Ironically, the place where I did this public talk was the King’s University, in front of about 30 – 40 loyal supporters, a few of my senior students, and a few avid Hannah Arendt and Charles Taylor enthusiasts. It is ironic because about 1 month prior to this talk I had been laid off by them. However, this event was a public-facing commitment, and in the website calendar, so it had to go on.
The really deep irony was that I was speaking of covenants. And after 5 years at the University, 3 of which were as the Interdisciplinary Studies Director. I had lived and breathed the job, and we had run the department at a surplus. Yet, for budgetary and political reasons, the position of the Director was cut, which meant I was laid off. The first bit of irony is that an institution that prides itself on being interdisciplinary cut its director position. The second bit of irony is that the University will cease to collectively attempt a meta-narrative for its students. The first is absurdly comical, but the second is more tragic. It is a prophetic event in the history of small institutions.
Far from being for personal or professional reasons, this was a layoff that had little to do with my investment in the role, and from an executive and board perspective it was just unfortunate. They had classified the layoff as a means to an end. Many in the faculty know that no such distinction at a Christian University is ultimately plausible. The funny thing was that Interdisciplinary Studies were meant to be covenantal in both form and content. But it was clear that that commitment was too much to bear for the institution. I do not mean this out of any malice. It is a statement of fact that can be documented by the institution – by its common curriculum and practice.
It is an object lesson in how a Christian institution had been colonized by a corporate logic people felt powerless to stop. Once the story had gained the language of money management rather than community stewardship had taken over, then there is not much one can do.
I don’t want to say more, not because I signed a non-disclosure agreement, but because I want to maintain goodwill toward the members of the King’s community. I genuinely love so many of the people at the King’s University. And it seems that it is embarking on dangerous times because it has not committed to its values, and its vision has not scratched the surface of its accounting practices. There was a conflict between a Calvinist approach to institution-running and its loftier communitarian awareness of flourishing that seemed to strangely mirror the Anabaptist persecution of the 16th and 17th centuries in Northwestern Europe.
The irony in my giving this talk in that place, under these circumstances… reaches my heart with a deep and absurd smile. I grieve it, yes. But God’s plans are always better than mine.
The full text of the talk (with extra material not included in the talk) can be seen in my “The Friendship Recession: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3“.
Here are the links to the podcast: