"Shrinking To Grow" — What Happened at Newbold College?

Newbold College of Higher Education—the official name since 2013—is very dear to me. In the early 1960s I spent two years at Newbold before I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in theology. Through the years I have come back numerous times to the beautiful campus near the village of Binfield, some thirty miles from London in the hilly county of Berkshire, to attend meetings and training courses and to participate in conferences. From 1995 to 2007 I served as a member of the Board of Governors of the college, and from time to time I taught an “intensive” in the theology department. I have kept myself informed about developments at Newbold, by consultingthe regular channels, and by getting the juicier bits of news from friends among the Newbold staff.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11295

From all I know, Reinder Bruinsma has done a very credible, accurate, and fair job with his article. I must say that given the changes, however, few Americans will be attracted to that type of institution unless they are preparing for ministry. As it was, it was life-changing and prepared me for my life-long ministry—and I’m talking spiritually as well as academically. When I think of the professors who did the best job, such as Woodfield in English literature, Porter and Dorland in history, Schuil in biblical languages, Keough in Bible and theology, and Scarr in music—I presume none of them would now be hired at the new Newbold envisioned. I can’t help but mourn the passing. Larry Geraty (1958-1961)

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As a layman of 50 yrs, my feeling is that pastors should be recruited from amongst lsymen in their mid-life who have shown spiritual commitment and anointing. Recruiting ministerial students at 18 yrs is a mistake.

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I read Reinder Bruinsma’s report on the future of Newbold with interest and with sadness. Like so many others, my year at Newbold was absolutely life-changing spiritually, culturally, and educationally. I appreciated the sheer pedagogical talent of Dr. Woodfield, Dr. Schuil, Dr. Leonard, and Bob Zamora. I made life-long friends, contributed to The Gate ministry, both at Coventry and Bracknell, reveled in the cultural life of London and spent hours in Foyle’s and the Penguin Bookshop. So to learn that Newbold is cutting back its Humanities and Business curriculum and transforming into a ministerial-only emphasis was disheartening.

This seems like a shift right-ward, instigated from the top down and at the behest of TED administrators who are unhappy with the “product” of ministerial graduates from Newbold. Despite the protestations of TED administrators, the faculty and staff concerns do not seem to have been fully addressed. This looks like another heavy-handed move by administrators at the Division level to interfere with the educational process without fully realizing the consequences. The scope and breadth of the education offered at Newbold provided all students, theology students included, ways to understand and address the post-modern world. I fear that will be lost or at least drastically cut back. The opportunity to rub shoulders with fellow students from many nations, backgrounds, and interests was part of that education, a facet of Newbold that many of us remember as life-changing. Moreover, the student community aspect of Newbold, something so dear to those who have attended there, will be greatly diminished.

There is no question that Newbold faced real challenges before COVID, and the loss of students on campus was a tough blow. Principal John Baildam and his administration are to be commended for working their way through those challenges with courage and faith. Now it remains to be seen if these losses of curricular robustness, community spirit, and openness to the challenges of 21st-century life, will be offset by the ‘shrinking for future growth.’ I hope and pray it will be so. Newbold and its legacy in the lives of thousands deserves it. — Barry Casey (1971-1972)

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This appears to be a top-down kind of approach to curriculum development. There must be other better models that haven’t been tried.

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My son went to Newbold, was inspired to specialize in history, and went on to earn a PhD in Latin American History at Oxford. We owe a lot to Newbold, and wish and pray for the best - Jim Zackrison

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As someone close to these changes, let me just say that Reinder has done an astounding job of giving those in charge the benefit of the doubt.

(In reply to comment below: This is not a criticism of Reinder! Just my attempt to contextualise this report.)

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Reinder Bruinsma’s article on Newbold restructuring may provide a skeleton of an administrative account but it offers no flesh. The article gives little or no voice to the pain of those made redundant. No voice to those excluded from the top-down consultation processes. It says nothing of the possible conflicts of interest of some of the Board members between College and Union conference. Nothing of hidden administrative agendas. Nothing of possible personal hostilities. Nothing about a lack of ability to imagine an alternative and more inclusive future for the College. These are difficult things to talk about and it seems that the leaders lacked either the will or the skill to do so.

I wonder whether a fuller picture will ever emerge. Clearly there was a need for change. But one might have hoped that it would be achieved with greater transparency, fuller compassion, a greater concern for community and leadership that was more visionary than bureaucratic.

It pains me to say this but this crucial process is deeply flawed. It reflects badly on the Church in the Trans-European Division.

