Leadership changes at Cedarville University point to conservative direction

Cedarville University Center for Biblical and Theological Studies. Photo by Scott Huck, Cedarville University

(RNS) A private religious university in Ohio is undergoing a faculty shakeup, including an exodus of women faculty, after having been taken over by Southern Baptists.

Cedarville University Center for Biblical and Theological Studies. Photo by Scott Huck, Cedarville University

Cedarville University Center for Biblical and Theological Studies. Photo by Scott Huck, Cedarville University

Cedarville University, whose well-known alumni include ABC News correspondent Paula Faris, executive director of the NFL Players Association DeMaurice Fitzgerald Smith and California pastor and author David Jeremiah, had already been perceived as a more conservative campus in the realm of Christian colleges.

The school, 30 minutes east of Dayton, Ohio, promotes a creationist approach to science and requires daily chapel attendance and an academic minor in the Bible. In 2008, the school rescinded a speaking invitation to popular Christian author Shane Claiborne, causing controversy among alumni.

Then in June, the school hired Thomas White, formerly vice president for student services and communications at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas,  as its new president. Former president Bill Brown and vice president of student life Carl Ruby left earlier, sparking debate over the university’s future.

The campus of 3,400 students has also seen the departure of many faculty and staff, including half the teachers in its Bible department.

The 25-member board now includes only one woman. Added to the board is Southwestern President Paige Patterson, one of the leaders of the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.

The new president downplayed the changes. Addressing the departing faculty, White said that anytime you have a new leader, like a football coach, you get a new team.

“At Cedarville, there’s no major change happening, no major shift at the institution. We’ve been conservative since [our founding],” he said.

The recent departures include prominent women such as Bible professor Joy Fagan, associate vice president of student life Kirsten Gibbs and Briana DuPree, resident director and coordinator of diversity student programs.

Fagan, who signed a confidentiality statement, said she’s limited in what she can say.

“I do not feel I am a good fit for the university going forward,” she said, declining to elaborate. Fagan is the only woman listed on Cedarville’s Bible department website.

DuPree, who is a pastor at a local church, declined to comment, as did Gibbs.

The changes have been felt all over campus, but especially among women, said Ariana Cheng, a junior at the university.

“Women can teach but only within certain boundaries,” said Cheng, who is studying international studies. “Women feel like they can’t necessarily take a position of leadership without going against some rule.”

White said nothing has changed in the school’s official policy and Cedarville has women in every department.

“Our position is that we don’t train women to be in the office of pastor, elder or bishop,” White said.

A philosophy faculty member caused a stir last fall when writing an op-ed for the campus newspaper on “Why I am Not Voting for Romney.” The philosophy department staff has since been cut back. The philosophy and physics majors have been eliminated.

Founded in 1887 by the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, Cedarville became affiliated with General Association of Regular Baptist Churches. The latter group kicked Cedarville out because of its association with Southern Baptists.

In turn, Cedarville’s board hired Southern Baptists to enforce its conservative identity.

Observers say that the two presidents put the university on two very different trajectories. Under Brown, some say, it fit under a wide evangelical umbrella that engages the broader culture in ways similar to institutions such as Wheaton College (Illinois) or Taylor University (Indiana). Now, one alumnus said, Cedarville might be viewed as more akin to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago — a school that does not allow women to teach men theology.

Staff from Southwestern and Southern seminaries have replaced many of the Cedarville staff that left. White said nothing has changed in college policy on women teaching men.

The difference between the two administrations, said David Dockery, president of Union University in Tennessee, lies in the presidents’ theological perspectives. Brown would have put a greater emphasis on general revelation, finding truth outside of the Scriptures in God’s creation, in the natural world, Dockery said.

“Dr. White’s emphasis on the truthfulness and the sufficiency of the Bible causes people to ask a different kind of question,” he said. “It’s not so much the integration of faith and learning; It’s the integration of Scripture and discipline.”

White said no doctrinal statements have changed since his appointment. The college has had a position on the sufficiency of Scripture as a requirement for tenure since 2004.

Cedarville is considering two changes in its doctrinal statement, one that would explicitly state that life begins at conception and another that marriage is between a man and a woman, White said.

The college’s hiring policy says it “reserves the right to discriminate on the basis of religion, marital status or gender (with regard to certain positions).”

In September the university said it is under review by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in response to a complaint claiming the university is in violation of Title IX — a federal gender equity law that requires colleges to adjudicate sexual harassment and violence on campus.

The office is still investigating whether campus officials resolved a complaint alleging sex discrimination.


About the author

Sarah Pulliam Bailey

Sarah Pulliam Bailey is a national correspondent for RNS, covering how faith intersects with politics, culture and other news. She previously served as online editor for Christianity Today where she remains an editor-at-large.


