This is a guest post by Phillip Jarvis, a 2006 graduate of Cedarville University.
My name is Phillip Jarvis. I am a 2006 mechanical engineering graduate of Cedarville University. Until I first learned of the crisis rocking the current administration, I was ridiculously proud of my alma mater and an advocate for it to anyone who would listen. My spirit has been crushed by the recent news.
I want to take this opportunity to describe the place that I knew and loved, and thus hopefully show that it is worth fighting to preserve. I recognize my experience does not speak for everyone from my timeframe, but I desire to share one student’s perspective from a previous era as there have been multiple stories recently shared about the current leadership.
When I was a senior in high school, I was doing post-secondary education where I was enrolled as a student at the University of Akron and received high school and college credits for the courses I was taking. I was grateful for the free college credits and the experience, but I hated it there. The campus was a dump and the vibe from almost everyone was that if they could have been somewhere else, they would have been. So, when I took a campus visit to Cedarville that fall, I was in utter awe compared to my experiences at Akron. The campus was beautiful and the spirit there was the polar opposite from what I was used to seeing. People seemed happy to be there. I was so enamored that I did not bother applying anywhere else. Cedarville was the place for me.
It was academically rigorous like no other school I attended. Calculus II almost killed me. Without my professor giving me a well-earned metaphorical kick in the behind one day after class, I probably would have bombed out. I have thanked him many times for that as he woke me up to my new reality. My engineering professors highlighted how we were learning about God’s creation. One in particular said that many of the early engineers and physicists were Christians who were not just trying to build something, but to better understand the world God made for them.
My freshman year (2002-03) was the final year of the Dr. Paul Dixon presidency. He served in that role for 25 years and was headed to retirement. I believe they announced Dr. Bill Brown would be his replacement before I showed up as a freshman. I had never heard of him to that point, but he spoke at a week of captivating chapels in the spring of 2003 that had most everyone excited for his upcoming arrival.
When Dr. Brown first came in, I wondered how much the rest of the administration might change under new leadership. However, by his third year, only one of the university’s six vice presidents had changed, indicating that Dr. Brown did not come to change the structure of the university. He served as Cedarville’s president for 10 years.
His expertise was studying and discussing worldviews. He would lead us in considering popular songs and movies to have us think about what they were telling us about life so we could know how best to serve people of the culture and point them to Christ. He regularly referenced Paul’s ministry. When with the Jews, he would study the Scriptures with them. That is what they knew. In Athens, however, when speaking to Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, he quoted their own poets. That is what they knew. To reach them, he had to know their culture. When encountering culture, we have the option to withdraw from it, assimilate to it, or engage it. Using Paul’s example, we were encouraged to engage it for Christ.
Dr. Brown led with a heart of kindness and grace. He would share amazing stories illustrating Biblical truths, such as the heart of a father’s love for a wayward daughter who had turned to stripping, yet the father pursued her to restore their relationship, which sounds a bit like Luke 15. He talked of World War II POWs who, thanks to a secret radio, learned the war in Europe was over before their guards did to illustrate the truth of the “already but not yet.”
He mentioned how the most important person in Jesus’s ministry was the person in front of Him, and Dr. Brown exemplified that. He tried to forge relationships with students in meaningful and personal ways. I remember passing him as a freshman during his week of chapel messages while I was wearing a winter coat emblazoned with Dallas Cowboys logos. He commented on it, saying how he, too, was a fan. Over the next three years, we had a handful of discussions regarding the Cowboys. When I walked across the stage to receive my diploma from him, his comment to me was, “Go Cowboys!” I expected a generic “Congratulations!” Instead, I got a fun, personalized comment, which elicited a laugh and, according to my mom, gave me a goofy smile and ruined the picture of me receiving my diploma. But I enjoy the backstory more this way. We had more meaningful and significant conversations at times, but that always struck me as a fun anecdote of how he would connect with students.
Admittedly, there was a lot of turmoil in the Bible department near the end of Dr. Brown’s administration. It seems that the first domino to fall was when the professor I had for New Testament was fired after I graduated. I was shocked when that happened. I loved that class and thought he was a great professor. I could also see how he was abrasive at times. That fall, I went back to the university for Homecoming weekend. I saw Dr. Brown while I was wandering around and I told him of my love for that class and how much I enjoyed the professor, but could sometimes see a few rough edges. I also obviously did not know everything that went into that decision, but when firing a popular professor, I would trust that they knew what they were doing and had a valid cause. Regarding my positive memories from the class and professor, he responded, “Good, keep it that way.” That astounded me. The professor brought a lawsuit against the school and his supporters were throwing around vicious allegations against Dr. Brown. Yet he encouraged me to keep my positive memories. To me, that is what a heart of grace looks like and spoke volumes of his character.
To add to the turmoil, some professors in the Bible department later may not have doctrinally belonged there, but as best I could tell, the school acted swiftly to correct the issues. Since graduating, I have continued to listen to chapel regularly. Outside of student-led chapels which might have a higher reliance on visuals, if they have put it online, I have listened to it. I feel like it is a good thing for my soul as well as to keep an ear on what is happening. As such, I can say with confidence that at least from the chapel podium, I never heard Dr. Brown say anything to give me pause that he was leading the school spiritually adrift despite the accusations by some. Yes, he encouraged students to study other worldviews, but always with an eye on how to point them to Christ rather than telling us that they contained ultimate truth.
Dr. Brown was not the only administrator that made Cedarville a good place for a young Christian to grow. The university was also blessed to be under the leadership of Dr. Carl Ruby, Vice President of Student Services, and Pastor Bob Rohm, Vice President of Christian Ministries and campus pastor. There were other vice presidents, but these two were the ones students were most likely to encounter.
Dr. Ruby, the school’s chief disciplinarian, would explain where the biblical line is on an issue, where Cedarville’s rules were, and then explain why there was a difference. Discussions like that helped us in thinking about what our personal standards should be as well as keeping the school from being hardline pharisaical legalists. He talked about how his approach was not to find someone to smack but to measure the situation and know when to correct, when to show grace, and when to exercise discipline. I earned a few very minor disciplinary actions, but I was never in trouble to a level that would reach him, so I cannot speak to his entire demeanor, but I always believed his desire was to do what was needed to promote the individual’s walk with God while also considering the Cedarville community at large. He said his proudest stories were those of the troublemakers who would come back and be faithfully walking with the Lord. While I never sought any counseling, I had confidence that it was there to help those who needed it. Dr. Ruby resigned very in early 2013, which was Dr. Brown’s final semester as president. I saw video as he exited his office the final time. Students crammed around to applaud and hug him the whole way from his office door to his car.
Pastor Rohm was one of the most universally respected men I have ever encountered. The holiness and awesomeness of God were some of his favorite preaching topics. He had a huge heart for students and was always prepared to be the punchline of a joke, which endeared him to us all. After I graduated, I was inspired to write my own study on Joshua the High Priest as he is seen in Zechariah. I feared I was projecting too much, so I sent my writing to Pastor Rohm to make sure I was not saying more than I should. At that point, he had no duty to me, but he reviewed my writing and had a couple of minor tweaks. I have always appreciated that act from him. I happened to run into him in the cafeteria in the spring of 2013 while I was going through town on something unrelated. I expressed my sadness to him in seeing Dr. Brown’s upcoming departure as well as some of the other turmoil, such as Dr. Ruby’s exit. I told him that as long as he was still there, I could have confidence that someone was keeping them pointed in the right direction. He assured me he had no plans of going anywhere.
He resigned that summer as soon as Dr. White was announced as the new president. I heard rumors it was at Dr. White’s request.
Dr. White combined the roles of Dr. Ruby and Pastor Rohm into a single Vice President of Student Life and Christian Ministries. It was explained as a consolidation to reduce some bureaucracy. If they were going to do something like that, then I thought that made some sense. Ideally, your students’ lives should be about Christian ministry, but I was sad to see Pastor Rohm gone so quickly after he assured me he had no plans of leaving. The continuity we saw from Dr. Dixon to Dr. Brown was not there from Dr. Brown to Dr. White. Though the other vice-presidential offices remained mostly unchanged for the first two years of Dr. White’s presidency, by the third, only two were left from Dr. Brown’s final year.
As I look back on my experience there, Cedarville was the only time I was part of a school and was not completely and totally sick of it by the time I was done. I did not want my experience there to end. I made amazing friends and connected with people like I never had before. It was one of the few places I have ever felt I truly belonged and was really home.
During the transition between administrations, I talked to someone who was resigning from a job with Advancement (which he told me was completely unrelated). Once we were fellow students, and while he worked for the university, he encouraged me to join the President’s Society, Cedarville’s donor club. I expressed my frustrations to him at the exodus of all the leaders I knew and respected. He encouraged me to continue to do what I was doing. Praying for them, watching their actions (via listening to chapels, etc.), and to continue giving. I have done that to this day. The way things are at this moment now, I do not believe I can continue to give or support them at all outside of prayer. I have even mothballed my rather extensive collection of Cedarville apparel.
There is a young lady at my church who was considering enrolling at Cedarville this fall. I was probably serving as her chief recruiter. She was unaware of the current crisis but chose elsewhere. I told the student’s mother that I thought it was good she chose another school – words that gutted me as I said them. I hope in two years when the next child in that family will be making her post-high school decisions I can once again be a strong Cedarville advocate, but right now I cannot. Until things change, I can only continue to pray that the administration will once again lead the university consistently within the school’s motto, “For the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ.”