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The recent development at Newbold is another attempt to Americanize European Adventism.
This is another suspicion against science.
This shows another gap between Christian claims and actual behaviour.
You don’t treat your own people like that, nor your enemies, nor any person.

Do we really want to be afraid to research and think, ponder and weigh, connect and include? Do we really want to work and study and live in a climate of suspicion?

If this way continues and even reaches other colleges in the division, then this basically means the end of academic freedom in TED and as such per definition the end of academia in TED.

Just a word to Tom @tdbiii and Mike @MikePearson: You know Reinder. He probably only wanted to protect the colleagues remaining with this kind of diplomatic article. Please give him the benefit of a doubt.

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Thank you, @reinder Reinder Bruinsma, for tackling the gigantic task of trying to give a fair and polite report of what is one of the most devestating stories of Adventism in the UK: the reduction of a fine, well established (120 years) and respected academic institution into a “car-sales-men-training-centre” (the cars being the 28 fundamentals, I guess). Too much critical thinking??? Revert that sentence into the opposite … so that’s how we want to be prepared for the 21st century!?

@MikePearson is right that some flesh is missing in this bare bone article - like a long serving staff member writing in describing the process as they have experienced it: "Insulting, insidious, patronising – disrespectful is too mild. "

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Thank you for the clarification. Appreciated.

As a Theology student freshly graduated at Newbold, I must say that I recognise many of the arguments presented for the changes that are set in progress. Indeed, the curriculum very much focussed on achieving the required academic level. I prefer more of the practical ‘hands-on’ courses that contribute to the highly necessary skills pastors nowadays need.

Nevertheless, the importance of ‘critical thinking’ that Newbold is (positively or negatively) known for must not be underestimated. And I am thankful for what many of the lecturers have taught me. The post-modern society that pastors have to work in, does not accept a stiff-necked proclamation of biblical truth, the Christian faith and the Adventist message. Instead, it requires well thought out arguments based on biblical truth, the Christian faith and the Adventist message against the enormous variety of ideas about God, religion, faith and truth. Arguments that will speak to the hearts of those that have not seen their questions answered by the church in the past. This does not mean in any way that critical thinking is a synonym for following the changes in society. Instead it is a necessary strategy to bridge the ever moving gap between Christian truth and modern society.

Regarding the process that has been followed to effectuate the transition of Newbold so far and some of the critical notes that are made by some who are immediately affected by these changes, I think we must realise that changes often (if not always) hurt. Therefore, pain itself is not an argument against these changes. Moreover, the reality is that change is an inseparable part of the birth of the Kingdom of Heaven. Newbold must always understand its mission in the light of this Event.

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I think I understand what you are saying - and have some sympathy for it. Mature students, tried by life, oftentimes bring a richness to my classes, younger ones do not. However my own calling has been in my teens, I entered Newbold at 18 and this year I will be a pastor for 40 years. Wisdom may be a matter of older age - annointing isn’t necessarily.

What your comment seems to imply is this: “Let’s close our educational institutions all together.” If so - I definitely disagree.

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Was there no consideration to the fact that this decision leaves no English language higher education available for students in Europe unless they want to study for the ministry? Was that of no importance? Why were these decisions left almost entirely to conference and union officers? This seems like a tragic lack of vision!

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You are asking the right questions! However, the decision to close down all other study prorgammes has already been fully implemented. NOW is the time to make the Department of Theological Studies (DTS) redundant - including very longserving scholars. Of course, they may re-apply, if they so wish … but … unfortunately financial constraints… only a few will be picked up…

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I don’t claim to have a solution to Newbold’s financial problems or the unions’ dissatisfaction with Newbold’s “product”. That being said, I believe that the shifting of the focus of an academic institution from academic excellence to, well, anything else, is always a tragic outcome. Pavle Trajkovski (2015-2019)

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During the early to mid 70’s, Newbold College was a theological and academic life saver for me. This was encouraged by the caring and concern of the teachers I had during the 3.5 years I spent there who inspired and gave me the foundation to enter both ministry and the academic world.

I hope this Christlike spirit is not lost or diminished due to the upcoming changes that seem ambiguous and confusing to some of those involved. While change as described appear necessary, was there some sort of attack on the ‘calling’ of some of the staff who I know have devoted their lives to serving Jesus and following His leading in their lives? I say this from experience because I have had the privilege of serving in ministry for over 40 years because of the foundation that teachers, classmates and friends from those days provided.

