APU commits to continue dialogue with students
On Wednesday, Oct. 24, APU’s Student Government Association (SGA) invited two members of the board of trustees and two members of the administration board to attend their weekly meeting. The members addressed the community’s concerns about the LGBTQ+ policy changes.
Board of trustees Chair David Poole and Pastor Albert Tate represented the board of trustees, while Vice President David Bixby and Provost Mark Stanton spoke for the administration board.
After giving updates regarding the budget shortfall, the board members answered questions about the LGBTQ+ policy changes.
Poole clarified the reason for the reversal and why the board of trustees sent out an email to the community regarding the reinstitution of original code of conduct language, reaffirming their “biblical understanding of the marriage covenant as between one man and one woman.”
He said while it is normal practice for the administration to change the handbook, it is also the practice of the administration to keep the board of trustees informed. The board is supposed to keep the university on task with their mission, and they felt that the press misrepresented APU’s identity as an institution.
“We wanted to affirm to the public that we were solidly anchored as a university in what we believed. We also value and cherish all our students. It is sorrowful to me that our statement was interpreted as unkind and harsh,” Poole said. “We tried to say two things at the same time: we are the same as we have always been and that we are missional and we want to engage our students in meaningful dialogue. There was dialogue, but it was at a very general level with only a few members of the Board. What got rolled out publicly was something that showed that the university had lost its core values.”
To ensure something like this does not happen again, Poole said the board of trustees will work closely with the administration, keeping each other in the loop out of concern for the students.
Stanton said that the trustees and the administration are closely examining the language of the 9.0 student handbook policy. He also said they are open to student input, taking concerns from students at SGA meetings and having representation at the board meetings and at the Student Life Committee.
“We need to make sure that we are doing this right so that we do not have a repeat of what we did last time,” Stanton said. “When you look back at past issues, the [trustee] board might take a preliminary step with the input of the administration, and the campus will get to speak into that before the [trustees] make a final decision. It will be done with transparency, but we must first have that agreement between the [trustees] and administration.”
Regarding faculty discussion restrictions, Stanton said that there is no problem with faculty who provide support and who speak into students struggling with various issues.
Tate further emphasized the importance that the administration places on building relationships and creating conversations with students. He mentioned that he and other administration members had lunch with the student leaders of the LGBTQ+ group, formerly known as Haven and that they were committed to continuing dialogue with students.
However, students questioned why the ban was so swiftly reinstated without community dialogue, disregarding the time administration and students invested in these conversations. Students also said they felt that the trustees valued APU’s reputation and public perception more than the continued discussion with students.
“There was a feeling on the part of the board that what was happening in the public arena was that there was a misrepresentation of our university that needed to be addressed quickly,” Poole said while answering the above concern. “The removal of the ban was also abruptly brought up to the attention of the board. I do appreciate the concern, and in the future, we want to make sure that there are no surprises.”
Poole also addressed concerns about the consequences for students who became public about their same-sex relationships between the beginning of the year and the reinstatement.
“Conversation has always been really important to us, so if you’re one of those students who [have] that question, I would say let’s have a conversation about it and see what that looks like,” Poole said.
Tate expressed what the board of trustees and the administration board desire for their students.
“I think the heart of what we want to try to create here at APU is that the days of having to hide or live in shame or live underground are over, and we want an environment where we can be open and have conversations in order to navigate through this,” Tate said. “There is no potential witch hunt. There is a desire for no one to walk in a cloak during this time of exploration. We have made progress. We have a seemingly set back with the board’s statement, but it has opened up the conversation wider. It is not our desire or heart to send students into hiding, but to love others in this season.”