Acting President Gibson Calls into Question the Value of House System After Council Meeting February 5
“I’m tired of quietly leading.”
Acting President Tim Gibson, speaking on Monday February 5 at the end of the weekly Council meeting, proposed an idea he has been considering for months—that there might be value in abolishing the distinctively Kingsian House system.
His comments, confirmed by several of those present at the meeting, were not written down in the Council minutes as they came after the official end of the meeting.
“There are no sacred cows.”
Acting President Gibson was installed as Executive Vice President and Director of the Center for Leadership Development in June of 2016—the latter a title in part denoting his influential role in the annual Statesmanship seminar for student leadership training. He assumed the top leadership position at The King’s College following the abrupt mid-semester departure of former President Gregory Alan Thornbury last November.
In his first public address to the student body at the beginning of the spring semester on January 8, President Gibson talked about his King’s mission-oriented approach that had, he admitted, left some faculty and staff members on edge and concerned about major policy changes at the College. Mission alignment was one of his key responsibilities as the Vice Commander of the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, in New Jersey; mission alignment continues to be one of the larger issues facing the student body during the ongoing Student Body President race, with the honor code and Christian formation in particular being hot-button topics.
Taking student questions at the end of his January address to the student body, President Gibson stated: “I’m only the Acting President—I’m going to act like the President until the Board tells me I’m not.”
President Gibson is not believed to have formally shared his potential ideas for a fundamental structural shake-up at King’s publicly, refraining from commenting on the issue directly at either recent staff and faculty meetings or the Statesmanship Spring Summit. The recent Council meeting on February 5 is thought to be the first time he formally spoke about his desire to fix what he sees as problems at King’s, and to do so by considering all potential solutions, including eliminating the House system.
The problems the President views at the College, as articulated by a diverse array of King’s students, may be related to the oversized burden and moral responsibility that many think Executive Team members face. Many students agree that Exec Team members are placed in an outsized role of moral, academic, spiritual and other responsibilities. This issue was highlighted in the aftermath of the recent tragic passing of a student at King’s, following which many believe the Ten Boom Exec Team, at least in part, bore an unreasonable burden.
President Gibson was traveling and unable to respond to emailed requests for comment on these issues.
Necessarily, other King’s institutions like the student-led Interregnum competition and the Student Life-led House Cup series of competitions would cease to exist, or at least be completely overhauled, if the House system is abolished.
Last December, King’s invited 15 influential and involved alumni with the purpose of introducing them to newly appointed acting President Gibson. During that meeting, one of the key topics discussed was the state of the House system. According to one of the alumni present, a significant majority of the group was in favor of keeping the House system with some changes, while a minority thought that the best course would be to abolish the House system altogether. The majority who supported the continuation of the House system also largely desired changes to the current system, believing that student leaders are overburdened with responsibility and should not be tasked with the moral and spiritual development of their peers. President Gibson conveyed these alumni sentiments to the Council at the February 5 meeting.
Two of the three Student Body President (SBP) candidates sat in on the Council meeting on February 5—Elle Rogers (’19) as Director of Communications, and Brandon Smith (’19) as President of the House of Bonhoeffer. Ian Wilson, as Chamberlain of the House of Reagan, was not present at the meeting.
“Lots of people took it to be divisive,” said Smith, who elaborated that “President Gibson can be stern when he speaks.” Smith clarified that he believes the President, who “cares deeply about students at King’s,” sees the value of the House system, and is trying to “scare us into seeing problems and fixing them on our own.” For the SBP candidate, President Gibson’s Air Force background provides essential skills in efficiency and management, but his relatively short tenure at the College means that he “may not have been here long enough to really know [the College’s] values.” Ultimately, for Smith, it makes sense to “take the cookie cutter formation away from the Houses,” but any large changes must be done in a way that “promote the values of the community [because] efficiency is not the most important thing here.”
Wilson further emphasized the important role the House system plays at King’s, calling it a “really good vehicle for community” at the College, and noting it as an admissions draw for potential students. Wilson views the House system as “a large part of our identity as Kingsians,” and thought that while “constructive criticism of all systems” is important, many of the issues the King’s community faces are natural “problems that come with living in community.” For Wilson, “eliminating the Houses [won’t] guarantee a better structure,” or lead to better opportunities for connection and community. The Reagan SBP candidate additionally noted his House’s successful alumni relations, and emphasized the need to consider their voices in any proposed dramatic changes to the College—Wilson worried about Reagan alumni, who often assist with professional connections and building the King’s name and reputation with employers, might easily feel alienated.
Rogers, parting from the other SBP candidates to a certain extent, was “encouraged by President Gibson’s direction” for the future of the College, and appreciated his desire to “figure out sacred cows and be willing to examine them.” Rogers noted that the Council was created over a decade ago when the student body was different—in that decade, the student body has doubled in size, and student organizations and athletics now have much more influence in the lives of many students on campus than they used to. With the role of sports increasing because of ongoing College recruitment and individual “student orgs like The King’s Players shap[ing] college discourse as much as the House of Reagan,” Rogers thinks that the current structure of the Council “leaves out two-thirds of the equation—student life happens in three places and student government is in one-third of them.” For Rogers, it doesn’t make sense to put the entire burden of caring and shaping community on one-third of the equation, and there is a distinct “need for collaboration, communication, and coordination for voices in all the different areas: the Council will have to reshape itself to include the other voices.”
Several current House Presidents agreed that there are current issues with the House system that ought to be addressed as King’s continues to expand. Stipend amounts, the rising number of students in each House, and the general lack of support that many members of House Executive Teams feel were common areas of concern that they wish to address.
This article was edited on February 20 to clarify the outcome of the December alumni meeting as it related to the House system and to add the fact that President Gibson referenced these results at the February 5 Council meeting