Cornerstone University’s new president is under fire. His former colleagues see a pattern.

by Msnbctv news staff

(RNS) — In March 2012, Katy Attanasi, then an assistant professor of faith at Regent College in Virginia, was at house feeding her new child son when she heard a knock on the door. On her stoop, she discovered a snow-dusted FedEx envelope from the college. Inside was a letter informing her that her college contract wouldn’t be renewed. 

Attanasi, now a Methodist pastor in Kentucky, was certainly one of eight college to obtain a Fed-Exed termination letter that semester. Hers was signed by Gerson Moreno-Riaño, dean of Regent’s Faculty of Undergraduate Research. No warning had been given and no clarification adopted. 

“We didn’t have the rest lined up, and my husband had simply had surgical procedure,” mentioned Attanasi. “We have been a future with a child with a preexisting situation and no medical insurance. It was a really scary time.”

Scouring the college handbook, Attanasi discovered that as a tenure-track college member, she was assured a terminal yr contract, which she argued for and accomplished in 2013. Since then, former Regent workers declare, at the least 39 others — directors, college and employees — have been additionally let go as Moreno-Riaño rose to government vp for tutorial affairs.

Those that have been terminated have been typically seen as “going towards the conservative evangelical grain of the college,” in line with Walter Staggs, a former writing middle director at Regent.

“It was traumatic for everyone,” mentioned one other former Regent staffer. 

Regent spokesperson Chris Roslan mentioned that “Regent has not had any ‘college purges,’” including that the college had ended “underperforming applications” and consequently a “small variety of college” have been “not renewed on the finish of their contracts.” 

Final Might, Moreno-Riaño was appointed because the 12th president of Cornerstone College, a small, Christian liberal arts faculty in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The day earlier than his formal set up in October, Cornerstone’s college voted no confidence in his capability to guide as president, citing a tradition of “worry and suspicion” and the last-minute departures of at the least eight college and employees. 

The Rev. Dr. Katy Attanasi in 2018. Picture by by Erica Faulkner

Attanasi and a few of her former colleagues at Regent known as the sample at Cornerstone eerily acquainted.

The occasions at Cornerstone and Regent are greater than anyone administrator. Politics have exerted a robust affect on Christian faculties lately, mentioned Scot McKnight, a Cornerstone alumni and now professor of New Testomony at Northern Seminary in Lisle, Illinois.

“There’s a polarization in Christian schooling at this time that strains up too neatly with partisan politics,” mentioned McKnight. “Many of those faculties at the moment are making choices about which partisan group they’ll align themselves with, which turns an establishment away from essential pondering and towards partisan politics.”

Attanasi in contrast the concentrating on of sure Regent professors to dismissals at Liberty College in Lynchburg, Virginia, after the varsity’s then-president, Jerry Falwell Jr., championed Donald Trump’s White Home run in 2016 and invited him to campus. (Trump additionally held a marketing campaign rally at Regent and was later interviewed there by its founder, Christian media government and star Pat Robertson.) Liberty additionally noticed a dramatic drop in Black college students underneath Falwell.

“I sadly see the truth of this establishment changing into like the subsequent Liberty College,” mentioned one Cornerstone worker, “the place college students of colour are slowly however certainly eked out. Or they simply know they’ll proceed to face what Christians do, which is racism.” 

Cornerstone has not commented straight on its college’s no-confidence vote, however an e-mail despatched to school on Nov. 19 affirmed the board’s dedication to “Biblical variety and inclusion” and promised each “mission-centric hiring and retention of numerous college and employees.” (The entire terminated Cornerstone workers have been mentioned to be concerned in selling variety, fairness and inclusion efforts.) 

In a Nov. 22 e-mail to Faith Information Service, Carole Bos, chair of Cornerstone’s board of trustees, wrote, “Our board of trustees has been very appreciative of those that have raised issues and provided concepts on how we could proceed to greatest fulfill our mission. Transferring ahead with President Gerson Moreno-Riano, the board stays dedicated to our Cornerstone Id, Mission and Imaginative and prescient.”

However the environment on the faculty stays unsettled. Deja Terhune, a senior secondary English schooling main at Cornerstone, mentioned she hadn’t obtained any details about the college and employees who’ve departed. “There isn’t a transparency in any respect. Nobody is saying something, the whole lot may be very secretive for the time being,” she mentioned.

Some college students of colour have spoken out about what they view because the president’s distaste for variety applications.  

“The gaslighting, religious abuse, racial microaggressions, removing of school and lack of secure areas for individuals of colour has been detrimental to my psychological, emotional, and religious well being and I’m now seeing a therapist I hardly afford and have moved off campus to have house to breathe, relaxation, and get better from CU,” wrote Lamont Aldridge, a junior and intern within the faculty’s variety division, in a letter shared with college on Oct. 21. “I don’t belief the brand new administration or adjustments made to result in the flourishing of our college, particularly for marginalized college students.” 

