Walla Walla University Presidential Search: What Went Wrong?
by AT News Team
Dr. Alex Bryan, senior pastor of the campus church, was nominated by the search committee to be the next president of Walla Walla University, as Adventist Today has previously reported. Last week the board of trustees voted not to accept the recommendation of the search committee, a rare and surprising outcome. The decision has resulted in many angry responses and criticism of the board and its chair, North Pacific Union Conference president Max Torkelsen.
Torkelsen has issued a statement in response to the questions and comments which was posted on the union conference’s web site today. “Many are seemingly eager to share incomplete or faulty information,” he said. In contrast, “my observations [are] based on firsthand participation … throughout [the] process.” He had “sought to make the process as transparent as possible [with] input and observations from a variety of viewpoints.”
The statement reveals a divided governing body. “When the name of Pastor Alex Bryan … was formally submitted” at the July 1 meeting of the board, “two distinct groups voiced their opinions strongly. One was adamantly against his nomination and the other just as passionately in favor.”
Torkelsen’s statement surfaces as reality a nasty rumor that has circulated for the last week. “An anonymous email listing alleged issues that would purportedly disqualify him for the position” was circulated. Sources who have seen the email have told Adventist Today that it contained dishonest and unethical allegations. Torkelsen does not explain why people qualified to serve on the governing board of an accredited university would pay attention to an unsigned email or letter. Sources have told Adventist Today that this suggests serious ethical failings.
“Pastor Bryan personally responded to each negative allegation from the anonymous email” in a written statement that was given to the board members. “Faculty and staff personally acquainted with Pastor Bryan’s … ministry expressed their unequivocal support.” Torkelsen’s statement does not seek to explain why this was ignored by two-thirds of the governing board, although he does note that “some suspect undue and unjustified political pressures at work” and admits that “there were indeed many efforts to sway the [board] toward a particular viewpoint.” He reveals that 25 of the 29 members of the board were present on July 1 and the vote was 9 in favor of the nominee and 16 against.
“The vote which failed to approve Pastor Bryan was in no way a confirmation of the allegations raised in the anonymous emails and rumors,” Torkelsen said. “In fact, the Trustees felt Pastor Bryan’s written responses” completely knocked down the anonymous charges. “But the board also recognized that Pastor Bryan’s name had become a polarizing factor [in the] constituency throughout the Northwest and beyond.”
“I believe the key reason Pastor Bryan was not elected,” Torkelsen’s statement concludes, “is the fact that the Trustees recognize that being president of a university is a very complex administrative task, and he has no previous educational administrative experience.” This hints that other issues were operating within the governing body.
Torkelsen also stated that the board voted appreciation for Pastor Bryan’s ministry at the University Church and that he “has my support and that of his conference president, Robert Folkenberg [Jr.].” Steve Rose, vice president for finance, is the interim chief executive for the institution.
“This leaves the campus and the community deeply wounded,” a long-time Walla Walla resident told Adventist Today. “It seems like some who claim to have a pious agenda are willing to use any kind of illicit tactics to push their views. And there is a question about the wisdom of some of the decision-makers in this situation.”
“I urge each of us as Northwest Adventists to follow the Apostle Paul’s good counsel to focus on what is true and of good report, on fact and not fiction,” Torkelsen ended his statement. “May the grace of Christ attend all that we do and say.”
The full statement by Elder Max Torkelsen is available at: www.gleaneronline.org/news.html?wsnID=11650&cat=12