standards are a hindrance. Is it possible NIU is on that track?

John MacArthur (Calvinism, Lordship Salvation), Rick Holland (LS, CCM, Resolved), Bruce Ware (compromised SBC theologian), Wayne Simien (CCM and dance), Broadway’s WICKED song and dance routines in chapel, disbanding and realigning the Music Department to accommodate differing cultures. Are these the signs of a Baptist, separatist Christian college committed to its roots, or of changes in philosophy, trajectory and practice to what evangelicalism has to offer to impressionable undergraduates; your young people? (See, Is NIU “Unchanged?”)

Significant changes are being made and put into affect at NIU. There are important questions that every parent and pastor of a current or perspective student might consider asking the NIU administration. You might contact NIU Music Department faculty to ask questions you may have.

Parents and pastors sending their young people to NIU is a sacred stewardship. Imagine the shock and disappointment to find those same young people, in as little as one semester, were changed from the views their parents and pastor spent years cultivating.


On Feb. 4th Dr. Antone Goyak e-mailed to all students a copy of NIU’s new music program, which is known as, Emphasis in Church Music. I have been forwarded a copy of NIU’s Statement of Vision: Enriching Christ’s Church with His Word through Music, which you may download from the link provided. In a cover e-mail Dr. Goyak wrote, “This brief communication relays a summary of what has already been communicated to those involved in our Music programs.”

For additional documentation verifying the changes at NIU see, Northland Int’l. University’s Convergence with Evangelicalism: What Does it Mean for Impressionable Students?


  1. So you think their shutting down their music program is a sign of compromise? I saw a mention of its affordability.

  2. Not necessarily Josh.

    But Rick Holland the founder and promoter of the CCM/Rock RESOLVED concerts under MacArthur’s ministry in the NIU chapel is compromise. The reported dropping of music standards in the school, pastors who are wondering if kids playing electric guitar in dorm devotions to some CCM groups was an anomaly.

    It appears that this is the new culture that is being nurtured at this time.

    With long time music faculty resigning of their own accord over the changes in philosophy and practice of music at NIU that to me indicates there are compromises that are to great to be tolerated any longer.

    Affordability is a genuine concern.


  3. Paul Ringenberg2/20/2011 10:14 PM

    The first word that we received re: N.I.U. and compromise came from friends that told us that all the music faculty have either resgned or were let go for the coming year. We are saddened that yet another good school has decided to embrace the world's system.

  4. Paul:

    The video from NIU where students are performing the song and dance routine from the Broadway play WICKED is a stark example of lowering the separatist banner. Yet, Matt Olson insists they have not changed. And some students believe this, too bad.

    …that all the music faculty have either resigned or were let go for the coming year.”

    That is what was communicated to me as well, and the original source(s) are NIU staff.

    It is best that parents of current or prospective students ask for and insist on clear answers before investing in NIU and entrusting their young people there. They might get back a young person that has been unhinged from the years of training the parents instilled in them.


  5. Hey guys,

    I saw this site and hoped to add a little encouragement. I'm a Music Education student at Northland and came in 2005, and I was discouraged to hear what they planned to do with the music program. At the second meeting they had with all of the Music majors, much of our anxiety was relieved. Northland reverted from its plan to dismantle the music program and place it under the Bible degree and are keeping the program much the same. The changes they decided to make were to combine classes like theory and aural skills and a couple other classes so as not to remove teaching, but present it in a form that allows it to be more cost-effective for the school and still equip students to do what they need. I took classes with every music faculty that left or will leave, and I'm not convinced after talking with them that they left because of Biblical philosophy as much as the practical philosophy they thought Northland would bring in, but no longer are.
    Being here and actually seeing what is taking place rather than hearing about it allows me to be certain that Northland is still an excellent college for any Fundamental Baptist Christian.

  6. Ryan:

    Normally, in my new policy, I will not post a comment unless the full name is disclosed. I'm letting yours appear because I want to address what you've shared and will do so later today.


  7. Ryan:

    I am going to address what you’ve shared above on what you feel is happening at NIU, but not entirely as a direct response to you. This will be meant for all readers.

    From what I know for sure about the events at NIU I thought I was reading either blissful ignorance or youthful naiveté. Did these faculty members leave only over practical philosophy? No, of course not. The mere fact that three individuals left MID-contract year shows that the stakes were much higher than merely working conditions.

    If you’ve been in college since 2005 I figure you are about 24. Still relatively young and inexperienced in the ways of having an occupation that you truly believe someone would uproot themselves and alter their livelihood just because classical music training wasn’t on the menu.

    The other consideration is the increasing number of other faculty/staff who’ve either chosen to leave or been let go (my count, at present, is over fifteen). Or, the simple fact that, with the exception of a part-time strings and part-time piano teacher, there are no other remaining music faculty come next fall.

    When you’re in the slowly heating water (“being here and actually seeing what is taking place”) it’s hard for you, as the frog, to feel that you’re actually boiling to death.

    I have to question the NIU administration’s transparency. What is mind boggling is that these men can make direct statements to the students, and then come back a week or two later and make completely different statements, without much repercussion. Of course, when all of the dissenters are gone (their reasons for leaving all already being discounted), this will be even easier.

    Kind regards,