Author's Note: NSA received accreditation from TRACS on November 29, 2005. This text has been revised as new information has come to light. Even though I clearly marked this letter "private and confidential," Dr. Russell Fitzgerald, Executive Editor of TRACS, shared it with Roy Atwood, President of New St. Andrews College.
on TRACS: The organization was founded by creationist Henry Morris, who once
declared that "it is better to believe in the revealed Word of God than any
science or philosophy devised by man." TRACS is not recognized by higher
education authorities in Texas, and probably many other states.
February 17, 2004
Transnational Association of
Christian Colleges and Schools
P.O. Box 328
Forest, Virginia 24551
Private and Confidential
Dear TRACS Officials:
I am writing concerning the accreditation of New St. Andrews College (NSA) in Moscow, Idaho. Let me first introduce myself. I just retired from 31 years of teaching at the University of Idaho in the Department of Philosophy. For 23 years I was Coordinator of Religious Studies. In 2002-2003 I was President of the Pacific Northwest Region of the AAR/SBL/ASOR. My CV can be found at www.class.uidaho.edu/ngier/vitanick.html.
I have known the principals at NSA--Douglas Wilson, Douglas Jones, and Roy Atwood--for many years. Wilson was a philosophy major and took an M.A. from our department in 1977. Both Wilson and Jones were lecturers for us for several years. I’ve known Atwood since he first came to the University of Idaho, where he was a well respected administrator and teacher/scholar. Because of these close associations I have requested that you keep this letter private and confidential.
In a letter to the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (May 22, 2003), Atwood stated that his college was an accredited institution. He stated that “we'll inform our national accreditors (www.tracs.org) that U. S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognition does not constitute 'proper accreditation.’” Instead of explicitly stating who NSA’s accrediting agency was, he gave readers the impression that NSA was accredited by the Department of Education and the CHEA. Later in the letter he did spell out the name of a prestigious liberal arts agency, one with which he presumably would rather be associated.
I wrote to Atwood and asked him to clarify his original letter with a follow-up letter in the newspaper. I also requested that he also state that NSA was only a candidate for accreditation, not actually accredited. Atwood declined my invitation to set the record straight.
It has now come to my attention that Greg Dickison, attorney for Christ Church, claimed that NSA was accredited at Latah County Board of Equalization hearing in April 2003. The result of that hearing was that Christ Church lost its tax exemption on two of three parcels of property in downtown Moscow. You can hear Dickison's own voice at http://www.tomandrodna.com/temp/NSA_Accred.mp3.
Atwood's rebuff led me to do more research about NSA, and if I were on any accrediting team, I would be concerned about the following:
·73 percent of NSA's faculty do not have PhDs. NSA has the resources to hire PhDs., but evidently chooses not to do so. Since the first version of this letter, all NSA faculty, except one visiting lecturer, have the masters degree that is required by TRACS. However, TRACS does require that the degree be in the teaching area, but Ben Merkle's M.A. in English does not qualify him to teach Hebrew or theology as he regularly does at NSA.
·Of special concern is Wilson’s statement that a college degree is not necessary to teach in the K-12 schools that his own association accredits. Indeed, prospective teachers are warned that a degree from a secular institution might place them at a disadvantage. Until recently NSA was listed as an accredited school by Wilson's own Association of Classical and Christian Schools.
·While NSA was a candidate for accreditation, Roy Atwood was giving lectures around the country on behalf of TRACS promoting "Trinitarian" accreditation.
·Two of NSA’s senior fellows, presumably equivalent to full professors, do not have PhDs. Generally, a PhD is required at the lowest rank of assistant professor.
·Although full resumes are not available on NSA’s website, it appears that a majority of the faculty’s published books are from Canon Press, Wilson’s own creation. Atwood has admitted that Wilson’s slavery booklet is not a “scholarly work,” and yet it appeared in Canon's Monograph Series, which usually showcases a press’s most scholarly work.
