Emmanuel President Sweeney Announces Pursuit of $3,000,000 Donation, Merger with Milligan College

Dr. Michael Sweeney, President of Emmanuel Christian Seminary

Dr. Michael Sweeney, President of Emmanuel Christian Seminary

Confirming two items that I’ve mentioned on this blog over the past month (here and here), Emmanuel Christian Seminary President, Dr. Michael Sweeney, confirmed via two separate emails sent to all Emmanuel students the following two items:

  1. Emmanuel is close to signing a $3,000,000 donation from a donor, who has offered the money to be used in debt reduction.
  2. Milligan College has voted to pursue acquiring Emmanuel Christian Seminary, including its assets and debts.

The October 29, 2012 email reads as follows:

From: Michael Sweeney <msweeney@ecs.edu>
Date: Mon, Oct 29, 2012 at 2:46 PM
Subject: Emmanuel and Milligan
To: Emmanuel Students Distribution List <emmanuel.students@ecs.edu>

Dear Emmanuel Students,
The Board meetings are finished and we are all trying to catch our breath. Last Friday, Milligan’s Board voted unanimously to move to the next step in integrating Emmanuel into Milligan – which is a very positive thing in light of our situation! Below, please see the press release from Milligan. A great deal of things need to come together before this will be able to happen, but we will proceed one step at a time.
Dr. Sweeney
_____________________
The Milligan College Board of Trustees today approved that Milligan President Dr. Bill Greer continue the process of due diligence toward the possible integration of Emmanuel Christian Seminary into Milligan College.

The two institutions have always operated independently but have a strong shared history, since Emmanuel was founded in 1965 using shared space on the Milligan campus and under the leadership of then-president Dr. Dean E. Walker. Both institutions are part of the Stone-Campbell Movement and have a similar mission of preparing men and women for ministry and servant-leadership.

Financial and economic conditions have been difficult for Emmanuel in recent years, which led Emmanuel’s board and president in Summer 2012 to begin discussions with Milligan about some sort of operating relationship. Since then, both institutions have been in a period of due diligence to explore the options and determine if such a relationship would be in the best interest of both parties.

No definitive decisions or agreements have been reached. Today’s decision to prepare a non-binding Letter of Intent formalizes the period of due diligence in order to fully investigate the financial, academic, administrative, and logistical details of such an arrangement. There are many details and decisions still to be explored prior to a final agreement being reached.

It is in the interest of both institutions to perpetuate quality academic degrees in Bible and ministry. It is the hope that the result of this process will be to integrate Emmanuel into Milligan College in a way that strengthens and continues that mission.

Michael Sweeney email footer
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The November 7, 2012 email reads as follows:

From: Michael Sweeney <msweeney@ecs.edu>
Date: Wed, Nov 7, 2012 at 11:40 AM
Subject: Answer to Prayer
To: Emmanuel Group <Emmanuel@ecs.edu>, Emmanuel Students Distribution List <emmanuel.students@ecs.edu>

Dear Emmanuel students, staff, and faculty,
As many of you know, last week Dan Lawson, Linda and I took a trip out West to visit a new prospective donor. This contact came about through the connecting efforts of one of our alums, who contacted me about a month ago. He said that there was a woman of significant means in his congregation who was looking for a Christian cause to support and asked for his advice.  He told her about Emmanuel. She wanted to see us and only had a window of a couple of weeks before she was heading south for the winter.
We had a wonderful visit, and in the end she informed us that she would be giving Emmanuel a gift of $3,000,000 to be used exclusively for debt reduction. I believe this will be the largest gift ever given to the school. Of course, the timing could not be better. The greatest barrier to our moving ahead in our talks with Milligan was Emmanuel’s debt. A reduction of $3,000,000 will go a long way in overcoming that problem.
We are praising God for bringing this about as a very direct answer to prayer.
Dr. Sweeney
Michael Sweeney email footer
.

