The WU

If you’re looking for a response to my last post, don’t expect it in the very near future. I raised a lot of issues I am still deep in thought about, and Nate raised some more to make me think even longer. So I will eventually clarify my feelings on the issue, but not tonight. However I do have something pressing on my mind I want to share with whomever is reading, which unfortunately is probably not the people these particular thoughts should be read by.

I’m now starting out my fourth year at the WU. I’ve been here for three full years now, and if you consider the fact I was loosely tied with the college for 5 years before that, I’ve been around the campus a long time. I remember things like Bill hall, the campus before there were townhouses, and even a few roads that no longer exist in the bubble. But since I wasn’t a student until 2002, I’ll only base my feelings on the last three years, and how much things have changed since then.

In 2002 when I came to school, there was just over 2000 students in the traditional program. My freshman class of 600-some was the biggest ever, and we were starting to run out of room in the dorms. The atmosphere on campus was decidedly spiritual, and without question the #1 reason people came to IWU was for the spiritual atmosphere, which then was ranked best in the country by Campus Life. As a freshman I was pretty oblivious to the junk that goes on, such as drinking and sex and all those things you pay twice as much to not have at your school. But even though I know now that those kind of things happened, I still feel as though the vast majority of people here were serious about their spiritual walk, and came to find a place where they could–I can’t believe I’m using this phrase–integrate faith and learning.

Last year I had the chance to work chapels, which included a lot of hours spent up in the balcony at the sound booth running sound for chapels. Of course, it’s no secret that the balcony is the place to be if you don’t want to actually participate in chapel, and I saw my share of computer users, homework doers, music listeners, and even nap takers. Now in my Junior year, we were up to almost 2500 students, and there was a noticeable change in the atmosphere. There were finally enough students here that didn’t care about God that the ratio had been thrown off enough to change the overall atmosphere.

Now the word is we’re around 2700 students for this current year, and I feel worse than ever before. I can not only see, but I can actually feel the apathy that is coursing through the student body. I watched in amazement as 2700 students failed to worship in chapel on Wednesday because it was less than perfect. I’ve now counted four consecutive chapels where at least one cell phone rang during the message, or even during prayer. I am watching as more and more students use iPods during chapel, laptops abound, and groups have separate conversations with no regard for what is happening around them. And the worst part of it all is that not a lot of people really seem to care.

I don’t like to use my website as a place to blast leaders and tell them they’ve made bad decisions. I prefer instead to pose hard questions and instigate deep thought, first for myself and then for you. But I want to voice my opinion on this one. The decision to grow IWU beyond its capacity is the worst decision that could have been made for this school. First of all, our continued growth has only led to ridiculously high student to faculty ratios, which has served to make our academics even less reputable (as if it had any repute to begin with). Secondly, the campus has now lost any sort of that “well, you at least recognize faces” value it used to have, that is to say it’s lost the majority of it’s community feeling. So by growing just that much, the atmosphere of the campus has completely changed, and that was just from 1700 to 2700. Imagine what it will be like should we reach 3700. 4700. 5700. Sure, that will put us on the map as far as prominent Christian schools are concerned, but by that point who really cares? We already are experiencing the ‘mega church’ phenomenon; how much more will the WU experience it in future?

And besides all those things, what about the fact that a lot of people are drawn to the size of the student population as it is (was)? I loved my Freshman year, because it was just big enough to feel big, and still small enough to be small. Now it feels simply ‘too big,’ and if I was going to pick one word to describe how it feels now, that word would be “crowded.” But a campus has only a four year memory, and the days of ‘feels big but still small’ will soon be forgotten, as will the days when, on any given day, you could actually feel God moving through the student body.

It seems to me that a bunch of old rich people and disconneted pastors got together and decided on your standard American value of “bigger is better,” and then filled growth plans with grandiose visions of fame. Maybe the pastors were vicariously living out their mega church dream. Maybe the rich people saw it in terms of dollars and cents. I dunno. All I know is I am firmly rooted in my belief that it was the wrong decision.

But what do I care? I’ll be gone in 8 months. Besides, I’m too young to possibly know what could be best for the school. Better leave that up to rich donors who’ve earned a spot on the board by virtue of their capacious bank accounts and commiserable awareness of the WU. That sounds like a good idea to me.