An open letter to the Grove City College Board of Trustees

We are writing to you as current full-time faculty members at Grove City College. We are a diverse group that represents multiple academic disciplines, areas of specialty, denominational backgrounds, and phases of career. What unites us is a shared love for the distinctive mission and character of Grove City College.

Over the years, we have appreciated the College’s culture of collegiality and cooperation, and we have been content to go about our daily work serving students and avoiding controversy. When problems do arise from time to time, we prefer to see them addressed through regular channels and established processes. We believe this is the appropriate way to handle conflict.

However, the recent controversy regarding Critical Race Theory (CRT) requires a different approach. As we have observed the institutional response to this controversy over the past few months, we have concluded that basic institutional processes are broken. Absent immediate attention and prompt reform, we fear that the damage the College has suffered will become permanent. For this reason, we have decided to take the unusual step of appealing directly to you.

We take this step anonymously because we have watched how senior administration has handled this crisis and do not believe our concerns would be met with professional honor. We have seen how President McNulty has publicly rebuked parents for raising concerns about the education of their sons and daughters. We have also heard him negatively characterize these parents behind closed doors in faculty meetings. These actions are unbecoming of a Christian college president, and they demonstrate an entrenched, combative posture. In the context of this behavior and the campus atmosphere it has created, we believe that revealing our identity could result in reprisals from senior administration, perhaps even non-renewal of our annual faculty contracts.

As Members of the Grove City College Board of Trustees, you have the ultimate responsibility to preserve the College’s mission and identity and to ensure its financial well-being. We believe both are at risk for three main reasons.

First, the approaches to CRT at the heart of the current controversy do not align with the historic mission and identity of Grove City College.

While the current controversy has spotlighted a number of instances of CRT being taught at Grove City College, three particular examples illustrate concerning misalignment between their approach and the historic mission and identity of the College.

EDUC 290: Cultural Diversity and Advocacy

This new course was announced during a Fall 2020 faculty meeting. As a special topics course, it did not require approval of the full Grove City College faculty, only the approval of the Department Chair, Dean, and Provost. None of us had the opportunity to debate the merits of the course with our faculty colleagues; its creation was simply announced to us.

First taught in Spring 2021, EDUC 290 was advertised with posters featuring activist imagery associated with Black Lives Matter (BLM), an organization with Marxist roots. The course’s four required books all promoted CRT and included highly contested works by Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo. While requiring students to read such works is not in itself concerning, a story in the February 19, 2021, issue of the Grove City Collegian made clear that the purpose of the course was not critical engagement of ideas but political indoctrination. This approach plainly diverged from the stated purpose of the College curriculum as set forth on page 6 of the 2020-21 Grove City College Bulletin:

Grove City College remains true to the vision of its founders. Rejecting relativism and secularism, it fosters intellectual, moral, spiritual, and social development consistent with a commitment to Christian truth, morals, and freedom. Rather than political, ideological, or philosophical agendas, objective truth continues as the goal of liberal learning. The core of the curriculum, particularly in the humanities, consists of books, thinkers, and ideas proven across the ages to be of value in the quest for knowledge. Intellectual inquiry remains open to the questions religion raises and affirms the answers Christianity offers. The ethical absolutes of the Ten Commandments and Christ's moral teachings guide the effort to develop intellect and character in the classroom, chapel, and co-curricular activities. And while many points of view are examined, the College unapologetically advocates preservation of America's religious, political, and economic heritage of individual freedom and responsibility.

[Emphasis added]

As with all other influential theories, Grove City College students need to understand and be able to critically engage with the tenets of CRT. But the pedagogy employed by Grove City College faculty should reflect what is outlined in the College Bulletin. This is what faculty agree to follow when hired, and this is what prospective students and their parents expect they will encounter in the classroom.

Special topics courses are offered on a trial basis, and their continuation is not guaranteed. However, in spite of the controversy surrounding EDUC 290, the full faculty have been given no opportunity to revisit the suitability of the course for our curriculum. In fact, EDUC 290 is being offered again this semester (Spring 2022) and requires students to read another group of pro-CRT books.

Program on Justice, Race, and Reconciliation

In Fall 2020, a two-week program offered by the Office of Campus Ministries and the Office of Multicultural Education and Initiatives presented an exclusively progressive perspective on race in America. Left-wing figures, such as Bryan Stevenson (free movie screening) and Jemar Tisby (chapel talk, book distribution, and book signing), were promoted by the program. In addition, Grove City College administrators and staff advocated for ideas central to CRT, such as systemic racism and white privilege, during presentations in Harbison Chapel. In addition to violating the spirit of the aforementioned section of the College Bulletin, the approach did not align with the College’s Vision and Mission Statements, which at the time read (emphasis added):

Vision Statement
Grove City College strives to be the best Christian liberal arts college in America. Grounded in conservative values, we develop leaders of the highest proficiency, purpose, and principles ready to advance the common good.

