It’s time to strap on my big boy pants and do this blog. I’ve been avoiding the topic nearly four years. Bethany University was a horrible, wonderful, dreadful, exciting, scary, and beautiful place to work. I started there as a student in 1987, fresh from a year in France. A very-pregnant Judi and I moved with Daniel to Visalia, California from 1997 to 2001, and we made our triumphant return about a month before 9/11. I remember telling Judi when we reached the Fishhook (the constantly-snarled interchange between HWY 1 and HWY 17 in Santa Cruz) that it felt like we were coming home again. My heart, to quote the Dustin Hoffman movie Little Big Man, soared like a hawk. We would see our best friends and colleagues Don Ryall and Craig Mosher. We would be entertained at lunchtime by Dan Albrecht and Willy Snow. We might even join one of Darrel Johnson’s or Mark Hulse’s choirs.
It occurred to me that its people made Bethany University positively engaging to the soul. When Dick Foth led the trustees to move then-Bethany Bible College to Sacramento, I cried after the public chapel announcement. I couldn’t imagine leaving this place and its memories… No, I realized. I couldn’t bear leaving its people. The students move in, and after four or five years, are gone. The Bethany faculty was our family. It was preposterous, in 2001, to consider the thought of leaving our family again.
Over my 20 year affiliation, Don retired with the sour taste of administrative nonsense on his lips, Craig said he’d rather drive an ice pick through his skull than work another minute at Bethany, and he wandered aimlessly to become an adjunct professor at about 4 other community colleges in the area. Rich left, as gracefully and gently as possible (he’s a noble soul, Rich). Darrel retired, and moved as far south as the United States would allow him. The Abplanalps left. Norm Arnesen died. Bob Columbo passed away. Dr. Rider is no longer with us. Mike and Joyce Stach pulled up stakes about a year after 9/11 and moved to Oregon. Derrald Vaughn passed away about a month before we arrived at Bethany. Truett Bobo? Gone. Dwight and Kathy Wilson? Retired. Norman Craver? He and his “this mess is a place” sign on his office door were axed due to budget cuts in the 90s. Ed Koetitz? Same story (sort of). In 2001, I myself was hired to replace a retiring Arnold McLellan as the head librarian.
We still had the mission, we reminded ourselves. Dozens of our family might be gone, but God called us to a place, to shape young Christian minds through our teaching, actions, and daily living. God did not bring us here to be fickle and leave.
By 2006, we were literally starving. Judi and I would go without meals so the kids could eat. Many months, after paying bills, we would only have $15 left. Bills were always late, no matter what we did. One month we had phone, water and power and gas all disconnected due to late payment. We had a car repossessed and three other replacements towed away at our own expense because they no longer worked. Our children’s school twice took us shopping on a public school credit card and bought us groceries. They bought Alex a coat, and Daniel shoes. Alex was on their “low income kids Christmas list” and they bought him dozens of presents one year. Until Bethany disbanded it, we frequented the married student commissary just to get by, even though we were faculty/staff and not students. But this was okay: God would provide; we were doing God’s work.
Finally, in early 2006, Judi was forced out of her position on trumped-up charges because she had caught wind of her boss committing extremely unethical and illegal business practices that endangered the existence of the University. Her boss systematically, over the course of a year (1) moved her office permanently into the furnace closet (2) pulled her away from any responsibility, although she was the Assistant Director of financial aid (3) “accidentally” stopped inviting her to meetings that were need-to-know information, and reprimanded her for missing them (4) ignored any advice from the Financial Aid team, despite 30 years of combined service from Judi and the Director (5) fired the Director of financial aid, for no reason other than the Director had contradicted her. Finally, Judi sent around to a few friends, a comical email with the F-word in it. She was written up and put on probation. A month or two afterwards, she was told to report immediately to the HR Director on Monday morning at 9 AM. She had been reading the writing on the wall for a few months, so she arrived at 7 AM to pack her things and leave. She was greeted by 2 security guards and members of the VP’s trusted staff to make sure that the school Judi served at for 15 years wasn’t vandalized. It became a spectacle. More than a half dozen were standing outside her furnace-closet just watching her move. Nobody would lift a finger to help. I was wretchedly sick with the flu, but arrived at about 8 AM to help her pack her stuff into the back of a car. For the next hour, we marched her things two flights of stairs, her sobbing all the time. Judi and I both, in our own ways, felt like failures. She spent months in a deep depression, barely able to get out of bed, and six months unemployed. I, like her, sank into a depression. I could do nothing to protect my family, not financially, not spiritually. I considered suicide. So did, I think, Judi. Yes, it was that bad.
This incident cured Judi of any empathy for Bethany she may have felt in our years of service to the University. Over those months, Judi took a job briefly as a barista (which she walked to, 3 miles away, when she couldn’t find a ride because we couldn’t afford to get our broken down car repaired), and after talking with our friend Ben Roberts, Judi discovered that the College Board–that’s the folks who write and score the SAT tests–was hiring in their technical support team, where she would advise customers about PowerFaids, the Board’s financial aid software package. The trick was, the whole family would need to relocate to Virginia.
It was the dream prospect for her: she would still work in financial aid, she could use her expertise to help other financial aid offices, and required no extra hours. She went through the application process, and she moved with our oldest son, Daniel, to Virginia in September of 2006. I stayed behind with Alex to teach out the rest of the semester.
In our eyes, the college’s crime wasn’t Judi’s wretched boss, but that the VP’s immediate supervisor (the president) allowed it to happen silently. Well, not quite so. The president made sure Judi and I got a big party, with a giant poster-sized cake and everything, where he extolled us for our years of service. After the party I refused to shake the president’s hand and stormed out of the Dining Commons. About 30 minutes later, he knocked on my office door and asked what I had done to offend him. I unloaded for about an hour, literally shouting my response at him. He tried to make amends by paying a few thousand dollars to have our power, water, gas, and phone turned back on, and by offering our subsidized housing rent free, but that’s all monetary. The one thing we never got was the only thing I asked him for: a letter of apology from the president to my wife for the ill-treatment she received at his hands.
It’s not good enough to be a Christian institution, folks, or even to be Christian. For all the shouting that’s done about making an end of social welfare, it wasn’t the Christians who took care of us, nor the Church, but a very concerned public elementary school down the street. We moved to Virginia in early December, 2006 and I immediately stopped blogging. I’m still not sure why. We both have our anxiety and depression if not totally gone, at least under control. I started recording and sharing my thoughts online last week, after the four-year hiatus. I’m alive and thriving here, and so is Judi. The boys are both excellent scholars and get an “also-A” in XBox gaming.
A quote from ee cummings sprang immediately to mind, and it seemed appropriate to become the title of this post:
and what i want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy