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Cedarville students, alumni question university’s direction after 2 leadership changes

The recent retirement of Cedarville University’s president and the abrupt resignation of a top administrator — under a nondisclosure agreement — has some students and alumni from across the country questioning the future direction of the Baptist institution.

Students complain Cedarville’s leadership has not been transparent about the departures, and their campaign for information has drawn attention within the religious community and the national media. Tennessee Pastor Chris Williamson said he resigned from the school’s board of trustees after being “blindsided” by what he called the administration’s “mistreatment” of the vice president for student life, Carl Ruby, a popular 25-year veteran of Cedarville who resigned last month.

The trustees have called a special meeting for Feb. 23 to revisit recent events, Williamson said. He said he is hopeful the 37-member board will work to reinstate Ruby, at which time he would pull his pending resignation.

“Hopefully something good will arise and he can be reinstated,” said Williamson, pastor of the Strong Tower Bible Church in Franklin, Tenn. “I think that would be a great shot in the arm for the university and our reputation.”

Cedarville is known as a top Christ-centered university of about 3,400 students and celebrated its 125th anniversary last year. Every undergraduate attends chapel five days a week and earns a Bible minor. Its faculty, staff and trustees affirm every year that they agree with the school’s doctrinal statement, which includes a belief in the literal six-day account of creation.

University spokesman Mark Weinstein said the recent changes do not mean Cedarville is altering its course from a doctrinal or academic perspective. “Any time there’s change, there’s uncertainty. That’s normal,” he said. “We still have capable leaders in administration and in faculty positions. I don’t see that really changing who Cedarville is or who we want to become.”

As a private university, Cedarville is not subject to laws that require records be released publicly. And it is free to hire and fire professors based on their beliefs. Some students said their concerns began in November, when Cedarville did “relieve” professor Michael Pahl of his teaching duties after determining a book he authored in 2011 did not match all of the school’s religious views.

The trustees found Pahl’s book, “The Beginning and the End: Rereading Genesis’s Stories and Revelation’s Visions,” was “unable to concur fully with each and every position of Cedarville University’s doctrinal statement,” according to a statement from Pahl and the university. Pahl, an associate professor since 2011, had used his book as a text in teaching.

Then, President William Brown announced he would retire and become chancellor of the university effective June 30. As chancellor, he is still involved in fund raising and the university’s calendar says he will lead chapel on Monday.

More recently, the university eliminated its philosophy major, which some students said they saw as a threat to the school’s liberal arts base. Cedarville’s philosophy minor will continue, but its major was cut in part because just nine students were enrolled.

And then, on Jan. 10, it was announced Ruby would “step down” effective June 30. But his last day on campus was Jan. 15, and hundreds of students showed their support by wearing red and lining his walk from his office to his car. Ruby’s departure was publicly called a resignation. But Williamson said he learned at a January trustees’ meeting, “it was a termination of employment.”

He added that it was an administrative decision not one by the board. Williamson said the main reason told to him was that Ruby was not following the chain of command.

All the changes — although the university on its website cautions making connections between them — have left students suspicious of university leadership and uncertain of the future, said student body president Zak Weston.

“There’s certainly a pressing need to challenge authority and ask, respectfully of course, what is going on,’” said Weston, a senior from Michigan.

Weinstein said Cedarville will not abandon President Brown’s Vision 2020 or Ruby’s legacy of caring for students from different backgrounds. Ruby’s Critical Concern Series will continue, as well, he said. Weinstein said he has also heard questions about whether the school is become more fundamentalist, and said it is not.

He said the university is in the process of selecting a new president with RPA, Inc., based in Williamsport, Penn., and hopes to have a new leader for the start of the next school year. The school also held public forums with staff and students to answer questions in recent weeks.

And university leaders recently decided to hold the tuition increase for 2013-14 to 2.8 percent — the lowest in school history — while increasing financial aid support 12.5 percent to $23.4 million next year to keep Cedarville affordable.

“We feel we have an important role to play in higher education in the Miami Valley and in the country and that’s our focus,” Weinstein said. “To do the best we can and to allow the Lord to grow Cedarville and become a real voice in Christ-centered education nationally.”

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