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  • Banner link headline to this over at Wartburg Watch (spiritual abuse watchblog):

    Why are female faculty fleeing Cedarville University?

    Answer: Because it’s gone “NO GURLZ ALLOWED! PRAISE GAWD!”

  • Uh, missed an ending HTML tag —



  • This is an interesting blurring of conservative Evangelical and fundamentalist. Makes the GARB look moderate? The GARB had some concerns about Cedarville before they cut ties. It had to do with Neo Evangelical, non secondary separatism of some of Cedarville’s para church ministries. I know the GARB is a very conservative and separatist Baptist association. I have friends from this background.

  • The new direction is a good thing. PTL! Cederville has been way too neo-evangelical, with sad attendant results. The old saying that fundalmentalism is not much “fun” and not much “mental” is a cutesy saying, but very errant. Hurrah for the change.

    Wendy Brant

  • I think it’s sad. I was raised, and am proud to say so, in a GARBC church. A large amount of people from my church went to Cedarville. I ended up not going to a private college because Cedarville along with Bob Jones Univeristy (SC) and others seemed to treat women as they are less than equal. The rules were amazingly different when it came to women and I could not stand that. It completely deterred me from a private college education despite the fact I had grown up in a private Christian (Baptist) School my whole life.

    I think this whole this sheds a bad light on Christians in general and make the masses think that this is how we all feel. We already fight a hard enough battle with society today. Why be wrong and prove the masses right?

  • Wendy, I’m not sure how this “new direction” which has landed many fine people out of a job (be it of their own accord or the Cedarville’s doing) is a good thing or something to be praising the Lord about. These professors spoken of were some of the ones that I had the PRIVILEGE of being under. Having my brothers there within the last 2 years and myself in the last 7, I feel that to claim Cedarville was neo-evangelical is absolutely false and errant, in fact. I am deeply saddened at the direction the University has taken. What IS “fundamental” is that Jesus came, died to take my sin, and your sin. He showed us a model of how to live in peace with God and man, by LOVE. It’s fine to have different positions on theology, but division OVER “theology” was not something that Jesus ever endorsed within the Body of Christ. I’ve not said much on this matter, but it grieves my heart to see this power struggle that is, in my opinion, going to be the downfall of this institution.

  • I don’t understand. Are there really that many Christians who don’t take the Bible seriously? Do you just ignore 1 Timothy? It clearly says that in the realm of theological teaching, a man takes authority over women. Yes, this goes against modern sensibilities, but so does saving sex for marriage. IT IS WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS. These are not bad men. They aren’t trying to suppress women or make them feel inferior. They are trying to do what is correct in the eyes of God so that they can stand before Him blameless in this account. I’m a student at Cedarville, and outside of a few people who are just looking for controversy, it hasn’t been a big deal. There are still women teaching in the Bible department, by the way. It is Dr. White’s wife, so take that and twist it how you will, but I think she teaches a class on counseling for women. She has an M.Div and has backed up everything Dr. White has said.

  • I attend CU currently and am good friends with Bri Dupree and was a student of Dr. Fagan. I love these two women and I believe God will use them greatly! There may be controversie at CU and I believe we need more articles on the students opinions. Due to the fact that the students come from various backgrounds 🙂

  • Furthermore I would like to see a article about how our students raised thousands of dollars for HIV prevention and treatment in Swaziland last year, or how this year we are raising thousands for orphaned children, or how we have male and female chaplains discipling inmates in the local jail.. Or all the other awesome things God leads the students to do, I only listed a few. I’m so over all the politics !

  • Luke, 1 Timothy isn’t as clear as you would suggest. Check out, for example, “Women in the Church’s Ministry: A Test Case for Biblical Interpretation” by RT France or “What’s with Paul and Women? Unlocking the Cultural Background to 1 Timothy 2” by Jon Zens. There are plenty of evangelicals who believe the Bible teaches that men and women are equal, including in ministry. I have to say that your comments about “not suppressing women” and “wanting to do what is right in the eyes of God” reminded me of those who supported slavery and segregation, and had convinced themselves that such evil practices were sanctioned by the Bible.

  • This kind of petty legalistic nit-picking happens a lot in MALE-dominated institutions; it’s a faithful throw-back to the Pharisees who crucified Jesus–the One who sought to take us beyond that place. It’s a big male tendency to want to play gate-keepers, to classify and reject and exclude. Christ came to show us that God’s not like that, and modeled for us a better way of radical inclusion! Any time you draw a line, you have to realize that God’s also on the other side of it!

    If having Christian women in positions of leadership does nothing else, it tends to move us away from this kind of waste of good spiritual energy, and moving more toward the LOVE–not legalism–model of Jesus’ radical inclusion That Girl alludes to! Modern, secular women see this antiquated male-domination political frameworks for what they are, and consequently, want no part of the Christianity thing. I’m both Christian and male, and it pains me to see this kind of mis-characterization of the Good News of Jesus Christ, .

