Will Florida College Go the Way of Bethany College?

Irvin Himmel
Temple Terrace, Florida

Five years ago the opportunity presented itself for my family and me to locate in the lovely little city of Temple Terrace in the Sunshine State. Having spent the first several years of our married life in Florida, my wife and I were happy to return to this area. We since have felt no regrets in making this move.

My work with the church in Temple Terrace has made possible a close observation of Florida' College. The meetinghouse of the church is diagonally across the street from the campus. A sizeable number of students attend here, but other congregations have just as many students, and some years more, in their attendance. No church in the Tampa area is thought of as "the college church." For this I rejoice.

My home is about five blocks from the campus. My wife has taught in the music Department of Florida College for three years. I have known several members of the faculty and administration for about a quarter of a century. As an irregular visitor at chapel during the school session, I hear the whole student body singing praises and receiving edification. In the student center I hear the common gripes, lighthearted conversation, and inform although sometimes serious airing of problems.

Since moving to Temple Terrace I have participated actively in the Florida College Alumni Association-four years as vice-president and currently as president. I encouraged the organization of the Tampa Bay Chapter and am a member of it. Working with the alumni has brought me in contact with some sharp criticism of the college from a few former students, and warm praise from others.

My acquaintance with the college dates back to 1949 when I came as a student after graduating at Freed-Hardeman. The school was opening its fourth session. The program was then on a four-year basis. In the spring of 1951 about a dozen students received degrees. We were the second graduating class. After leaving Temple Terrace in the summer of 1951, 1 kept in touch with the college's program through its publications, friends, and occasional visits to the campus.

I suppose I have had a fair opportunity to see Florida College from the outside and inside, at its best and at its worst, in its triumphs and in its sorrows, by means of its faculty and by means of its students, on crowded lectureship days and on lonely summer days, from the alumni's point of view and from other viewpoints, through carefully prepared propaganda and through off the-cuff remarks, from a distance and at close range, by observing its products and by studying its record.

Florida College has faults. There are areas of neglect. Decisions sometimes prove unwise. Its board is not infallible. Its administration makes mistakes. No one can guarantee that every faculty member will be tops. Some students turn out to be bad apples. The school is a human institution.

Florida College faces dangers. In stressing spirituality it must not imagine itself a divine organization. In maintaining accreditation it must avoid sacrificing principles. It must be flexible without lowering its standards. It must have adequate financial support or die. In standing ready to defend its aims and objectives it must refrain from being too sensitive to criticism. It must be on guard lest it defeat its purpose for existing.

Every college on earth has faults, struggles with problems, and faces dangers-one kind or another. I am impressed that Florida College acknowledges its faults, works to find solutions to its problems, and shows awareness of the dangers before it.

I do not believe that any man can predict the future of Florida College. Will it remain on its present course or digress there from? Who knows? Who can predict what a particular local church will be in ten years, twenty, fifty, or a hundred? Who can predict what a person is going to do in future years? Who can predict what a periodical may teach in another decade or two?

Although numerous human institutions may render services that are beneficial to God's people, the survival of the church does not depend on a college, a publishing company, a building contractor, an electric company, the public schools, the postal service, a bank, or even the government of the United States. One may discuss the virtues of a service organization or a particular form of government without leaving the impression that the church would die if that human arrangement ceased. I believe the church of our Lord would go right on with its work if every college in the world closed its doors, or if the public school system shut down, or if the present government of our nation collapsed. I am not advocating that colleges close, public schools cease, nor that the government be overthrown. I am saying that the church of God can function without these forms of education and political government.

Fully aware that Florida College is a human institution with faults, dangers, problems, and an unknown future, and realizing that God's kingdom does not rest by man-made enterprises, I now desire to describe some qualities, which to my mind make the little school outstanding.

Florida College offers quality education in a wholesome environment. A private school is free from the political governmental control that has turned many public educational institutions into centers for changes in social patterns and lowering of moral values. Popular public sentiment shapes the policies of tax-supported schools. Private educational bodies make their own rules in accordance with their objectives. Compare the dress code at Florida College with the undressing permitted by state universities, or the rides against profanity with the kind of language permitted even in the classroom in state schools, or visit the campus and observe the general student behavior, then pay a visit to a state-operated school.

Florida College employs dedicated men and women. Most administrators, faculty, and staff members, in my judgment, are hard working, self -sacrificing, God-fearing people. Their devotion comes not from the conviction that the school must live or else the church will die; to the contrary, they are loyal to their educational work because they love young people and want to help them prepare for their chosen professions under good moral and spiritual conditions. I admire people who show more concern for the work they do than for the dollars they earn. There are equally dedicated men and women who follow other pursuits.

Florida College practices discipline. Tough decisions fall on the dean of students and the discipline committee. A student who is suspended may think he has been given a raw deal, but if he only knew the heartache and prayerful deliberation that preceded his removal and could realize the necessity of enforcing rules, he would not complain. I have visited chapel on occasion when the whole student body was being informed of some student's removal and precisely why. No doubt some offenders are never caught, but students understand that the school has a reputation of dealing firmly with infractions of its basic rules.

Florida College enrolls some of the best of young people. There are always a few who were sent to be reformed, a few who goof, a few who go off on wild tangents, and a few who excel in being oddballs. The majority of the 350 to 450 students who come to Temple Terrace each fall prove to be splendid persons while in this community. My association with the students has contributed to my personal appreciation of what the college is doing. A few who reap the benefits of studying at the college afterward come under influences that prompt them to challenge everything for which the school stands.

Florida College seeks to stay in its place. I have been asked if the school does not to some extent dominate the church here. Apparently some critics would be happy if it did. My answer is strongly in the negative. It is my personal conviction that the college officials go out of their way at times to prevent anything that might have resemblance to control over church affairs. And the local churches are vigilant against contributing to the college. Although he meant well, I disagreed with one brother who objected to the Temple Terrace congregation's letting a few college students use songbooks for gatherings in their dormitories. He thought that was a contribution to the college. Several local high school students had been using the books for singings in their homes, but no one supposed the church was contributing to the public high school! The students wanted the books for personal use in both cases, not for school use. If anything, brethren in this area bend over backwards to keep the church totally separate from educational institutions.

There are good brethren who have written some pretty hard things about colleges, which offer courses in the Bible. They are positive that every such college will go the way of Campbell's old Bethany. For all I know, this may prove true, and these very preachers may go the way of old Alex by digressing in later life, and the congregations for which they preach may go the way of the old Bethany church, and the periodicals for which they write may later take the liberal route of the old Millennial Harbinger. In the meantime, I must appraise things on the basis of what they are, not on what they may one day become.

Although I do not agree with every turn that Florida College takes, I recommend it to qualified young men and women. It deserves support from people who value its work and who feel a responsibility in educating youth. While others are plugging periodicals, books, tracts, debates, and the like, I am using this means to record my present impressions of a school. If it is wrong to voluntarily write what some will label a "commercial" of an educational enterprise, may God forgive me, and may He show abundant mercy on my good brethren who write such glowing "commercials" of their publishing enterprises!

TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 47, pp. 11-13
October 4, 1973