RELATED: Cornerstone College votes no-confidence in president the day earlier than inauguration

At Regent, Moreno-Riaño was profitable in bolstering enrollment, which almost doubled throughout his tenure, thanks partially to a rise in on-line diploma choices. However a number of former workers allege the restructuring was used as an excuse to take away workers who challenged the established order, particularly on issues of social justice. 

Cornerstone University logo. Courtesy image

Cornerstone College brand. Courtesy picture

“The cuts that I noticed have been the place they used the funds to justify eliminating individuals whose scholarship was not seen as being extreme-right sufficient, fundamentalist sufficient,” mentioned Kimberly Alexander, a former affiliate professor of the historical past of Christianity at Regent’s Faculty of Divinity who resigned final yr.

Alexander mentioned directors questioned her about her scholarship, which she described as being “conservative” however involving some “feminist language.”

The Rev. Antoinette G. Alvarado, former adjunct professor on the Faculty of Divinity, mentioned that in 2016 she obtained an e-mail from James Flynn, an affiliate dean, instructing her to cease assigning college students a video of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright — a dynamic Chicago pastor whose critiques of the USA made headlines in 2008 when it was reported that then-candidate Barack Obama had attended his church. 

Flynn “acknowledged within the e-mail that (the) new vp of educational affairs, had reviewed my curriculum and the sermon preached by Dr. Jeremiah Wright that I had assigned for my class to evaluation was not acceptable for Regent Faculty of Divinity,” wrote Alvarado in an e-mail to RNS. The brand new vp was Moreno-Riaño. 

“I didn’t perceive, as a result of the a part of the course was on Black preaching, and (Wright) is certainly one of our hallmark preachers. And after I obtained that e-mail, they by no means provided me one other contract,”  mentioned Alvarado. 

“Again and again, individuals have been simply disappearing,” mentioned Staggs. “You understand, that is extra just like the Christian mafia. You’ll be able to’t discuss towards the household otherwise you’re gone.”

Kimberly Alexander. Courtesy photo

Kimberly Alexander. Courtesy photograph

Staggs and Alexander mentioned Moreno-Riaño acted in coordination with Corné Bekker, dean of the Faculty of Divinity at Regent. As a member of the curriculum committee, “we have been basically simply rubber-stamping curriculum,” Alexander mentioned. “It was very a lot acknowledged that this was a correction of the errors of the previous, the place the varsity had develop into too liberal or too numerous.”

The tutorial adjustments didn’t go unnoticed by college students. “I felt prefer it was shifting away from a standard, tutorial mannequin with conventional, tutorial values, the place inquiry, open trade of concepts and scholarship are celebrated,” mentioned Vincent Staggs, a former divinity pupil at Regent and now a professor on the College of Missouri-Kansas Metropolis Faculty of Drugs. (He’s not associated to Walter Staggs.) “I felt prefer it was shifting away from that to a extra ideologically slim, managed mannequin.”

Jermaine Marshall, who was in a Ph.D. program at Regent’s Faculty of Divinity from 2012-2019, agreed. “After I entered the Faculty of Divinity, it was a world-class establishment,” mentioned Marshall, now pastor of Williams Institutional CME Church in Harlem. “It was an exceptional place to check, a spot of educational rigor, essential inquiry and demanding pondering. Sadly, that doesn’t exist there any longer.”  

College students alarmed by the departure of Faculty of Divinity college and the altering setting despatched letters and petitions to Moreno-Riaño asking him to intervene. He didn’t. 

Marshall mentioned he additionally witnessed a lower within the ethnic and racial variety of Faculty of Divinity college. “After I entered the Faculty of Divinity, we had good variety on the college, however over time, and significantly when Gerson was VP of educational affairs … that variety simply dissipated,” mentioned Marshall, referring to Moreno-Riaño by his first title.

“In lots of instances, individuals of colour, they have been both let go, or due to cases of both covert or overt cases of racial discrimination, they left.”

In an announcement to RNS, Roslan mentioned, “Regent College is deeply devoted to advancing rules of educational freedom as is outlined in its School and Tutorial Coverage Handbook. This coverage permits for the fostering and free trade of information and all kinds of concepts according to conventional Christian rules.”

Roslan mentioned 40% of Regent’s directors campuswide are girls and folks of colour, and he rejects any declare that the varsity discriminates towards any race or gender. 

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“What’s happening at Cornerstone, it’s a playbook,” mentioned Alexander. “It’s the identical factor, besides he’s gone in with this sort of license to do what he’s performed.”

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