LIVESAY BECAME BRYAN’S PRESIDENT in 2003 and led the college without any big controversies until 2012. That year, though, he tried to cover up the arrest of a Bryan professor in an FBI sting involving a meeting with underage girls for sexual purposes. Once the facts came out Livesay said, “I was motivated by a desire not to heap burning coals on an already broken man. Today I know that the Bryan community would have been better served if I had shared more of the story.”
By 2013, some faculty members were concerned that after a decade on the job Livesay was becoming “autocratic.” Basic mistrust already existed that December when two Bryan professors, with a grant from the “theistic evolution”–promoting BioLogos Foundation, wrote on the BioLogos website, “Macroevolution is robust and has multiple lines of evidence in support of it, including the fossil record and molecular biology.”
The Bryan civil war began in 2014 when Livesay and a majority of the board of trustees, facing the BioLogos threat, added a “clarification” to the Bryan statement of belief that “the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis.” The added sentences: “We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms.”
That should not be a problem for professors at a Christian college to affirm, since the Bible clearly proclaims it, but the Bryan faculty rebelled. Math chairman Lestmann, who became a leading Livesay opponent, says “the issue was never the doctrinal statement” but the imposition of the statement without consultation with faculty, and the timing of its issuance.
Faculty contracts with the amplified statement of belief went out on Feb. 28. To continue working at Bryan, all faculty members had to agree to the statement. By a vote of 38-1 they pleaded for a one-year delay in the required signing, with the goal of either “improving” the wording or giving those who disagreed time to seek other teaching positions—because by Feb. 28 colleges that might have openings for the fall are usually well into their hiring process.
Livesay and a majority of the trustees refused to delay the requirement, even when the trustee who wrote the clarification, Gary Phillips, opposed the way others were using it: Phillips resigned from the board.
Eventually in 2014, two faculty members who did not sign the statement left Bryan. One of the professors forced out, Stephen Barnett, says "We were not fired because we were unable to affirm the Board’s revision, but because we refused to sign a statement that we consider a violation of the College Charter," which says the statement of belief "shall never be changed or amended."
The Bryan administration defined the added language as a clarification, not a change or amendment. Barnett told me he could have affirmed the added language in 2014 but, as his views have developed, he could not affirm it without reservation now.
The faculty bitterness engendered by the process has not gone away. Now, one side in the Bryan civil war insists the issue is not the statement of faith but a heavy-handed and perhaps corrupt administration—and says those who claim otherwise have created a creationist “smokescreen” to keep others from seeing the truth. Livesay and other administrators, though, say, “We clarified our statement in 2014 when a handful of our faculty reneged on their commitment. … They intentionally deceived those in authority and sought to rouse members of the student body to protest what they claimed was a lack of academic freedom.”
The rebels did rouse students and others. Seven trustees resigned. Livesay, Lestmann, academic VP Clauson, and another faculty member went through a reconciliation process with a Certified Christian Conciliator from Peacemaker Ministries, but whatever conciliation occurred was not long-lasting.
The civil war continued. In 2015, Bryan’s administration changed the Faculty-Administrative Guide so it was harder to call a faculty meeting. The administration ordered the campus newspaper website to archive all stories and links more than six months old: Critics of Livesay said he wanted to cover up the past year’s bitter battle. Lestmann started “an opposition group against the College’s administration,” according to a Bryan press release.
A NEW FRONT OPENED UP in 2016: Bryan alumnus and former board member Wayne Cropp says Livesay acted unethically last year to grab for Bryan land—adjacent to the Bryan campus and worth $6.9 million—that the National Association of Christian Athletes (NACA) owned. NACA had been in trouble ever since one of its founders in 2009 was accused of sexual molestation.
The details of the NACA-Bryan relationship get us deep into the weeds of board wheeling and dealing, but in essence Livesay, trusted by NACA leaders, stepped into the crisis in 2009, essentially selected a new NACA board, and became chairman of it. Seven years later, Bryan College assumed NACA’s $900,000 debt and gained the land valued at $6.9 million. Only then did Livesay resign from the board, advised by auditors to do so given conflict of interest concerns.
The problem, Livesay’s critics charge, is that the conflict of interest existed all along, both institutionally for Bryan and NACA, and personally for Livesay: Trustees understandably appreciate presidents who keep their institutions in the black. When other members of the Bryan board did not back Cropp’s protest of Livesay’s action, Cropp resigned.
In June 2017, a stinging piece by nationally syndicated columnist Mike Adams drew attention to Bryan’s troubles. His column began: “Bryan College is rapidly becoming Christian in name only. In fact, it is arguably the most corrupt institution of higher learning in America.” Adams (see “Odd man in,” Nov. 21, 2009) is a rarity, a vocal Christian professor at a state university, North Carolina-Wilmington.
Given how deep and wide the corruption within American higher education extends, Adams’ suggestion that Bryan is first in that league seems over the top. Lestmann circulated the column with an email stating, “Praise the Lord. The light is finally getting shined on the darkness at Bryan College.” Late in July Lestmann told me he “was a little over the top” in referring to “crooks,” but he specified that “the email went to a private prayer group.” (That is the “opposition group” the Bryan administration cited.)
Lestmann said he might have modulated his language “if I had known it was going to come out in public,” but “I have no regret that I sent it.” I asked Livesay about Adams’ critique, and Livesay asked attorney Glenn Stophel to reply for him. Stophel said Livesay and others had “worked diligently to keep the NACA ministry alive and be good stewards of the funds entrusted” to them. He said NACA leaders decided its ministry “could best be carried out under the umbrella of Bryan’s governance and management.”