Let us set aside for a moment that fact that the President of Emmanuel Christian Seminary sent these emails to the entire student body.

These emails from the Emmanuel President all but confirm what many have been saying throughout Emmanuel’s scandalous attempt to dismiss a tenured professor: that Emmanuel’s “very direct answer to prayer” appears to have involved an attempt to terminate Dr. Chris Rollston in exchange for a large donation. There is certainly evidence to support such a claim.

Likewise, the letter reveals that Emmanuel Christian Seminary’s financial woes are far greater than many thought; Emmanuel’s present administration appears to have led Emmanuel into such a deep financial hole that discussions of the acquisition of Emmanuel’s debt and remaining assets have been ongoing with Milligan College for some time now. Likewise, President Sweeney explicitly hopes that “the result of this process will be to integrate Emmanuel into Milligan College”. That is, according to an email Emmanuel’s President sent to its students, Emmanuel wants Milligan to assume control. Thus, we’re past the point of if it’s going to happen, but we are now talking about when.

Beyond violating the rule of never announcing a major donation until the deal has been inked, Emmanuel appears to have handed Dr. Rollston more evidence than he needs to argue, quite compellingly, that financial factors played at least some role in his attempted termination – evidence that can only add to Emmanuel’s (and apparently now Milligan’s) financial woes, as a wrongful termination case appears to be all but inevitable.

So not only has President Michael Sweeney led Emmanuel into a financial position that can only be solved by the wholesale assumption of the seminary by another school, but he has publicly announced a forthcoming donation, adding support to earlier claims that at least part of Dr. Rollston’s attempted dismissal was, in fact, based on financial reasons that, according to Dr. Sweeney’s letter, originated “about a month ago”.

What is no longer in question is that Emmanuel Christian Seminary, for all intents and purposes, will cease to be what it has been: an independent Christian seminary.

And as Milligan College picks up the remaining pieces of Emmanuel Christian Seminary in this forthcoming fire sale, Emmanuel has done its students no favor by casting itself the symbol of academic and intellectual suppression, and of selling out good professors for quick cash. I shudder to think how Emmanuel students have watched as its administration has damaged the school’s academic credibility, and therefore the reputation of an Emmanuel degree – which their students are paying good money to receive! What good is a degree from a seminary that has so quickly come to be associated by many scholars as the poster child for ultra conservative, religious fundamentalism, and a place where the religious thought police prohibit professors from saying anything out of line with a predetermined statement of beliefs required as a condition of employment?

It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the students – both present and future – who are associated with Emmanuel School of Religion (and apparently soon to be Milligan College) might begin to transfer to other schools so as not to sully their chances of getting into PhD programs. Given the overwhelming number of faculty members who have written in support of Dr. Rollston from a wide array of schools, both confessional and secular, what are the chances that these institutions are going to accept Emmanuel students into their PhD programs?

Beyond putting Emmanuel in a precarious legal and financial situation, President Michael Sweeney may very well have destroyed Emmanuel’s one true asset: its reputation as a school that produces quality, critically thinking biblical scholars.

What is more, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Emmanuel students will begin to demand refunds for they education that they’ve paid for, but which has now arguably lost value because the “Emmanuel brand” has become associated with the suppression of scholarly inquiry.

It is time for President Sweeney and Emmanuel Christian Seminary to admit what many scholars already know: they made a HUGE mistake. They tried to pressure a good scholar out of a tenured position, in part at least, to secure a donation from a donor that did not like Dr. Rollston. The emails from President Sweeney to the Emmanel students certainly support this claim, as does the disciplinary action letter from Dr. Sweeney to Dr. Rollston.

It is time for Emmanuel to apologize and settle this case quickly, before any further damage harms the Emmanuel brand, and before the lack of academic credibility begins to stain Milligan College.

