When last week’s Summit speaker Jeff Eckart took the Chapel Auditorium stage Tuesday night, he also took a stand on a change in Indiana Wesleyan University’s policy. The change allows professors to choose whether they let out night courses for IWU’s three-day optional chapel as opposed to the previously employed university-wide mandatory class cancellations.
“When a school and a Christian institution based in Christian faith begins to slip away from its values by holding academic classes during times when we need to pause and hear from the Lord, to me that’s a problem,” Eckart said midway through his message.
Students responded with a 10-second round of applause, and Eckart said with a laugh that their applause was because they wanted to “stick it to the man,” and that he would never be invited to speak at IWU again.
Eckart closed his aside by saying, “I hope this is the last Summit in the history of Indiana Wesleyan where they hold classes.”
After Summit ended that night, Dr. David Wright, IWU’s provost, spoke with Eckart about his comments.
The next day during chapel, Eckart restated his stance, saying he meant no disrespect to the university.
Wright said his talk with Eckart, a personal friend, was a good one, and told Eckart, “I accept your word that you gave us as a warning not to let this become unimportant on our campus.”
However, Wright also said there were factors that the Summit speaker did not understand about the process. He cited logistics such as time required in class, accreditation and scheduling.
Dr. Brandon Hill, assistant dean of student engagement, said part of that issue was a deficiency in classroom hours for the night classes meeting (or rather not meeting) during Summit.
“We really have to manipulate our calendar so every class is meeting the same number of hours,” said Hill.
“It used to be that we would tell people to cancel, and now we realized we can’t because it would put us in an ethical, moral and accrediting problem,” Hill said. “So we basically said we’re not going to tell you you have to cancel. I think some faculty have made other choices, but we as an institution can’t remove those hours.”
While the university stopped cutting night classes short during Summit last year, both Hill and Wright said professors have that option. Wright even said he would “encourage faculty to go back to that practice.”
This has been a hot topic for students, with several different viewpoints coming from the debate.
“I think in an ideal world it would be left up to the discretion of the professor to decide,” said Sonja Kellogg (jr). “Worship can encompass a lot of different things, and that includes academic excellence.”
“What makes this school special from other colleges is its Christian emphasis,” said Trey Shigley (so). “Yes, God can be found in the classroom and in the dorm room and amazing things can happen in those places. But Summit is one of those times in the semester when the entire community can come together.”
Hill doesn’t think it will be an either/or choice much longer, saying “we can do both,” if the university moves the schedule around. This could result in starting Summit at 9:30 p.m., moving it to a Friday and weekend event or switching the times the night classes meet.
Until a change is made, Hill said students and faculty may have to make some tough decisions about which to attend.
“Students may have to make some of those choices sometimes, and I think that’s OK,” said Hill. “I don’t think we want to permanently put students in that place. I think we want to get to a place where we can sort out how to do both.”