·Of special concern is the fact that Wilson’s brother, his son, and his son-in-law are on the NSA faculty.
·Wilson wrote an article “Why Evangelical Colleges Are Not” in Chronicles (September, 1998), the journal of the far right Rockford Institute. The hostility displayed against reputable evangelical colleges in this article not only shows blatant disrespect for these fine schools, but it manifests shameful disregard for the entire academic enterprise. Over the 30 plus years I’ve been active in the regional American Academy of Religion (AAR) and Society for Biblical Literature (SBL), I’ve been impressed with the academic progress that some regional evangelical schools have made. For our 2003 Moscow meeting 40 percent of the papers presented came from these outstanding schools.
·On April 1, 1999 NSA faculty and students were involved in an outrageous April Fool’s stunt, complete with stealing UI letterhead and using the English department’s FAX line, to announce an alleged UI sponsored lecture entitled “Topless and Proud.” Wilson tells us how proud he was of his students' actions: “By the time you receive this, our local police will probably have forgotten all about it, so a little bragging is now safe, and perhaps it is even in order. But first some background. Our local city council, through a series of ridiculous circumstances, decided to quit restricting female toplessness. The noble senior editor of this journal [Wilson’s son-in-law], encouraged by some winks and nudges from me, not that he needed any, made up a flyer which announced a topless and proud lecture series by topless feminist scholars.” See the full text at http://www.credenda.org/issues/11-3meander.php and the police report at http://dougsplotch.com/looter.htm at the bottom of the page.
·In the fall of 2002 I extended a special invitation to NSA students and faculty to submit papers to the regional 2003 AAR/SBL meeting in Moscow. Typically, there is a large turn out of students and faculty from schools in the vicinity of the sponsoring institution. In a letter to the Moscow Pullman Daily News, I expressed my disappointment that not a single NSA student or faculty attended the conference. The accreditation issue then arose in Atwood’s response to that letter, in which he told the community that NSA had "better things to do" than to attend the meeting.
·In October, 2003, the existence of Southern Slavery As It Was (Canon Press, 1996) co-authored by Wilson and Steve Wilkins was made known to the Moscow community. It was later discovered that 20 percent of text had been lifted from Engerman and Fogel's Time on the Cross. Wilson first said that proper citation was scrambled in the transmission of Wilkins' portions of the text, but Wilkins later admitted to the errors (see World magazine, May 1, 2005). A former member of Wilson's congregation has looked at two other books written by Wilkins and he has found problems there as well. Typically what he found was indented passages that are indeed cited, but when one reads the books cited one discovers that, in one instance, over 200 words that precede the indented passages are also copied from that text. For all the texts in question see www.tomandrodna.com/notonthepalouse/SPW.htm and www.tomandrodna.com/notonthepalouse/Plagiarism.htm.
·Among many arresting statements in the slavery booklet is the following: “There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world" (p. 24). The booklet caused an uproar in the community, and two UI historians wrote a strongly-worded response to the piece. Wilson defended the booklet in the Daily News, saying, among other things, that the real issue was gay marriage. (He also reminded the community that he believed that homosexuals should be executed or at least banished.) Instead of facing their critics in proper academic exchange, Wilson, Jones, and Atwood launched a full scale attack on them and the UI, even to the point of asking the Governor to censure the administration and sanction the two history professors who wrote the response to the slavery booklet.
·Regrettably, the debate over the slavery booklet may have led to vandalism against NSA property. Despite the fact that the culprits were not identified, the NSA dean and faculty have continued to blame UI administrators, faculty, and students for these unfortunate acts.
·In response to a community petition drive with the title “Not in Our Town,” directed against Wilson and his slavery booklet, Ben Merkle, Wilson’s son-in-law and NSA instructor, set up a website named Hatesplotch (www.hatesplotch.net) on which he and others have posted sarcastic and denigrating remarks about the community response to his father-in-law’s views. Ben Merkle and others from NSA also launched a rude attack on the UI Office of Diversity and its [former] head officer, Raul Sanchez.