Mission Statement
Grove City College equips students to pursue their unique callings through an academically excellent and Christ-centered learning and living experience distinguished by a commitment to affordability and its promotion of the Christian worldview, the foundations of free society, and the love of neighbor.

The Program on Justice, Race, and Reconciliation politicized the College’s Chapel Program and did so by espousing a view that runs counter to the longstanding mission and identity of the College. Students were told that to exercise authentic Christian faith and truly love their neighbor, they had to confess their complicity in an unjust social order and actively join a resistance movement that affirms a worldview contrary to the legacy of key institutional figures such as the College’s first President, Isaac C. Ketler, its longest-serving Board Chair, J. Howard Pew, and famed Economist Hans Sennholz. Although many friends of the College could have been invited to address the issue of race from a conservative perspective, such as Walter Williams, Ken Blackwell, or Ben Carson, not a single individual sharing the College’s longstanding intellectual commitments was included in this program.

Resident Assistant (RA) Training

The Office of Student Life and Learning (SL&L) at Grove City College has grown significantly over the past decade. While we applaud the institution for ensuring sufficient staffing to adequately care for our students, recent reports raise questions regarding the appropriateness of certain SL&L programming for achieving the educational goals of the College. Student RAs have reported being subjected to training sessions during which their personal character has been questioned solely on the basis of their race, and they have been encouraged to confess their white guilt, a hallmark of CRT. This approach runs contrary to what one would expect from a Christian institution grounded in conservative values.

While the complete materials used in this programming have yet to be made public, President McNulty recently confirmed the use of a video on “positive racial identity” in these training sessions. Given the content and quality of past movie screenings sponsored by SL&L’s Office of Multicultural Education and Initiatives (e.g., MTV’s White People documentary), these reports raise serious concerns regarding the governing philosophy of SL&L and its alignment with the mission and identity of the College. Moreover, as individuals who have made a professional commitment to Grove City College because we believe in its distinctive character, it is demoralizing to see our efforts to teach in accordance with the institutional mission be undermined by the actions of another division of the College.

Second, administrative actions have alienated Grove City College’s core constituency and weakened the institution’s competitive position in the higher education marketplace.

President McNulty’s approach to the issue of race has alienated the core constituency of Grove City College in two ways. First, he has encouraged programming that runs contrary to the historic mission and identity of the College. In the wake of a BLM petition drafted in Summer 2020 by a small group of disgruntled Grove City College alumni who no longer share the values of the institution, President McNulty chose not to re-emphasize the College’s historic conservative identity, but instead established the President’s Advisory Council on Diversity. A College press release described the Council’s broad purpose:

The council will help guide recommendations in the development of strategic initiatives for the recruitment and retention of students, the hiring of new employees and broadening perspectives among all members of the community. It includes faculty, staff, students and alumni who bring relevant experiences to the council’s work as the College addresses opportunities for enriching the campus culture and better preparing students for their personal and professional callings.

[Emphasis added]

Publicly, President McNulty has claimed a more narrow purpose for the Council (i.e., the recruitment of a more diverse student body), yet the full description indicates a desire to balance the College’s historic conservative identity with “broadening perspectives” and “enriching the campus culture.” Members of the Council have apparently followed this broader mandate, as the three examples provided above (i.e., EDUC 290, Program on Justice, Race, and Reconciliation, and RA Training) were all led by members of the Council. This programming was so concerning to a group of parents, students, and alumni that they eventually launched a public petition. Those of us who have observed the typically placid, supportive, and familial character of the Grove City College constituency recognize the exceptional nature of this action.

Second, the institutional reaction by President McNulty and his administrative team has fostered further alienation. His initial written response to the petition took a defensive tone, accused parents of handling the matter inappropriately, and denied clearly established facts. Shortly after the parents responded with additional, substantive documentation of the problems, the College’s Vice President for Student Recruitment gave a contradictory public interview in which he claimed that the foundations of the College were not threatened, yet also admitted that the parents had raised a number of valid concerns. In addition, he reported that President McNulty was conducting an investigation and would be releasing his findings in the near future.

A month has passed and no follow-up statement has been issued by President McNulty. However, the situation has continued to garner media attention and harmed the College’s reputation in conservative political and Classical Christian School circles, two key constituencies that provide prospective students. This is deeply concerning to us, because student tuition accounts for roughly 70% of the College’s operating budget. Moreover, the College’s recent 3.5% tuition increase and three-year salary freeze illustrate significant financial headwinds. At a time when colleges in our region are desperately seeking a market niche in order to weather current demographic declines, President McNulty has overseen the dilution of the College’s distinctive character and, in so doing, alienated its paying customers.

The ideological questions raised by this controversy may require a degree of deliberation, but the business dimensions involved are quite simple. While the overwhelming majority of colleges and universities in the United States are liberal in their outlook, Grove City College has stood as a conservative alternative. Parents have rewarded this principled commitment by sending their sons and daughters to the College, often making greater financial sacrifices than would be necessary at other institutions because Grove City College does not accept federal funding.