  • “The new president downplayed the changes. Addressing the departing faculty, White said that anytime you have a new leader, like a football coach, you get a new team.”

    Dr. White, it is quite interesting that President Brown didn’t bring in a whole new team. So your “anytime you have a new leader” explanation doesn’t work. We know you were brought in and so are not responsible for what happened before. But now under your tenure, faculty are scared into silence. How is that Christian? The current Provost and AVP along with many of the trustees now on the board soured conditions. The faculty exodus is not a coincidence. And it’s not because you’re the new leader. And it’s not just due to cutbacks. Come now, let’s be honest. You all are making conditions unbearable for some of those there. The rest of the world knows something fishy is going on at Cedarville. The administration and trustees corroded the school’s reputation.

  • “promotes a creationist approach to science ”

    That is just a nice way of saying their biology and geology departments lacks accreditation and is a laughingstock within the academic world.

  • I take the Bible very seriously.

    We are all ONE in Christ Jesus; the hand cannot boss the foot; “Not so among you” has no loopholes; God is still no respecter of persons; God does not judge by the flesh but by the spirit.

    Not only do you need to carefully study the context of what you cited, you also need to remember the very foundational principles of the faith: humble yourselves, follow Jesus’ example in washing the feet of his own followers, and read Phil. 2:5-11 till it sinks in.

    So you think men have privileges women can never have? Then follow Jesus and lay them down.

  • Yeah, Dr. White’s wife teaches classes that are only open to women. Not much of a counterexample.

    Also, I’m also a Cedarville student, and I think your remark that it’s not a big deal outside of people “looking for controversy” is both incorrect and offensive. Over the past year, the new regime has caused the departure of a third of the trustees, over a dozen Bible faculty, the president, several vice presidents, and over thirty faculty and staff. Many of these individuals were forced to leave by the wielding of appalling tactics: deceit, lies, false allegations. Not all of Cedarville’s sins are (yet) public. To say that I’m merely “out for controversy” because I am angered at the systemic injustice being perpetrated at and by the school I love is ludicrous. Frankly, I think there’s something deeply broken in the Cedarville community if it will continue to support such a purge under the guise of respect for authority.

  • Ian,
    You are correct in saying that there are different views on how to interpret these passages. You do your fellow Christians a great discourtesy when you equate one of those interpretations with supporting slavery.
    While you may find similarities in the issues it is remarkably unfair to tell someone that because of their position they ‘remind you’ of people who used scripture to justify slavery.
    In the one case you had people arguing on lack of Biblical data which condemns slavery. In this case you have people who have very clearly written words from scripture which differentiate gender roles in ministry.
    I think you have really misrepresented your opponent in this issue.

  • You know it ‘really sinks in’ when they read it and agree with you right?

    We can be ONE in Christ, and have different roles and responsibilities. We can all understand the context of the epistles wherein these commands are written, and still disagree on the degree to which those commands apply to our current situation. Understanding the context does not automatically permit me to discard teaching as only being intended for the original audience.

    God may have prefectly morally defensible reasons for choosing men for leadership roles that have nothing to do with patriarchal ancient Greek/ Judean / Roman cultures. I think for all of us to be humble, we need to open our hearts to the possibility that 1st Timothy applies to 21st century Western church ministry. Unity in Christ is not something we have more of since the 1st century. In other words we do not have to discard the words of Paul to share in the unity that Christ gives to His body.

  • Too many Christian “egalitarians” are guilty of assuming “traditionalists” or “complimentarians” are just making the same type of arguments as those who supported slavery in the 19th century. Too many “traditionalists” and “complimentarians” are guilty of assuming that “egalitarians” have simply denied biblical authority and surrendered to “the spirit of the age.” What is needed is more prayerful pondering and Spirit led discussion, where we seek to understand what God has said in His Word and this applies to the 21st century church. Any discussion of the role of women in the church which does not consider what God has said to us in 1 Timothy 2 does not seem to take the Lordship of Jesus seriously.

  • Larry, Cedarville’s science program is fully accredited and staffed by well-respected PhD scientists. Having family and friends who attend or have attended Cedarville, I know for a fact that Cedarville science graduates have been accepted into some of the top graduate school programs in the nation. I don’t agree with many of the changes at Cedarville, but Cedarville’s long-standing Creationist approach does not disqualify them as a scientific institution.

  • “by the wielding of appalling tactics: deceit, lies, false allegations.” Oh you are describing Brown’s tactics in the handling of the two male Bible professors. Were you clamoring for their rights as well?

  • Sounds to me like the college is just trying to be obedient to the Scriptures.
    Hmmmmm….. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? (Not just hearers of the word, but doers also)