Students Call for Openness as Cornerstone University Guts Humanities Programs

Cornerstone University logo. (With permission picture)

(RNS) — Meredith Mead, a conservative Christian with a love of words, enrolled at Cornerstone University three years ago, choosing the 83-year-old non-denominational school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, over other top Christian schools because of its major for creative writing .

When she received an email from the university on June 13 that her major had been cut, she said it felt like a punch in the gut.

“The more I read it, the sicker I felt,” Mead told Religion News Service. “I’m looking at a list that says you’re enrolled in a major that no longer exists, and I’m just trying to get around, what does that look like?”

To add to the confusion, a Report began to circulate that all humanities and arts programs had been cut. Then a local news agency reported that although some humanities programs had been combined, they had not all been eliminated. Students turned to social media to find out what they could.

On June 19, an anonymous Instagram account was called Voice of CU appeared, offers to relay the concerns of the Cornerstone community to the administration. Since the initial announcement, however, the university has still not publicly confirmed which professors have been affected.

Heidi Cece, vice president of enrollment management and marketing, claimed there were no layoffs, but “certain positions were eliminated related to very low or no student program enrollment,” and all individuals “were offered extensive severance.”

RNS confirmed that at least six professors left involuntarily: Cynthia Beach (English and creative writing), Michael Stevens (English), Jason Stevens (English), Martin Spence (history), Desmond Ikegwuonu (music), and Ken Reid (seminary theologian). Five of these six had already seen their ward, humanitiesmerged last year with several others to form School of Ministry, Media and Art.

Several former Cornerstone faculty told RNS that all six of those who left were employed and had already signed contracts for the upcoming academic year when they were informed in June that their roles were being terminated — likely too late to receive a similar place elsewhere.

Andrea Turpin, a historian of religion in American higher education and professor at Baylor University, said Cornerstone’s cuts are in line with those at small institutions across American higher education. “Many institutions across the country, including mostly secular institutions, are cutting humanities programs,” she said.

But Turpin added that Cornerstone’s timing raised ethical concerns. “Firing a tenured faculty member who has already signed a contract that was offered to them in the late spring, given knowledge of the academic hiring cycle, would be unethical absent an absolutely dire financial emergency,” she said.

The last-minute cuts also come as Cornerstone has lost more than 150 employees, including 38 teachers, since the arrival of President Gerson Moreno-Riaño in 2021.

Gerson Moreno-Riaño is president of Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Video Screen Grab)

While the majority of those who quit resigned or retired, at least 15 employees were laid off, according to multiple sources. Some former faculty said the wave of resignations is linked to dissatisfaction with Moreno-Riaño, who received a 42-6 vote of no confidence from the faculty shortly after the 2021 academic year began.

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