My alma mater, Atlantic Union College, in S. Lancaster, Mass., is one of the oldest Adventist schools, founded in 1882. It’s in a great location, a small town less than an hour outside Boston, quiet and quaint, but accessible to great cultural and historical sites and institutions. It was a wonderful school when I attended, with good teachers who took advantage of the location and took us to concerts, art openings, and lectures–I heard such theologians and philosophers as Langdon Gilkey, Francis Schaeffer, Charles Hartshorne and Wolfhart Pannenberg, for example. My largest class had about eighty students–my smallest, two. My professors were mentors and friends.
The school began to decline some years after I graduated, thanks to poor leadership at the top and lack of support among its constituency. Atlantic Union College, as its name suggests, draws from the Atlantic Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, which includes the Northern New England, Southern New England, Greater New York, New York, Northeastern and Bermuda Conferences. When I attended AUC in the early 1980s, I think white, Hispanic, and black students were equally represented. As the years went by the percentage of black students increased, while white parents in New England and New York increasingly sent their kids to Southern and Andrews. Is this to be attributed to racism among white Adventists of New England, or to the lack of recruitment by admissions staff among the churches of New England, or to the fact that the numbers of white Adventists are dwindling in New England while growth is occurring among Hispanics and blacks in both the cities and the islands? I think this question needs to be looked at honestly and studied carefully.
Last year was the school’s 125th anniversary, and the year of celebration ended with a new president, and an announcement of a new direction, which the latest Atlantic Union Gleaner announces in glowing tones as “blazing new grounds in Adventist education.” The details aren’t mentioned; the announcement merely says that students will be prepared “for community service and contemporary Christian leadership.”
The Worcester Telegram gave the full story on December 19: the college will eliminate majors in music and art and an A.S. degree in nursing (retaining the B.S. program).
The AUC board of trustees voted this month to accept the new focus, out of two models — community service or arts — provided by administrators, faculty, staff, students, board members and consultants. But Mr. Wendth said the board threw a curveball by accepting parts of each model and requesting more emphasis on contemporary Christian leadership.
That plan, he said, calls for encouraging students to go back to their hometown churches and take leadership roles to help revitalize older churches, increase membership and attendance, and get members to work together on community projects.
My Christmas letter had noted that my son plans to study music–a friend’s comment today on that letter drew my attention to this board action. I’m told the board had considered eliminating history and English majors as well (in New England!).
This is a loss to AUC. The music department was once one of the strongest departments, featuring not only Rittenhouse’s New England Youth Ensemble, but also the Thayer Conservatory Orchestra, and outstanding faculty musicians such as Kaestner Robertson and Margarita Merriman.
It remains to be seen what will happen to the school; it’s too early to write the epitaph, but I think when that epitaph is written it will be said that the school died of a prolonged illness.