Sunday, March 10, 2013

LCMS Lutheran Withdraws from Consideration for Luther College Presidency

It looked like Dr. MarkHagerott, military professor and senior military officer of history at the United States Naval Academy and candidate for the presidency of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, was on his way to be elected to the top position of that school.  The presidential search committee had narrowed the list of candidates to two, and the Board of Regents appeared to have moved toward consideration of only Mr. Hagerott. reported the Board of Regents as follows:

After receiving the report from the Presidential Search Committee, the Luther College Board of Regents charged the committee to further explore the candidacy of a single finalist, Dr. Mark Hagerott, and to report back to the Regents no later than April 30, 2013. Â We look forward to additional engagement with Dr. Hagerott. Any decision about the election of Luther's next president will be deferred until after the receipt of the committee's subsequent report to the Board.

A clarifying statement appeared a few days later, which delayed the presidential election to later in the Spring.

How had the train gone off the tracks?

Some discomfort in the Luther community on Hagerott's affiliation with The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod emerged.  One example of this in the Luther College student newspaper, CHIPS, published an opinion piece titled "Lutheranism and the Luther Presidency."  The article's bottom line was straightforward: "The ELCA and the LCMS are both Lutheran, but only one denomination represents the Luther College community."  

On Tuesday, March 5, Dr. Hagerott withdrew from consideration for the office. has an article on Hagerott's withdrawal here.  Hagerott's own "Reflections on a College Search" may be found in CHIPS.  A couple of quotes from Hagerott's reflections follow.

It was with sadness that I withdrew from the Luther College search. My wife and I found it to be a wonderful place. People we met were so genuinely friendly. But in light of articles published in this paper and the college paper that used a very narrow lens to interpret who I am and what I stood for, I feel it now necessary to explain why I withdrew from consideration. Moreover, how I was portrayed and judged in the articles holds implications for Luther's future hiring and promotion practices.

Despite my record, the debate as framed both in the school newspaper and the community paper became one sided, portraying a requirement for theological conformity. Counterpoints were conspicuously absent. Such a demand for conformity surprised me, because as I read on the website, the Luther family was "...of all backgrounds, we embrace diversity". At Annapolis I worked with, hired, mentored, and led persons of all faiths, genders, sexual orientations, and political persuasions, and I maintained an impeccable record of tolerance.

Perhaps it is fitting that these questions come to the fore now, as we approach the 500 year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther challenged the reigning orthodoxy of his time. Perhaps the orthodoxy today is “political correctness” on college campuses across America? My hope is that Luther College will be a source of a new reformation, one that encourages persons, from liberal to moderate to religious conservative, to participate with confidence in the mission of educating the next generation of undergraduates. It was to that end, and is my hope now, that my decision to end my candidacy will allow this important debate to continue without distraction at Luther College.


Anonymous said...

Excerpt from a response to the flap:
"From the onset of the presidential search, the position has been open to individuals of any religious affiliation, provided they agree to join a local ELCA congregation upon their hiring, something Dr. Hagerott was willing to do."

Anonymous said...

As a recent graduate of Luther College and a clergyman in the LCMS, I do find this reaction to be out of character with Luther College. My experience there was that Luther was more liberal than most of the ELCA itself. As a college which celebrates diversity in ethnicity, sexuality, and religion, the way Mr. Hagerott was treated was not very celebratory in diversity nor was it very Christian-like at all. But then again, Jesus did talk about this before, didn't he? John 15:20, "If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you." I have a feeling that if the presidential candidate had been from any liberal denomination or even a more liberal non-Christian religion, Luther may have, quite possibly, allowed that person to remain a member of his or her denomination/religion and be president.

However, in the defense of Luther College, in an email from the Presidential Search committee dated 6/20/2012, they did state that the president would be required to join an ELCA congregation in the area. From one of the early, perhaps even the first "Presidential Search" emails: "In view of the historic role of Luther College in Lutheran higher education and the continuing leadership the college provides within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the president of Luther College shall be an active member of an ELCA congregation. A candidate who is not currently part of the ELCA must have experience within the Lutheran tradition and must be willing to become an active member of a local ELCA congregation upon election as president." My question now becomes: In light of this, why did the interview end up going as far as it did in the first place?

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