·Since 1994 Wilson has sponsored an annual “history” conference held at the University of Idaho. The 1994 conference was on slavery and the Wilson/Wilkins booklet was one of the published results. UI faculty were unaware of this conference until last fall, and now many are quite worried about the impression that their university is giving academic respectability to this event.
·Steve Wilkins and George Grant are regular speakers at Wilson’s annual conferences. Grant has a mail order doctorate and Wilkins is a conservative Calvinist minister from Louisiana. Grant and Wilkins are promoting the novel Heiland, whose hero leads a violent overthrow of a "godless" federal government. Heiland has been compared to the Turner Diaries, which inspired the bombing of the Oklahoma Federal Building. Wilkins wrote a blurb on the backcover of book that reads: "Heiland takes us forward into the future so that we might remember what we have lost from the past. It is a most urgent tonic for our sick day."
·Wilkins is a founding director of the League of the South, which has been declared a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The League has had close ties with the 32,000-member Sons of Confederate Veterans, who in 2000 elected Kirk Lyons to its national executive board. An outspoken racist, Lyons was married by neo-Nazi Richard Butler in 1990, when Butler still had his compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho. The League of the South and the Sons of Confederate Veterans organize public protests with the Council of Conservative Citizens whose website decries "negroes, queers and other retrograde species of humanity." One League leader said that we “need a new type of Klan.” (These quotations are taken from Intelligence Report [Summer, 2000]).
·When journalists interviewed Wilson, Grant, and Wilkins in February, 2004, they each disavowed any association with these organizations and their beliefs, even though Wilson’s school once hung Robert E. Lee's portrait in a classroom, and as Wilson himself admitted to the Spokesman Review (10-22-06), "Confederate flags have adorned office and school walls at times." (The schools principal has denied this.) One conservative Christian minister wrote to the Daily News testifying that he saw the Confederate flag prominently displayed in Wilson’s office. Wilson attended the Fourth Southern Heritage Conference and has written four articles for the neo-Confederate journal Chronicles, whose editors have boasted that they are all members of the League of the South. The last article appeared together with an ad announcing a conference in which President Lincoln would be condemned and the right of secession would be defended. Wilson also published an essay defending the right of succession in his journal Credenda/Agenda. Finally, Wilson is contributing editor for The War Between the States: America's Uncivil War (Bluebonnet Press, 2005), John J. Dwyer, general editor. Historian Ed Sebesta claims that "this book seems to incorporate every 'Lost Cause' and modern Neo-Confederate idea."
In an article in the Spokesman Review (10-22-06), Wilson confessed that he was a "Paleo-Confederate," just after
NSA President Roy Atwood said that any connection between NSA and the neo-Confederates was "laughably stupid."
The distinction Wilson tries to draw between neo- and paleo-confederate is one without a difference. Steve Wilkins,
Founding Director of the neo-Confederate League of the South, has been keynote speaker at Wilson's Moscow
conferences for 12 years in a row.
As I understand it, the principle of
academic collegiality is not just an in-house affair, but it should be practiced
with all colleagues and all academic institutions. Especially disturbing is
NSA’s decision to criticize the UI, upon which it is dependent for library and
lab science resources. This attack is especially ironic considering the fact
that so many NSA faculty have or are finishing UI degrees.
Nine of the 15 faculty have or expecting UI degrees.
I trust that you will agree that NSA’s response to this controversy is a very disturbing trend for this young college, one that started with so much promise and support from the community. In the past I have spoken at NSA’s weekly colloquium, and I spent upwards of sixty hours with one NSA student and his senior thesis on Buddhism. I personally regret very much this loss of collegiality and mutual respect.
If your policies require that I release this letter for wider validation, I will certainly consider that option. But for now please consider these remarks private and confidential.
Nicholas F. Gier
Department of Philosophy
University of Idaho