Students reflect on transitions in CSICS

Amid changes, leadership paints vision for continued faithfulness to missions.

Kathryn Watson, Writer

As seniors plan their long-anticipated graduation walk next week, many students, faculty and administrators within the Cook School of Intercultural Studies are reflecting on changes within the major, bot recent and past.

On Monday, more than 60 people from the CSICS community –– mostly students–– attended a goodbye dessert for Islamic Studies professor Len Bartlotti, who recently announced that he and his wife, Debi, will not return to Biola in the fall. Bartlotti, who joined the faculty in 2006, headed the department’s Islamic Studies emphasis, making Biola one of the only Christian institutions to offer such a program.

CSICS dean, Doug Pennoyer, said the school is still very much committed to the program and that the school’s leadership will be searching for other professors qualified to teach those courses.

“We will have the classes,” he said. “We have no intention of backing away from the Islamic Studies program.”

FACULTY TRANSITIONS

Bartlotti’s departure is one in a series of faculty changes in recent years that have some students saying they are struggling to keep up. The ICS undergrad branch has had three changes in chairs in as many years with Murray Decker in 2007, Alan McMahan in 2008, and Tom Steffen in 2009.

Senior ICS major Chris Reeder said he had trouble finding the right person to sign his graduation petition for his upcoming graduation.

Some students also wonder why the changes were necessary at all, noting that both Decker and McMahan seemed to enjoy the position as chair.

“Neither of them showed any signs of excitement about being changed,” said ’08 ICS graduate Wes Zitnay.

While administrators cannot legally comment on the reasoning behind personnel changes, Pennoyer assured students he doesn’t make any decision in isolation.

“No dean makes a major personnel decision without following the faculty handbook and without networking with his own leadership team,” Pennoyer said.

For Pennoyer, that leadership team consists of Tom Steffen, Doug Hayward, Sue Russell and John Liang, the chairs of the various departments within the school. As a dean, Pennoyer is also accountable to interim provost Patricia Pike.

“I have to make some tough calls,” Pennoyer said. “And these calls are not done in a snap decision sort of way.”

Some students have voiced concerns over the shifts pertaining to faculty who specialize in missiology.

“Most of the favorite professors have [left or assumed other positions], and these professors all have been on the ICS side,” said junior Brian S., co-chair of the ICS Undergrad Representative Council. “Maybe it’s nothing. But to students, it looks like something.”

Some students’ concern over what they perceive as the targeting of many missions-focused professors, as well as an overall feeling that CSICS is moving away from the centrality of missions, prompted the ICS Undergrad Representative Council to call a “fireside chat” last week. Pennoyer met with more than 50 students and alumni to address their concerns.

“I think we’ve heard the issues,” Pennoyer said. “There has been a tremendous outpouring of questions, and the provost has taken the time to answer a lot of them. We had the fireside chat.”

DEFINING MISSIONS

Some students and faculty have expressed grievances over a perceived departmental divide regarding philosophies of missions.

Pennoyer acknowledged that tensions are present within the school as a whole, and said school leaders have been working with the provost over the past two years to address the department’s philosophy of missions.

“We will as a family… come through this,” he said. “…These tensions that are present here are not ours alone, they’re present throughout the whole missiological world in terms of the great need to see the gospel proclaimed and the great need to see people come to Jesus Christ, the great need to show our good deeds around the world.”

ICS professor Thomas Sappington acknowledged that philosophies concerning the definition of missions have morphed to extend to more than strict evangelization in the world of missions.

“I think over the years, Evangelicals have realized the importance of relief and development … different aspects of ministry, as long as it’s integrated and has a goal of people knowing Christ and being transformed by His grace,” Sappington said.

Faculty, like ICS anthropology professor Katrina Greene, say any tensions in philosophy existing in the world of missions are mistaken.

“This issue of the separation I think is something that is a false divide that only serves the enemy when we look at it,” Greene said.

Specific to CSICS, TESOL professor Katherine Purgason said tensions exist.
“I agree that there is dysfunction and I am incredibly grieved,” she said.
Some students have expressed dissatisfaction with last year’s restructuring of CSICS, saying that dividing it into four distinct branches and adding a missions minor further separates missions from the other tools needed to spread the Gospel.
Students, such as ICS senior Diane Swagerty, disagree, saying the different branches of the school should be seen as specializations rather than separations.

MOVING FORWARD

While students expressed differing opinions as to how the administration should address their concerns, all agreed that communication needs to improve.

Swagerty said she was not even aware of the school’s official restructuring last year, and that until very recently the controversy within the department had been very “hush-hush.”

“I feel like we’re not really informed about a lot of it,” said senior ICS major Megan Gularte. Gularte, who was a student representative in her junior year, said that even in her leadership position, it was difficult to obtain information and that the department struggles with communication.

Senior ICS major Jaclyn Cirilo suggested that the administration harness social media like Facebook to create discussion forums.

“I think that because of the lack of any type of place you can go to seek, all you can do is keep listening either to gossip or ideas that maybe are just floating around the student body,” she said. “That’s more destructive than anything.”

Some students who feel that their voice is not being heard joined a Facebook group Reeder created entitled, “Save the Cook School of Intercultural Studies.” Between Tuesday and Wednesday, its membership nearly doubled from 40 to 75.

“There’s obviously a problem, and it’s too important to not fix, and in order to do so, it needs to be done thoroughly,” said Swagerty. “I think the more we’re willing to talk to each other about our disagreements or about how we can make it better… will only make us stronger.”

“They need to figure out some way to push the envelope as much as they can legally, in wisdom, to give us more information of the problems within ICS so that we can speak into that as students,” Brian said.

Pennoyer said he couldn’t offer many details as to further plans for change, but assured students that he does have plans.

“The vision for the future is moving forward,” he said.

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