By Ellen Orr
Our chaplain, Rev. Betsy Eaves, will no longer be with us after this semester. Her official reappointment to Grace Community United Methodist Church here in Shreveport was announced this morning on the website of the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. As of now, there is no announced appointment to Centenary.
It should be known that the Louisiana Conference didn’t initiate the reappointment. It was Centenary College’s administration that acted to have Rev. Eaves not reappointed to her spot.
According to Executive Vice President Scott Rawles, the administration “engaged in a conversation” with the Louisiana Conference and the bishop about Rev. Eaves’ position as chaplain. This conversation resulted in Rev. Eaves’ termination as a Centenary College employee. Rawles said that the reason for Rev. Eaves’ reappointment outside of the college was budgetary, although he also said that the chaplaincy will remain, and that the new chaplain may or very well may not be a current member of the Centenary staff.
Last spring, as was released in a dense and sugarcoated global email from President Rowe, Rev. Eaves was demoted from her role as Vice President of Student Services to Director of Church Relations. The email made no mention of a demotion but instead framed the situation as if Rev. Eaves was gladly shifting positions. However, according to economics professor Dr. Harold Christensen, Dr. Rowe went on record at a meeting with faculty members saying that the move was “not her choice.” Fortunately for the students, she then retained her position as chaplain. Was the administration simply stringing her along, pushing her into the background?
Rev. Eaves has served the college and its students well as chaplain for 11 years; she’s been connected with student ministry for 17. She is a committed alumna. She has been a brilliant counselor, role model, friend, educator, and champion of student and personnel wellbeing. So why has the administration on the hill terminated her employment behind closed doors?
Of course, Methodist ministers are regularly appointed and reappointed as part of their commitment to the itinerant system. And 11 years is a long appointment. But the fact that Centenary has yet to announce this change seems emblematic of all the non-transparent personnel and policy decisions that have been made over the last several years.
Let’s talk this through: History has shown Rev. Eaves to be adamantly pro-people and their rights. She is known on campus as someone who cares about the welfare of the students, faculty, and staff. She is a person who fights for causes she believes in. Obviously, the Centenary family is one of those causes, seeing as she’s devoted so much of her life to this institution and its people.
Rev. Eaves was on the Executive Committee last year as a VP. It can be assumed that in this role, she voiced her opinion on policy and policy implementations—such as all of the new policies that have hurt students, disheartened staff members, and tempted (sometimes successfully) our irreplaceable faculty members to leave their tenure-track positions.
Daily, I see students complaining about new policies on Facebook or Twitter (today it’s the new catalogue that apparently requires all students to take French language courses). And just as often, I hear (sometimes overhear) faculty and staff members expressing how upset they are with the administration and the direction of the college. How angry they are about how we’re all being shoved in that direction.
The point: everybody is pissed. And sad—that the place they hold in such high esteem is being made into a hot topic that leaves everyone with knots in their stomachs and headaches and angry spirits. It’s not just about Rev. Eaves. It’s about the long line of people being swept away along with the institutional memory.
Rev. Eaves is, as many know, not the type to have people unhappy. I would imagine that she stood up for the people who would be (and are being) hurt by the actions of the administration. I bet she did it with class as well as with boldness and conviction. And I bet that that opposing voice, albeit kind and respectful, made some people (people in power—people with the authority to fire her, perhaps?) mad.
This morning, I asked Rev. Eaves for a comment regarding her reappointment. Classy and graceful as always, she replied:
“I have absolutely LOVED being connected to students through campus ministry at Centenary for the last 17 years and as the chaplain at Centenary for 11 years. It is such an honor and blessing to walk life’s journey with people as they discover life and passion and direction. I believe that every person has the spark of the divine within them, is creative and wise and resourceful. I love intersecting lives in a way that creates space for that to emerge. I will miss Centenary, but I will love walking the journey of life and faith with the people of Grace Community.”
She said she will miss Centenary. But I guarantee that Centenary will miss her even more. Rev. Betsy Eaves has been unique in that she has been able to be an invaluable resource to all students—not just those “of faith”—as she has developed spiritual life programming, been available to students for mentoring and counseling, and upheld all of her chaplain duties and more. Good luck, Centenary Administration, trying to replace her.
My only hope is that Rev. Eaves might now go to a place where she will be respected and appreciated. Dr. Rowe’s administration has publicly put her through the wringer twice—and now they’ve left her out to dry. Centenary students, I hope you’ll stand with me in wishing Betsy luck and happiness at Grace Community.
I also hope to be shoulder-to-shoulder with you all in opposition to the administration’s recent actions. This isn’t just about our chaplain. This is about our school as a whole, the place we learn and live and serve and love. Enough is enough.
Centenary isn’t great because of our monetary resources (practically none) or our location (“Ratchet City,” anyone?) or our “innovative” programs like the World Houses (this is not Hogwarts, y’all). Centenary is great because of the people. Our faculty and staff and students make us great. And if the administration is systematically ridding this institution of the great people, it’s our responsibility to stop them.