Just announced by Dr. Charles Petitt, President, Piedmont International University,
Dr. Pettit says, “Unlike most mergers,” one survives and one goes away. To that we read,
In 2010 we were informed of the closure of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College (PBBC). I reported and shared some reaction to that sad event.1“[Tennessee Temple] Students have the option to move to Piedmont with assured admittance and continue their education at a discounted price, but the merger effectively means that come May 1, Tennessee Temple University will no longer exist.” (Kevin Hardy, Alex Green: The End of Tennessee Temple in Chattanooga, TimesFreePress, March 3, 2015)
“The suddenness and clearly new direction that Alan Potter steered the school toward was for many Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) men an indication that PBBC had just set foot on a path away from its Fundamentalist heritage for Evangelical tendencies. PBBC tried to recover its heritage and perception as solidly Fundamentalist, but the damage was done.”A few weeks ago it was announced that the Highland Park Baptist Church would be relocating and that it would have a name change. We referenced that in Community is Being Elevated Above Theology.2 On Sept. 17 the Times Free Press ran a companion story on Tennessee Temple University (TTU).3
At Temple’s peak in the 1970s, more than 5,000 young men and women intent on winning souls crowded the 55-acre campus…. Today, there are only 300 students on campus, and fewer of them are drawn by the school’s conservative heritage.It has been a slow decline, but enrollment has declined to the point of what may be its ultimate demise. At the pseudo-fundamentalist Sharper Iron4 a thread was opened to discuss the report on TTU’s decline. I do not know Jonathan Charles, but I do appreciate two comments he posted there. As you read these comments see if you can recognize any parallels to what is going on at Northland International University (NIU) right now.
“I graduated from Tennessee Temple-twice. When I was there the KJV was used, the dress code still fairly conservative (girls could wear pants off campus) and music was still conservative. This mirrored most of the Temple constituency. After Roberson there came two successive pastors who did not understand who the men and women were who made up the nearly 10,000 alumni who had graduated from the school. Change was implemented very recklessly and thoughtlessly. The vibe I got from the leadership was ‘We’re going to make X change and people are going to have to live with it.’ The alumni decided to live without Tennessee Temple. The switch to the Southern Baptist Convention was necessary because Temple was a school without a constituency. It is sad to drive through the campus. Last time I was there it seemed like a ghost town, grass growing over side walks, buildings dirty and in need of repair, etc.”
“At the same time that Temple was being sucked into the whirlpool, schools like [Pensacola Christian] Crown and West Coast have thrived. I don’t buy the argument that Temple’s demise was inevitable. The post-Roberson leadership didn’t appreciate Temple’s heritage. To me it is just a matter of preference if you use the KJV, prefer a particular style of music and want students to dress in this way or that way, both of which would be modest. But you can’t come in and turn a hard right or left and expect to have your alumni with you. When the Jennings/Bouler leadership got the school away from its IBF roots, the school found itself in a wasteland with no constituency. Maybe its association with the SBC can save it, but it is probably too late.”NIU’s president Matt Olson and its Board should take note, for Jonathan Charles has put a window on what is going to become of NIU through TTU’s similar historical precedent for it.
NIU president Matt Olson has the pressures of declining enrollment, loss of alumni support and the prospect that NIU could fold as a direct result of the changes he brought in. His legacy will be one of either: taking the school successfully into a new evangelical orbit or having brought the school down to the point of closure. As all of this unfolds Les Ollila stands by silently and in seeming approval for either outcome.“But you can’t come in and turn a hard right or left and expect to have your alumni with you.”
I have been researching to ascertain enrollment figures from NIU. Sources told me that the current enrollment is at approximately 320 students, which is significantly lower than enrollment up until 2010. Figures for the years 2002-2010 were in the mid to high 600’s with a time period of their being between 700-750, maybe a bit higher. The administration, of course, doesn’t like to talk much about enrollment these days. We also understand that part of the men’s dorm has been sealed off to keep costs down and the Patz endowment is being eaten through.
These enrollment figures are estimates, of course and not hard data. One reason for some ambiguity is that actual enrollment numbers were rarely made clear. In fact, through accreditation approval with TRAACS, several times in faculty/staff meetings included cautions against offering to the accreditation team our enrollment numbers, as it was “a complicated equation” that was used to determine that.
For NIU the lesson from Bill Knapp’s, TTU and Pillsbury is the same, “You can’t come in and turn a hard right or left and expect to have your alumni with you.”
Does Matt Olson believe he can succeed where others have failed? Matt Olson’s hard left turn put NIU on a trajectory to suffer the consequences, which began with losing most of the alumni. Significant numbers of alumni have already seen enough of Matt Olson’s leftward turn to decide they’re not going with him. The university has already realized a significant decline in enrollment.
“Tennessee Temple and its leadership pursued a path of ‘relevance.’ accommodated carnality, and today even secular media can’t help but notice that there is a parallel between the institution’s decline and its accommodation of the world at the sacrifice of Biblical, Christian distinctives. Let those pastors, churches and institutions who abandon their fundamental heritage, have disdain for those who have gone before, and pursue a path towards ‘Conservative Evangelicalism’ be forewarned…their end is tragically predictable.”5The empty classrooms and barren grounds of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College and the image of a shuttered Bill Knapp’s restaurant illustrate what NIU may very well look like in the not-too-distant future. Whether in secular business or a Christian college you cannot alienate your core constituency and expect them to remain loyal. Without the support of alumni NIU has no reason to expect surviving Matt Olson’s changes, but instead find itself a wasteland with no constituency.
We asked, “What Do NIU, Pillsbury and TTU Have In Common?” Answer: Each took a hard left, lost their alumni and began a trajectory toward an ultimate demise.
1) Discussion Over the Closing of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College
2) Dr. Douglas McLachlan: Community is Being Elevated Above Theology
3) Temple Carries On Despite Steady Decline in Enrollment
4) SI May Fit the Descriptionof Being Pseudo- Fundamentalist
5) Excerpt from e-mail received from a “Biblical Fundamentalist Baptist Pastor.”
In April 2011 Brother David Cloud published, The “Old” Highland Park Baptist Church: Death in the Pot.
“This is a dramatic change from the philosophy and attitude that prevailed in this same place just 20 years earlier. The ‘new’ Temple crowd criticizes the ‘old’ Temple crowd, but of course they ‘haven’t changed.’ And of course, they don’t believe it is right to criticize, unless you are criticizing some old extreme fundamentalist, then it is no holds barred, let ‘er rip.”To one critic of Dave Cloud’s article who said it, “is less about TTU than it is about CCM,” Alex Guggenheim wrote,
“Indeed Cloud refers to changing music standards, but this reference only comprises about 1/10th of the entire article. Cloud does a commendable job covering many of the weaknesses of Temple and Highland Park which can be said of a sizable portion of the independent fundamentalist Baptist movement during this era while acknowledging the evangelistic strength. But even in acknowledging the evangelistic strength he points out the problem or the weakness of quick prayerism.”