Bob Kuhn; Our turn with the Interim
Mars Hill: Can you tell us about some of your story and some of the major things in your life up to this point? Bob Kuhn: I’m a farm boy. I grew up in an apple orchard in the Okanagan outside of Vernon. My parents, well lets put it this way, not well off. My dad had an industrial accident when he was quite young. So growing up we didn’t have much in the way of money, but actually, I never felt poor. My upbringing was idyllic in the sense of not having too much.
Trinity was a totally transformational experience for me in every conceivable way. Spiritually I was able to explore the feasibility, the viability, the trustworthiness of the Gospel. It's something about this place, it's something about the environment that creates potential for the transition to occur, something about this sort of mystical mixture of elements that God puts together in a way that impacts people lives.My life verse, which is Romans 8:28, became a testing verse. All things work together for our good, can I believe that? Can I believe that God can make good things out of bad things? My life has been a series of proving experiences for that verse to be true.
In the community
MH: What do you see Trinity's role being within the wider community, within Canada and the rest of the world?
BK: I think Trinity is a gem and it's rarely given credit or recognized. I mean, think about it for a few minutes. We have winning sports teams, we have academic excellence, we have a student life that is bar none better than anything else in Canada. To some degree, we're the best kept secret there is. Now, it's not that we don't have some warts. We're private, so we've got financial challenges all the time, but in some respects, it's the challenges that make people great. It's the weaknesses that God uses to make us excel.
MH: What do you think can be improved upon at Trinity, and what do you hope to improve upon during your time here?
BK: We can improve upon everything. We're only part way into the book that we're writing and so we can improve upon every single area. We can improve upon our overall reputation within the context of Canadian culture. I think we can improve upon the kind of courage we're displaying within the community. I think one of the reason's we're a secret in the community of Christian education is because we're afraid, so I think we can improve upon our spirit of fear.
There's a lot of mud that's been slung at Trinity. Christianity has gotten a bad rap some of it deserved and now people are afraid. I think that we can do a lot to change that by being who we are. By being bold. Not arrogant, not prideful, but being bold in who we are.
MH: There were a number of large staffing changes this summer, many people were laid off. Can you tell us about the motivations for those changes?
BK: There's a couple motivations. The existing model for educational delivery in Canada and the United States, and around the world really, is shifting. People are seeing less value in a liberal arts education, and more value in a technical, professional education. The number of people going to university is declining. There are obviously economic effects because of that. Public schools are having the same effect. We're needing to be responsive to those demographics by being strategic in how we spend the money that comes in through tuition, because tuition constitutes the lion's share of income.
The idea is also to move towards a sustainability model. No more going into debt. No additional debt. A balanced budget. The budget canít have a deficit sitting in it.
MH: So it's a balance of cutting cost and increasing revenues. What's the school's strategy in terms of bringing money in?
BK: The number of people who support Trinity notionally is quite large. But the number of people that actually translate that generalized support into specific financial support is quite low. Part of that is perhaps that we haven't spent enough time and paid enough attention to groups like alumni. As an alumnus and as the president, I'm in a position to say, hey, we have a significant say now! In terms of the university, we've never had this kind of rapport between the president and the alumni. So now we can kind of ask for some reciprocity.
Connect with Bob
MH: You've expressed interest in really connecting with students on both a personal and professional level. How do you hope to bring more transparency into the upper-level decision making process here?
BK: First of all, it's communication. Being connected with students in a formal sense with TWUSA, and just being who I am with students. From a more structural or administrative side, we're working on a different decision making structure. My plan is to have what I think will be called a Community Council. The Community Council will reflect the Trinity community. It will have representation from the student body, from the senate, from the faculty, from the deans, from the staff at different levels. The community council will be charged with reviewing, taking into consideration, making recommendations, to what would be a President's Council or President's Cabinet.
MH: You mentioned the trend away from liberal arts education and towards vocation training and technical education. What do you see as the purpose of a liberal arts education? Why is it important?
BK: I think a liberal arts education is critically important if we are to focus on the idea of education itself as opposed to training. We are not a training institution. We are an educational institution. It's an approach that says education itself is of value. If we simply train technicians, we're missing the boat.
The liberal arts and its history is such that it's not geared towards finding work. Its goal is to become an educated person. What's happened is the value of that has been replaced by some sort of efficacy; the idea that it's no good unless it leads to a job. Well that's not true. It's better if it leads to a job, but that doesn't mean its no good in and of itself.
MH: How about Trinity's proposed Law School, is there any news on that front?
BK: Not so far. We have been and continue to be very hopeful. I'm optimistic we will get the Law School.
We've done, perhaps, a disservice to the argument by vacating the field a bit. People say we ban gays, well that's not true. We don't ban gays any more than we ban heterosexuals who want to have pre-marital sex. We're just being picked on because we're an easy target.
Every Muslim, Sikh, Jew, most of the world's religions have the same view as we do. In my opinion this is really a question of religious freedom, and solely a question of religious freedom. I will venture to say that there is not a single person that has been influenced to become a narrow-minded, bigoted, homophobic person because they have gone to Trinity Western. In fact I would venture to say that it is probably the opposite. I suspect that we do a lot more work at trying to build in respect and love for all people. You won't find that in a secular environment.
MH: Can you give us your perspective on what happened with Kevin Miller?
BK: Well, it has to be understood in context. Kevin came here. We as a university sponsored his dialogue. So number one, we are not refusing to listen to someone who has a different point of view. Number two, the fact of his actual, personal, beliefs were not recorded until they hit the Statement of Faith, which sort of grounds who we can hire and who we can't hire. If someone can't sign the Statement of Faith, than we have to look at is this a clarification or an understanding issue? Like, ìI understand pre-destination to mean this, or is it actually a qualification saying, no, I don't believe the same thing as what the statement of faith says. Now, that's what happened with Kevin Miller, he wrote on it that he doesn't believe in the Article 10 of the Statement of Faith. Now what I'm not communicating is that someone else might not have some position out there that struggles with different aspects. We have to deal with them one at a time. So, it's not a conclusion of general application.
Now, the unfortunate part, and I apologized to him personally, was that even though I believed that the decision was the right decision, is that the process did not allow us to dialogue about it. We were talking a week before school started. I don't know when we received it, but I wasn't aware of it until that point in time.
His attempt to escalate the harm potentially caused to Trinity Western is the thing that bothers me most. If he disagrees with my opinion, then let him disagree with me, let him take me on, let him say, Bob Kuhn is a jerk and he did this thing wrong. I'll take that. But when he tries to harm the institution that he wanted to be a part of, I see that as inconsistent. It bothers me that somebody who wanted be a part of the fabric of this place is very quick to tear it down by going to Douglas Todd. You can Google Douglas Todd and Trinity Western and you won't find a single article that's supportive of Trinity Western. He knew that. It's sad to me that commentary is given credibility.
He says we're narrow minded, but if we really were narrow minded we would have never allowed him to show his movie. And we'd show his movie again as far as I'm concerned. It's not trying to stop people from thinking, but when we hire representatives of our Statement of Faith, we have to have a certain level of affinity. It's not academic anarchy, it's academic freedom. And freedom without constraint is anarchy.