Constructive Christian communication

May 2, 2014 | 4 p.m.

A note to faculty, staff and administration regarding campus needs during trials

Opinion | Michael Urch

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The following piece was written by a Clarion staff member, but does not represent the views held by The Clarion. If you agree, disagree or would like to submit a letter of your own, please e-mail clarion@bethel.edu.

It has been a hard year. The prioritization process has caused unwanted troubles and anxieties in administration, faculty, staff and students alike. Perhaps some feel that they have been treated unfairly or disrespectfully. How is it that we are to behave toward one another as Christians?

Students, faculty and staff, do you grumble about Bethel? Do you share critical opinions about students, professors, staff members and administrative decisions that you would not be willing to tell them directly? If your criticisms are constructive, why aren’t you sharing them with the people about whom you complain? If your criticisms are not constructive, why are you sharing them at all?

By all means, think critically, but we also ought to have a mind to honor and give proper respect to those we criticize. Perhaps we all have moments where we need to use each other to let off steam. Regardless, give another person the dignity to hear your complaints directly: let us not merely complain to a third party and leave the other ignorant.

Faculty and staff, I understand that you have been through a lot this year. It must have been extraordinarily difficult to wait for news of the cuts, and then to hear that you, a colleague or a friend had lost a job. Maybe there is a sense of bitterness settling in you, or perhaps you have an overwhelming sadness or great feeling of disappointment in Bethel.

I urge you, stand firm in your hope in Christ, for this is the result of suffering, and it will not disappoint (Romans 5:3-4). Your sufferings are real, whether it is the suffering that you are experiencing at Bethel or the suffering you have in the other aspects of your life. In the midst of this suffering, do not forget to rejoice in your salvation (1 Peter 1:6).

Heed the words of Peter. Be subject to every human institution including Bethel, “for this is the will of God: that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:15). Through doing good, you may be more effective in correcting anything you see as foolish.

Finally, move beyond actions and into words. Be constructive in criticism, respectful in tone and honoring with your attitude. In this way, let your thoughts be known, and make an effort to improve this institution.

Administration, are you approachable? In the light of prioritization, I sense a concern among some faculty and staff that if they voice their thoughts, it could harm their future at Bethel. Is that concern legitimate?

Are you learning from the past? Do you seek feedback from faculty and staff? Do you value this feedback? These questions are probably already being addressed, and I know that there are several ways in which faculty voices can be heard. I simply wonder what more can be done.

Consider the reinstatement of music education. Although I am certain music faculty are glad to have it back, a great deal of damage has still been done. Recruiting season is nearing an end. Until now, there has been no recruiting effort for music education. In addition, some underclassman music education students are transferring. Yet your email announcement sets the expectation “that the department will work to reduce the cost of the program and increase enrollment.”

In what ways have you asked for feedback from music faculty? Music faculty: in what ways have you been able to give feedback? As a student advocate for music education, I had a wonderful opportunity to sit down and talk to administrators. They listened to my concerns, and I heard them through. While we did not agree in that meeting, we interacted in an honorable way. I hope that a mutually respectful conversation can also happen with the music faculty and staff.

What about the recent staff cuts? They happened, right? Yet as a student, I have received no information about these cuts. There might be a really good reason for keeping this information from the public, but how can students sympathize with employee cuts if we are uninformed?

Have you recognized all of these wounds? Have you given faculty and staff a platform to respectfully and constructively communicate criticisms that they may have?

The last few years have been difficult for Bethel, and I believe that the character of this university is being tested. Will we stand upon our principles? Are we relying too much on our own strategies and number crunching without taking the time to interact in a healthy way? Perhaps we should be reminded that everything comes from God. It will be his provision alone that allows Bethel to continue into the future. We need to live in a way that glorifies Him.

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