I have had the privilege of speaking at scores of American colleges and universities over the last decade. I have no recollection of meeting a finer bunch of people than the ones I met at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee. Their students, their alumni, and their professors are the best people you'll ever want to meet. That is why it is so difficult to see Bryan turning into a dictatorship that is teetering on the edge of destruction. Accordingly, I write today offering some advice on how I think Bryan can turn things around.
The normal procedure for ending a presidential dictatorship at a college is through the Board of Trustees. For example, I was involved in a successful coup against one such dictatorship just this last spring at UNC-Wilmington. We were able to oust Gary Miller because members of the Board of Trustees were willing to listen to complaints about him and to recognize that there were recurrent themes in the complaints that warranted further investigation. The further investigation took the form of comprehensive interviews of people who had worked with Miller within various levels of the university.
As you might expect, the results of the investigation were not favorable. Thus, it was communicated to Miller that he had no long-term future at the university. He, in turn, applied for several jobs and eventually landed three interviews and one offer. He took the offer (and a $50,000 pay cut) and left. Mission accomplished.
But the current Bryan College president is no Dr. Miller. Dr. Livesay is on a mission from God and everyone who is attacking him is seen (by him) as an agent of Satan himself. Furthermore, he has shown a willingness to usher out dissenting board members in order to preserve his dictatorship. He has also shown a willingness to mislead the world - and World Magazine - in order to conceal his tactics.
This is a desperate situation. Dr. Livesay is willing to use the twin tactics of a) restraining truthful speech on campus (including the press) and b) making misleading statements to the off-campus press. Therefore, tough tactics must be used in response. I recommend two courses of action:
1) Sit-Ins Should Replace Withdrawals. Right now, there is a legitimate concern among some Bryan students that the college will go bankrupt in the near future. So many are considering withdrawal and transfer to another institution. This is a serious mistake. If Bryan continues to lose students, the institution will collapse within a matter of months, not years. So students must stay and fight for their college, rather than simply rolling over and allowing Dr. Livesay to destroy it.
This fight must be a visible one. I would recommend that Bryan students take a page out of the old protests of the 1960s. They should organize a sit-in at the beginning of the semester. Dr. Livesay has already arrogantly proclaimed that he answers to the Board of Trustees and not the faculty, which recently gave him a 30-2 vote of no confidence. Give him a chance to display this arrogance by responding to a sit-in by with the glib assertion that he serves the Board of Trustees and not the students. And call in the press before the sit-in. This should help expedite Livesay's departure. In fact, it might be the thing that saves the college.
2) Make Two-Cent Donations. Presidents of private colleges may think they are only accountable to the Board of Trustees. But that isn't so. They are also accountable to their donors. Bryan College alumni are rightly concerned over the prospect that the school might not survive the tenure of President Livesay. The best way they can get rid of Livesay and save Bryan is with a temporary donor boycott. This boycott can be affected in three simple steps.
First, donors must start sending, in masse, checks written to Bryan College in the amount of $.02. In the memo line, they should simply write, "Dr. Livesay must go." This is how a alumni can, quite literally, "put in their two cents worth" about the need for new leadership at Bryan College.
Second, donors should demand that Bryan mail them a receipt for each donation. By having to use a $.46 stamp to process a $.02 donation, the school will lose $.44 per transaction. This will be a gentle way of reminding Bryan that Livesay is a liability and is costing them money.
Finally, regular donations that are being withheld by alumni should be placed in a special account. When Livesay goes, the account balance can be withdrawn and sent directly to Bryan. This is a reasonable plan that can potentially result in the ouster of Livesay followed by a financial restoration of Bryan. The college can then hire a better replacement that demands a lower salary. It will not be difficult to do.
There are other reasons why Bryan alumni must consider a donor boycott. They center on accusations of questionable financial decisions at Bryan College. These accusations will be the subject of a future column.