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12 Responses

  1. INTERNET TROLL DETECTED. TROLL FILTER ACTIVATED. NO TROLLS.

  2. Thank you for this. This is all happening near my mountain. Here is an article in the October 20th Johnson CIty Press. I hope there are enough voices within Emmanuel’s circles to stop these movements. Uniting with Milligan is not a good idea as far as I see it.

    http://digital.olivesoftware.com/Repository/getFiles.asp?Style=OliveXLib%3ALowLevelEntityToSaveGifMSIE_JOHNSONCITYPRESSA&Type=text%2Fhtml&Locale=english-skin-custom&Path=SJC%2F2012%2F10%2F20&ChunkNum=-1&ID=Ar00502&PageLabel=5A

  3. Obviously, disciplining (whatever that entails) Chris Rollston for his article is not a good idea either! I know some of the faculty at Emmanuel and they are high quality. It would be most unfortunate to see the seminary move in a repressive direction. I hope Chris is exonerated. Thank you, Robert for bringing this to the attention of the wider academic audience.

  4. Two quick points.

    1. Conversations about uniting ECS with Milligan aren’t really anything new. Officials at one school or the other have realized off and on for at least ten or twelve years that duplicating services like admissions, financial aid, advancement, etc. was considerably inefficient for two small schools that sit across the street from each other and serve the same constituency.

    2. Blaming Sweeney for ECS’s financial woes is very much akin to blaming Obama for the USA’s financial woes as of January 21, 2009.

  5. And how about trying to fire Chris Rollston? Has that been going on for a while? Or, was that an absurdly asinine venture that only placed a large spotlight on all of the other fomenting problems at Emmanuel?
    This is my point: they went after a tenured professor in an attempt to ‘solve’ their other problems. How’d that turn out?

    (and I agree with you on the first two points, but that didn’t stop the GOP from hammering him on his fiscal measures. I don’t care about Emmanuel’s finances. I DO care about trying to solve them by selling out their best professor.)

  6. If Emmanuel is sold, the successor institution likely does not have a legal obligation to retain the entire Emmanuel staff. So, depending on the laws of the state and the structure of the merger, this might not constitute evidence of a plot against Rollston.

    In fact, it might argue the opposite since an acquiring institution might be able to fire Emmanuel staff at will. That’s how it works in many business mergers.

  7. The donor did not base her decision on anything regarding Rollston, pro or con. The oft-quoted secretly-leaked letter’s reference to a six-figure donor does not refer to this donor. They are independent issues. The claim toward the top of this discussion that Sweeney’s emails serve to catch him red-handed are not well thought out claims.

  8. I know that the potential donor mentioned in Dr. Rollston’s dismissal letter is not the same potential donor offering 3 million dollars to reduce Emmanuel’s debt.

    But how does that make it any better?

    The fact remains that they attempted to dismiss Dr. Rollston, in part, to appease a potential donor. They even mentioned it in a letter. The fact that they might get money from someone else doesn’t make the initial attempt (and the reasoning behind it) any better.

    They still erred in judgment, committed a costly mistake, and sullied their academic reputation.

  9. Your last sentence above is surely true. It is also true, however, that you have made various statements and inferences regarding this matter that betray uncritical thinking. Your reputation may also be sullied before this is over.

  10. Read carefully. You are welcome to cite any statements that I have made that did not later turn out to be verified.

    And if my name is ever sullied by standing up publicly for those who have been oppressed or wronged, especially by those attempting to suppress and punish those making academic speech, then I shall celebrate the stains on my uniform, and I shall welcome the mud in which I wallow.

  11. I’m not talking about whether your claims will be verified in the future. I’m saying that many, and I believe this includes you, have turned off their careful thinking regarding this whole fiasco. The letters in support of Dr. Rollston often mention that he has guided students to think critically, etc. His own scholarship has taught many to be wary of sensational statements, finds, theories. Let’s take his advice now

  12. [...] Dr. Michael Sweeney, President of Emmanuel Christian Seminary, announced that Emmanuel is taking steps toward being wholly acquired by neighboring Milligan College, but [...]

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