A specially-called constituency meeting of Atlantic Union College (AUC) was held on May 19, 2019, at Machlan Auditorium in Lancaster, Massachusetts. The meeting occurred one year after the college’s academic program was suspended and a specially-called constituency meeting was held.
Administrators and delegates from the Atlantic Union and its six local conferences, the General Conference, the North American Division, as well as college personnel and alumni representatives attended the meeting. The meeting was chaired by G. Earl Knight, Atlantic Union Conference president. Todd McFarland, associate general counsel for the Office of General Counsel for the General Conference, served as parliamentarian. Bob Cundiff, Northern New England Conference president, presented the devotional.
A Review of the 2018 Actions
At the May 2018 constituency meeting, the college was in the process of completing its academic program and the delegates received information about the teach-out process and employee layoffs. At that meeting, delegates voted to try to avoid selling the core campus buildings, as much as possible; to continue to find ways to bring back Adventist higher education on the campus; and to authorize the administration and appropriate committees to continue negotiations with financially viable parties.
Reports Presented at the 2019 Meeting
At the May 2019 meeting, delegates received updates on what has transpired at the college over the past year. Barbara Fuller, campus administrator/registrar, gave an extensive report regarding the upkeep of the campus. She shared that she is working with a staff of five, with further reductions to come.
Much-needed repairs on several of the buildings are ongoing and some of the repairs are costly. Several of the buildings are being used as rental properties to provide some income to assist with paying the bills. To date, the landscape on the campus has been cleaned up, and they are working with the town to get the buildings up to code.
They are transitioning the registrar’s function to an electronic transcript service provider. The process should be completed over the next few months and transcripts will be available electronically. Those requesting transcripts will continue to be served, even though the college is closed.
The Atlantic Union Conference treasurer, Elias Zabala, Sr., presented a detailed financial report on the operation of the campus. Based on the breakdown shared, it is costs $9,219 per day to maintain the campus in its current state. In February 2019, the college board of trustees voted a budget with a deficit of $556,369, which has since been reduced to $385,000.
On February 19, representatives from the college met with the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (MDHE) regarding the completion of the process of revoking the license to offer degrees. On March 5, the MDHE voted to revoke the Atlantic Union College charter; as a result, the college can no longer conduct any educational business under the name of Atlantic Union College.
The treasurer shared that Atlantic Union Conference is paying $1.2 million in subsidies annually to maintain the campus. The college has about $2.4 million in outstanding loan debt (this does not reflect the total debt of the college). The six conferences in the Atlantic Union have entered into a short-term, three-year agreement to pay down outstanding loans incurred when the college was open. Some of the loans date back to 1996.
The tax bill, including water and sewer, is about $520,000 annually. This represents tax on 15 percent of the buildings. However, next year, on July 1, 2020, as a result of the closure of the college, the cost will rise significantly, since the buildings are no longer being used for educational purposes, essentially negating the tax exempt status.
Over the past year, meetings were conducted with interested parties to discuss possible alternative uses for the buildings; this included attempts at collaboration with other Adventist educational institutions, denominational entities, and outside entities. These meetings did not result in a positive outcome.
With the closure of the college, the General Conference Auditing Service (GCAS), has been engaged to conduct the audits of the institution. Previously, the college used an independent auditing service. These external audits only looked at the financial statements and did not audit for policy compliance. GCAS representative, Todd Mayer, shared a draft with the delegates and indicated that GCAS is not able to issue an audited report at this time.
Preserving the Historical Artifacts
Regarding the historical artifacts on the AUC campus, delegates voted to work with the Adventist Heritage Ministries of the General Conference in establishing an Adventist Heritage Center on the AUC campus with the aim of preserving the historical artifacts and other important Adventist historical items.
The delegates voted to remove Thayer Mansion and the surrounding land from the list of properties for sale. Thayer Mansion will continue to be leased for the purposes of running a music school and other activities in accordance with Seventh-day Adventist principles. It will continue to be an outreach ministry in the community.
Sale of Properties
Regarding the properties on the campus, the delegates voted to look for a suitable buyer or buyers for the remainder of the properties, with the exception of the Thayer Mansion and those used for the Adventist Heritage Center. The proceeds from the sale of any of the buildings will help to pay down the outstanding loans, assist with operating expenses, and be used to support Adventist Christian education in the Atlantic Union.
Changes to the Constitution and Bylaws
The last item taken by the delegates was to vote the recommended changes to the Atlantic Union College Corporation Constitution and Bylaws. The Atlantic Union Conference executive secretary, Pierre E. Omeler, presented the recommendations of the constitution and bylaws committee. Significant amendments were recommended since AUC is no longer operating as an educational institution. The delegates voted to change the membership of both the board of trustees (now the corporation board) and the constituency of the corporation. Warren Ruf, pastor of the Naugatuck and New Haven churches in Connecticut and member of the constitution and bylaws committee, read the amendments.
Going forward, the corporation board will consist of 17 members: the officers of the Atlantic Union Conference (five), the presidents of the six conferences in the Atlantic Union (six), and six laypersons, one per conference, nominated by the local conference executive committee. The new constituency of the corporation is comprised of the members of the executive committee of the Atlantic Union Conference, as well as one layperson appointed by the executive committee of each local conference in the Atlantic Union Conference territory. Constituency meetings will be held as needed, with the day and place to be determined by the president of the corporation. Meetings by teleconference or video conferencing are permitted under the newly-voted constitution and bylaws.
The Atlantic Union Conference administrators, who are also the administrators of the Atlantic Union College Corporation, are tasked with the responsibility of following through on the actions taken by the delegates. There is much work to be done and prayers are needed as this process continues.
Ednor A.P. Davison, communication director, Atlantic Union Conference