Copresidents Departing from Institute for Christian Studies

The board of the Institute for Christian Studies (ICS) announced that Tom and Dawn Wolthuis are no longer copresidents of the school effective January 27, 2014, just one year after they took on the role.

ICS is a Christian graduate school in Toronto, Ontario. It receives ministry share support from Canadian members of the Christian Reformed Church.

The board’s announcement gave no reason for the departure. Sources close to ICS said that the presidents did not receive board support as they did necessary staff cutting that had been approved by the board and that the management style of the two presidents exacerbated the situation.

Charity returns available from Canada Revenue Agency show that the school was operating on deficit budgets and was spending a $4.2 million legacy gift from the estate of Lowell Andreas at a rate of more than $600,000 per year.

In late 2012, financial statements showed that the school could accept students for only two more years unless it cut expenses by reducing faculty and staff and increased fundraising.

That was when the Wolthuises moved from Iowa to take on the copresidency. Tom had been a professor at Dordt College in Sioux Center, and Dawn was a partner in a software company.

Until recently, Peter Noteboom was treasurer of the board. He decided not to renew his term as a board member because, he said, normal communication and accountability mechanisms were no longer functioning. “Many board members were not fully informed about what was happening,” he said.

Noteboom said that the copresidents had a nearly impossible task and “without a healthy relationship between Henriette Thompson, board chair, and the two copresidents the task became that much more difficult.” Noteboom said that in the end, the relationship was evidently broken.

Three other board members have also resigned in the past year.

In a statement, the Wolthuises said they were sorry to be leaving ICS. “We both felt we did some of the best and most challenging work of our careers striving to help raise the visibility of the important mission of ICS while also driving toward a sustainable future,” they wrote. “We wish for only the best for the students, faculty, and staff who are carrying on the important work.”

They said they echo the words of Dr. Doug Birdsall when he left his presidency at the American Bible Society: “There are times when the vision and style of a new leader does not mesh satisfactorily with the culture of an established organization or with the expectations of a board.”

Asked about the departure, Thompson said in an email, “The departure of ICS copresidents Tom and Dawn Wolthuis is marked by a sadness and pain that inevitably accompanies these partings because they occur within a wider community of faith where relationships are long-term and precious. The Board of Trustees is grateful to them for the gifts they were able to offer during their time in office and we pray for them and for the ICS community at this time.”

Doug Blomberg, academic dean at ICS, is now acting president. This is the sixth administration change for ICS in the past nine years.

The Wolthuises plan to return to the U.S.

About the Author

Gayla Postma is news editor for The Banner.

See comments (12)

Comments

As a member and supporter of AARS/ICS for over forty years, and a former Senior Member there for ten, I mourn that things have come to such a pass. 

Dr. Wolters,

As a current Junior Member at ICS, let me say that we too were and continue to be saddened by the departure of the presidents. That being said, please, please don't let the onesidedness of this article trick you into thinking that ICS is a sinking ship with no direction. This institution has made my life and the lives of my classmates possible, and I cannot stress enough how precious it is.

For any CRC folks who are interested in the good things ICS is doing right now, please visit the following links. We are an active bunch, and we are extremely excited to do our part to continue living out the dream of authentic Christian witness in the scholarship world. 

http://news.icscanada.edu/2014/02/open-letter-to-editors-of-banner.html

http://deandettloff.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/exciting-happenings-at-the-institute-for-christian-studies/

I am wondering when it will be that the Banner corrects its report, including within its correction the info its been given by the ICS itself.  This is undoubtedly a difficult situation, but let's get the story straight, for everyone's benefit.  The Banner's announcement did not include much.  I expect that to be corrected.  Be good journalists.  JW

If the Banner's article is factually flawed, that should be corrected.  But it is important that in some way, good and sufficient information about what has happened at ICS be disseminated, at least to the CRCNA community, because ICS is pitched by the CRCNA as an associated institution, and ICS pitches its association with the CRCNA.  And this latest happenening is not insignificant.

I've read the letter/web page at the links provided by Joshua Harris and would encourage anyone else to read them as well.  The letter especially gives something of the 'other side', although I especially note nothing at those links counters or explains this Banner article's statement that "This is the sixth administration change for ICS in the past nine years."

I've worked with (as attorney) many profit and non-profit organizations over the years, and have served a number of times both as officer and director for non-profits, small and big.  The very high rate of administrative turnover itself suggests there could be a fairly high level of dysfunction at this institution.

One side note but related: the fact that ICS had appointed co-presidents (which didn't last long) seemed very peculiar to me when it was inititally done, and still does.  Frankly, I can't imagine that implementing a co-presidency, as opposed to a single president, wouldn't by itself be cause for some level of dysfunction (or perhaps be a sign of it). 

I don't understand six administration changes in the last nine years.  Before the copresidency of Dawn and Tom Wolthuis, there was John Suk, and before that was Harry Fernhout.  In between these, there were acting presidents, who functioned in that role while a new president was sought.  I would not consider these acting presidents to be evidence of "administration change".  They should not be considered in such a list.  This story is being poorly told. 

Doug,

I thought I might add another Junior Member voice to this discussion (you may recall Josh linked my blog detailing recent ICS activity). Your concern is well understood, given your experience and position, and there is no doubt that a high volume of adminstrative changes is tough on any community. To infer, however, that this is the result of dysfunction is, I submit, unfair speculation and is not constructive or useful for anyone's edification in this situation.

As a current Junior Member at ICS, I can attest to the health and functionality of the community as a whole. As the statement from ICS mentitons, this is not the worst financial crisis the institution has faced. ICS is marked by a kind of resilient attitude, formed as it is in the crucible of struggling for a legitimate place. In the academy, ICS struggles with a general bias against explicitly Christian thought. In the church, ICS struggles with a suspicion that philosophy is a useless enterprise. Undaunted by both, ICS steams ahead, gaining momentum from these struggles and attempting to carve out a healing, positive, and loving project in the world in spite of opposition on all sides. It is that mission which attracted me as a student, and it is what ultimately sealed the desire of my wife and I to move from the United States to Canada to pursue graduate studies here (despitte other options).

As such, it is my humble suggestion that those who are concerned for and about ICS approach this situation in openness, looking to listen rather than speak, to trust rather than speculate, and to find constructive ways to help. Most importantly, all of this can be done in earnest prayer for all parties involved, including the Wolthuises and the ICS community. With experience like yours, surely you could prayerfully consider ways in which you might work toward peaceful solutions in situations such as these. Working together, those involved with ICS directly or indirectly (e.g. simply being a part of the CRC) can surely help this process along, helping ICS continue its Christian mission as a beacon of hope in tthe academic world. Putting away our blame and lowering our raised eyebrows, perhaps we might be able help ICS to put some of its financial burdens aside in order to focus on its more pressing matters (such as forming its Junior Members and providing a space for rigorous Christian thought). I, for one, look forward to your creative input!

With Warm Toronto Regards,

Dean

 

Jonathan and Dean:  Kudos to the both of you for being involved enough in your own institution to defend it and insist that folks get their facts straight when a news story about it is reported.  Rare is the case that journalists (of any stripe) get the facts of a story right (or complete), which means people like you do well to speak up.

Now to defend my comment just a bit. :-)  I said the turnover in administration "suggests there could be" dysfunction.  It simply does, which is not to say that there is dysfunction, but what has happened does suggest -- is evidence that -- there is.  Which also means that when something like this happens, it is incumbant upon any organization that is supported by a large outside group (which necessarily can't know the specifics) to communicate specifically when this sort of thing happens.

Hey, the turnover at the ED position of the CRCNA suggests there was a good deal of dysfunction in the denominational bureaucracy, so ICS isn't alone.  And the last time it "fired" an ED, it was pretty mum on the details but merely put out a classic "nice statement" that explained nothing to anyone.  I don't care for that approach, especially in institutions that claim they are somehow guided by the Christian faith.  Christians especially are called to go through problems, not around them.

So defend and explain away.  You might also suggest to the institutional powers that be that they too consider publically defending (or explaining).  

BTW, I was a philosophy major graduating from Dordt before I began law school back in 1976.  I certainly have no problem with explicitly Christian thought.  Kuyper, Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven are all high on my "intellectual/faith heroes" list, but so are people like John Locke and Francis Schaeffer, and others like Adam Smith and Wilhelm Ropke (which irks some who are of the Dooyeweeridan bent).  I can't imagine not fully integrating one's Christian faith with one's life in its entirety (including for me, the practice of law), and I can't imagine a better preparation for law school (or practicing law) than a thorough dunking in the philosophical perspective I was dunked in at Dordt, which is at its core what I understand ICS to claim as its own perpective as well.

Keep preaching and don't be afraid of being open, which I would guess the ICS administration might be.

Thanks Doug.  You're right that something went wrong.  It looks like the ICS had to terminate the co-presidency.  I trust that this was necessary, given what I know about the ICS. 

To tell you the truth I'm not that curious about why.  My beef is with the news report above.  I don't like the factual errors, or the innuendo of dramatic over-turn.  But mainly, it's that it only includes one witness, and one witness who was clearly on one side of a debate.  I don't get it.  I wish the Banner, as a news-reporting entity within the denomination, would report on divides better.  It does it in its recent issue.  Should we carry concealed weapons?  Yes and no are given space.  At least do this for an institution within your community going through a hard time.  Yeah?

It is very rare that Banner staff comment after the fact on articles. However, there seems to be a high degree of concern that there are factual errors in the article. The facts in the article are the facts that were given by the sources for the story, one of whom is the board treasurer, and from public documents. Other board members were given opportunity to comment. Both the WOlthuises and the board chair were given the opportunity to comment. What you see from the ICS board president is the entirety of what was released. A more forthcoming statement was not released until after the Banner's story was published. The Banner has no desire to reflect poorly on ICS, as evidenced by this editorial. Commenters are welcome and encouraged to share their stories of ICS's successes, and also write letters to the editor with their views. 

Gayla: Thanks for making the exception.  My perception is that many if not most in the CRCNA have a tendency to say very little when "bad" things happen in their churches or other public institutions, usually out of a sense of decency or concern for the various parties or some other sense of proper protocol.  We tend to treat public difficulties almost in the same way as private difficulties/indiscretions.   I've come to the conclusion that such a perspective is not helpful but rather harmful for public institutions.

I suspect it is difficult for the Banner to "cover" these events, in part because of the CRC culture tendency to be non-disclosing, but I appaud it for doing so as best it can.  Given what you say, it may well be that ICS' initial hesitation to be disclosing was overcome when they read the Banner's article and decided they wanted to get their perspective in as well.  Were I ICS, I would post what was linked to in Joshua Harris' post as a comment to this online Banner article.

As an aside, I take seriously the Banner's stated intention (several months ago) that this (Banner, online and otherwise) be the kitchen table of the CRC.  I favor the CRC kitchen table being located in The Network as opposed to the Banner but that is not the decision that has been made.

Gayla, I don't think your comment helps.  Your human source was an ex-board member, who stepped down two months before the termination.  He is not a witness to what you reported on.  Harry Fernhout became the president in 1990.  John Suk in 2005.  Dawn and Tom Wolthuis in 2013.  That's 3 in 24, not 6 in 9. 

Great article!  Thank you for working to outline what happened.  I really appreciate your article.