Reflections on the First Year

Posted on July 6, 2016

Dr. Ben Merkle looks back on his first year as
President of New Saint Andrews College

This Fall will mark the beginning of my second full year as President of New Saint Andrews College. The transition to the role of President has been a rowdy one. It is ironic that in order to be the president of a college, it is necessary to have worked as an academic, and yet the actual skills required to be president are completely distinct from the skills of research and lecturing. This results in quite the learning curve.

But the transition has been made remarkably easy by the support and help of an incredible community. I’m truly grateful for the support of the staff, faculty, board, alumni, and the larger community of saints here in Moscow who have continuously supported the mission of the College. In particular, I’d like to express a particular gratitude to my predecessor, Dr. Roy Atwood and to the various past members of the NSA board who directed the College from its founding up to this point.

Since coming into this office, I have become much more tuned into news about the operations and budgets of other colleges and universities, and one of the things that has stood out has been how the transition to a new president is often a moment that reveals deep financial troubles and mismanagement by those that went before. I’ve heard story after story of a new president taking his office only to find that the finances of the school were in shambles.

My experience at NSA has been the opposite. Over the years, the College has conservatively managed her finances and avoided irresponsible debts. And in stepping into this office, I’ve not encountered any surprises about NSA’s financial position. But on top of the care that has been shown to the budget, the College has consistently handled money with very principled thinking. In particular, I’m thinking of the way that from its very beginning, NSA has refused to take federal money. Having sat and stared at the tentative budget a couple of times now and wondered how we could make our income equal to our expenses, I can understand the power of the temptation to just open up that pipeline of “free money” that the feds have to offer. The College has long worked to keep tuition affordable (compare NSA’s tuition to any private liberal arts college of your choice), and yet the College has done this without becoming dependent on federal money.

This last year has dramatically proved the prescience of the school’s leadership in making sure that we were not dependent on government cash. It is very clear that the pathways established to bring federal money into private Christian schools will now be used to shackle those schools to the federal government’s position on homosexuality, abortion, and whatever else is next. Schools that have been taking this money are now discovering that they are so accustomed to this part of their budget that they are not sure whether they can survive without it.

I was on the phone earlier this year with a representative of an organization helping Christian schools to prepare for potential legal challenges. And when I explained that we were not taking any federal money, she was a bit surprised to hear this and wondered what need I had for their services. From her perspective, a school that is not taking any federal money is a school immune from the threats that most other Christian colleges are currently facing. It is a blessing to have stepped into an office that saw this coming long ago. I know that for years it must have been hard to refuse the money - especially when other schools received the cash with apparently no ill consequences, perhaps a bit like Noah working away on his ark while the rest of the world partied down.

But we see the fruit now. So thanks very much to Dr. Atwood and all the members of the NSA board who served this College so faithfully.


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