This is the College’s brand in the marketplace, and we expect its position will strengthen as families continue to seek educational environments where their sons and daughters will receive a high-quality academic experience without being subjected to hostile philosophies and social experimentation. However, this will require faithfulness to the College’s historic mission and identity. The way President McNulty and his leadership team have handled the current controversy has tarnished the College’s status as a trusted conservative alternative and has eroded commitment and goodwill among the College’s core constituency. Unless trust is rebuilt, the College’s enrollment and financial well-being will be negatively impacted.

Third, the administrative decisions preceding and in response to the current CRT controversy must be understood as the product of broken institutional processes.

A staggering amount of institutional change has been implemented since Summer 2020, and much of it has moved the College away from its historic mission and identity, which we believe will render the College less competitive in today’s higher education marketplace. But even more concerning is how this change has occurred. All too often, critical elements of the College are changed, new initiatives are launched, and positions are filled with little to no faculty input. Very rarely are robust rationales provided for significant changes, and sometimes no formal announcement is made at all.

The general lack of two-way communication between the faculty as a whole and the leadership of the College reflects a dysfunctional institutional culture that benefits a small number of faculty members who find favor with senior administration and marginalizes everyone else. As a result, College leaders have an incomplete or distorted perspective, which ultimately leads to poor decision-making and even mission drift.

Such is the case with the current CRT controversy. As previously noted, the institutional programming in question (i.e., EDUC 290, Program on Race, Justice, and Reconciliation, and RA Training) was all led by members of President McNulty’s Advisory Council on Diversity. This group was created without any input from the faculty, and its members were appointed by President McNulty without consulting the faculty as a whole. Also notable is that some of these individuals originally secured their current roles outside of formal search processes, and many of them have been involved in overhauling the College’s Chapel Program, currently sit on the Core Curriculum Review Team, or both. Consequently, foundational elements of the College program are being changed without the input of a representative faculty perspective.

Grove City College has thrived because it is not a typical Christian institution of higher learning. It is different because of its conservative principles, and the College’s distinctives are worth preserving. Faculty members who have served many years at the College or who attended the College as undergraduate students understand what makes it unique and can discern which trends align with the College’s historic mission and which ones must be avoided. Unfortunately, the perspective of many faculty members who strongly support the historic mission and identity of Grove City College is largely being ignored.

The result has been unfortunate. The College recently removed the word “conservative” from its Vision Statement because, in the words of President McNulty, it carried too much “baggage.” In addition, the Vision Statement no longer expresses the goal of being “the best Christian liberal arts college in America.” Finally, the phrase “promotion of the Christian worldview” has also been struck from the College’s Mission Statement.

These changes strike us as a betrayal of the College’s historic identity, and we do not believe they will play well with our core constituency. We further believe that the faculty as a whole would not have supported these changes had they been given an opportunity to provide input into the strategic planning process that produced the new Vision and Mission Statements. We worry about what these new statements will mean for the future character of Grove City College and wonder if they signal a desire by senior administration to move away from the College’s conservative identity in key areas of the educational enterprise, such as the Core Curriculum and the Chapel Program.

Recommended Actions

Grove City College is a remarkable institution that has served our country with distinction for nearly 150 years. We are proud to work at the College and are deeply committed to its continued flourishing. However, we believe that the College is at an institutional crossroads. The path taken by the Board of Trustees in this crucial moment will determine the character, credibility, and continued success of the College.

To restore Grove City College’s institutional reputation, to ensure faithful adherence to its historic mission and identity, and to secure its long-term financial health, we therefore ask that you take the following actions in response to the recent CRT controversy:

  1. Conduct a full and independent review of all concerns raised by parents in the initial CRT petition as well as in their follow-up response and provide a public report detailing the findings of the investigation;

  2. Conduct a full and independent review of the actions undertaken by the College President and Executive Leadership Team over the past three months in response to the CRT petition and provide a public report detailing the findings of the investigation;

  3. Conduct a full and independent review of the structures, policies, and practices currently used for establishing new initiatives, hiring personnel, constituting and populating committees, and communicating institutional actions to the faculty and provide a report to the campus community detailing the findings of the investigation; and

  4. Take corrective action as warranted by the findings of the above investigations.

We appreciate your service to Grove City College and your steadfast dedication to its mission and financial health. Thank you for considering our request.

Sign petition as current faculty

Sign petition as former faculty

We are writing to you as a group of former and retired Grove City College faculty members. Grove City College is a unique and special institution, whose distinctives are worth preserving.

Having read the enclosed letter from current full-time faculty members at Grove City College to the Board of Trustees, we wish to express our solidarity with our faculty colleagues at the College and ask the Board of Trustees to take seriously the concerns they have raised in their open letter.

Sign petition as current and former staff

We are writing to you as a group of current and former Grove City College staff members. We value the Christian culture that has made Grove City College a wonderful place to work and want to see it preserved for future generations.

We support the faculty and ask the Board of Trustees to take seriously the concerns they have raised in their open letter.

Thank you for signing.

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