Although times are changing, my heart goes out to the apparent pain felt by staff who intentionally inspired vulnerable students (most 19-20 year old students are vulnerable) to develope or further theological critical thinking as seen by the significant number of graduates who are leaders in so many areas of the church. This staff who have given their lives serving Newbold’s mission and whose wisdom appears to have been ignored as part of this transition is painful.

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I don’t know much about the methods used to implement this transition, nor am I a TED fan. In fact, I am generally suspicious towards church administrators. But I have to be straight with you. I have studied Theology at Newbold in recent years and am grateful for the experience and the education received. However, I have seen first-hand what is hailed as ‘critical thinking’ there. In reality, it is often just uncritical acceptance of everything liberal or ‘progressive’, and uncritical rejection of everything ‘traditionally’ Adventist or deemed conservative, even if the larger society views it as progressive or subversive, e.g., veganism or Sabbath-keeping. And worse, this uncritically liberal approach is commonly accompanied by the sneering and mocking of those who do not conform to that uniformity of ‘liberal’ thinking. They are left feeling like some backward Neanderthals. Happened time and time again, even in the class, even perpetrated by the teachers - even towards their few colleagues who respectfully disagree with them. Is that academic freedom?

The reaction had to come. Newbold had it coming. Now we can only hope and pray that the pendulum does not swing too far in the other direction. Much more humility (intellectual and general) before fellow believers, and especially before God and the beauties and instructions from His Word is needed in order for Newbold to prosper. “Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples” (Deut 4:6). Praying for you all, especially for the staff and teachers bearing the double burden of reforming Newbold and facing accusations of ‘betrayal’ for it. The Lord is your strength and wisdom.

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This comment was shared by Niels-Erik Andreasen:

The recent report on changes to the operations of Newbold College is of concern to former students whose lives and careers were shaped in important ways by that college. The report appears to indicate that the immediate cause of the difficulties is financial, but there may be other factors even more complex than the financial.

It is hard to understand the college finances with the limited information provided in the report. But on the face of it it seems as though the college could meet only 50% of its operating costs with tuition revenue, placing a annual financial burden on the TED of £ 2 mil, or 1 % of tithe receipts throughout the division (I grant that may be a simplistic reading of the numbers). It is not unusual for colleges to need revenue above tuition to meet expenses. That extra funding is made available to keep the college open and protect our church members from ignorance about many things including our faith.

Everything else being equal 1 % or revenue does not seem a huge cost to TED in return for having a university-like institution of higher education that brings students from high school to undergraduate and graduate programs of study, while providing TED with its work force. It actually sounds like a good deal. However, that assumes the proprietors of the college (division, unions, conferences and fields) scattered across Europe are satisfied, benefitted and blessed by the work of the college and proud of its product. If these expectations of TED, it’s members and families are not met, any cost of education quickly becomes too high, and educators will hear about it and must respond.

The Adventist church is an education church. That explains why “Newbold” was founded over a century ago. And we have 2000 years of Christian history to remind us that without education Christianity falters and goes astray. The test of the new plan for Newbold is whether or not it can light the candle of higher education once again in the TED for all its members to see.

Niels-Erik Andreasen

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Niels-Erik Andreasen, I appreciate your input and would like to point back to the article and make some comments on your findings:

The financial problems are by no means new to the college. But here we deal with an ideological shift and that is new. In the past leadership of the TED and its unions generally had been supportive. Apparently this is no longer the case (and it has to be demonstrated this is because the college changed… I doubt it).

This means, educational standards are set not by educators, but by administrators - who do have different priorities and competencies. You can pack in all meaningful education, most certainly all academic freedom of research and teaching, if administrators - without even consulting educators - decide on what the educational methods and content has to be. How devastating this is, is shown by the following sentiment:

Translated into everyday language this is saying: we want to have pastors who don’t question anything, who submit to tradition, follow administrative lead (rather than educational challenge). Do we really believe that those whose faith was challenged by the college would have become good ministers, if they simply were indoctrinated into blindly accepting tradition? Apparently yes.

… a dialogue needs to ensue with participation of all involved parties - to find out a) whether expectations are actually justified b) if so - how they can best be met.

YES! Definitely. Or - at least it has been. What we are seing here is not a probably needed restructuring, coming from open dialogue between educators and constituency (I am the last one, who wouldn’t admit that ministerial training needs adjustments!). We rather see a paradigm shift in which administrators dictate from rather secretive meetings what education has to look like - in both form and content.

And as a former student and former teacher at Newbold I find this disturbing.

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