Laidlaw College: Mark Strom is moving on

Mark Strom
Mark Strom

Mark Strom has been the principal of Laidlaw College for nearly five years now. When I was there from 1999 – 2001 it was the Bible College of New Zealand. His five year contract is up for renewal in January 2010, and he has indicated that he will stay on until September 2010 at which time he will take his study leave, ending his time as principal.

From Laidlaw’s press release a couple of days ago:

“During  his term as Principal, Mark has undertaken a recalibration of Laidlaw College, retaining its strong biblical focus, while moving towards training students not only for mission and pastoral work, but also for engagement with society at all levels”, says National Governing Council Chair Graham Burt. “Mark has inspired staff and students alike towards this goal. We greatly appreciate his contribution.”

Mark’s time in office has seen some big changes for the college, and all for the better. First was the re-branding and re-naming of the college, taking the name of Robert Laidlaw (a worthy New Zealand name if ever there was one). Secondly however, during Mark’s time the college has made a turn towards a more robust vision of Christian scholarship. While papers and courses in biblical studies, theology, church history and missions have obviously continued, major developments have beenmade in the school of counselling, and very positive noises have been made about branching into the humanities, offering more a of a Christian liberal arts education than before. Not all of this has come to fruition yet, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it is the change in direction that is really encouraging to see. It is the directive for a Christian higher education that stimulates “engagement with society at all levels” that the press release refers to that has been particularly exciting to me. There was already potential for more than the college was offering before Mark came along. What he’s done is realise a good chunk of that potential and then help built a great deal more potential yet.

I’ll be keeping a very interested eye on developments on the Henderson campus to see what unfolds in 2010 for Laidlaw College, but I have no doubts at all that it has been improved by Mark’s vision and work there.

Glenn Peoples

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34 thoughts on “Laidlaw College: Mark Strom is moving on

  1. “His five year contract is up for renewal in January 2010, and he has indicated that he will stay on until September 2010 at which time he will take his study leave, ending his time as principal.”

    This makes it sound as if leaving was his idea. It is as believable as Rod Thomson’s reason for leaving “to spend more time with his grandkids.”

    The word on the ground is very different.

  2. I started writing a post suggesting similarities between this notice and a notice that resulted from a no confidence vote in which I reluctantly participated, but ultimately realized that there’s no benefit in speculating. Every dean / principal who makes big changes is going to irritate a sizeable percentage of the faculty. The tenure system means that most of his/her landscape-altering hires are going to be junior (i.e., easily threatened by the potential loss of tenure and therefore not powerful allies for institutional transformation), and I’ve seen firsthand how faculty who are wedded to the old institution may feel threatened by rapid changes. Consequently, he could have been forced out but it is also possible that he did what he needed to do and sees that a new face can continue the work better without the political baggage he’s necessarily accumulated over the last five years. Or he’s tired of dealing with faculty — perhaps you have a different breed over in NZ, but my experience with US faculty is such that I deliberately took myself out of the running for administrative positions last year.

    Beyond that, my personal feeling is that executives should have extraordinarily limited terms.

  3. Mark is a great guy and he has done a lot for the college and has given it a good hard kick in the right direction.

    I wish him all the best as he moves on.

  4. I get the impression that Dr Strom is one of those guys who gets itchy feet pretty quickly, he is a change agent rather than a maintainer. If they were trying to get rid of him they could have done so at the end of his contract.

    I also think (reasonably informedly) that speculation that Rod was pushed rather than jumped is unfounded, i had no idea the Laidlaw campus was such a hotbed of gossip! But then never trust “anon”, not sure how representative someone with no name can be!

  5. I dont know about Dr Strom, but I spent many many hours discussing (and learning) philosophy with Rod. He constantly amazed me, and was so patient with me. Although he did ask my a “C” student wanted to do a masters level paper 😛

    All sorts of things go on at the Hsn campus that people dont know about. We found a spot that had been used by either witches (which there is alot of in west auckland, having been part of that scene), or satanists. The piece of land now has houses on it 😛

  6. Just a brief request: I don’t encourage any speculation here on questions of people being pushed or “encouraged” to move on. This never even entered my mind as I wrote this blog entry, which was just an anouncement of what I had learned, and an expression of my appreciation for the hard work that I can see Mark has done at Laidlaw College.

    As you were.

  7. “spent many many hours discussing (and learning) philosophy with Rod”

    What would Rod know about philosophy? He’s even less qualified in it than he is in theology.

    On that, where does he (or anyone else at Laidlaw) publish in philosophy and theology (outside of Maxim & Laidlaw’s in house publications)?

    Who ever heard of, outside of Christian circles a head of department (or a lecturer for that matter) who is not qualified and who does not publish in his field (self-publications do not count)?

    I sincerely hope Laidlaw’s board learns from this episode and hires qualified people who can actually cut it in international academia. The world is ever becoming a smaller place so these sorts of things will increasingly become more and more obvious.

    Rod should go back to education where he is qualified to teach or do a bachelors in theology (for starters) and get a few publications in real journals if he wants to continue teaching in it. Ditto with philosophy and any other subject he thinks he can just “pick up.”

  8. Wow..

    Not only do you feel the need to hide your identity because you’re afraid of your own OPINION… but you’re also uptight.

    Go have a seat in the fridge for a bit.. what on earth did BCNZ ever do to you that would cause you to feel the need to hate them so much?

    Whether or not Rod has any qualification for any particular thing is irrelevant. I’m a better person for knowing him, and better educated, and a better philosopher for having him as a teacher.

    In the immortal words of Larry Norman, its hard to see when you dont open your eyes.

  9. Wait a second. “Whether or not Rod has any qualification for any particular thing is irrelevant.”

    Are you serious? Laidlaw College is a degree awarding institution, is that correct? I must have misunderstood something, because the comments made by visitors (OK, so we’re derailing Glenn’s subject here!) actually suggest that the head of department (in theology?) doesn’t have even one degree in the subject.

    And now someone says that this is irrelevant? Holy cow….

    Can you imagine a science department advertising for a head of department, saying “no degree required”? I’m sorry, being a nice person really doesn’t take the place of an actual prerequisite. This is a real shock to me. My view of a Laidlaw College graduate just changed.

  10. Don’t make me use the hose to control the crowd…. I want open and free discussion and all that, but how about a little discretion? This was meant as a very positive blog entry and the comment thread is becoming something very different.

  11. Sheesh! Guess why we didn’t blog on this…

    Does anyone know where Mark, Rod and Steve (and I think another HOD is leaving too?) are headed? Hopefully something interesting and challenging for them all – all very nice, talented people.

  12. This is going to be interesting. It’s the world’s worst kept secret that some people said that Rod’s hiring was a pre-arranged deal with no small input from maxim/compass and co, not a genuine hiring process. I’m not saying that’s true as I’m not privy to the actual process, but people were talking. Now that Mark is moving on, as is Rod – and Steve Taylor as well, all three of whom were (are?) involved in Compass and/or Maxim (a coincidence that plays into the hands of a theory that some have entertained), it will be all eyes on Auckland. The odds of others from Maxim/Compass coincidentally yet again being the best fit for the vacancies now created are statistically insignificant.

    The year to come is going to provide us all with an education, I think.

  13. “The odds of others from Maxim/Compass coincidentally yet again being the best fit for the vacancies now created are statistically insignificant.”

    If only it were true.

    Rod’s departure leaves his worldview courses with no one to take them. Guess which Maxim/Compass person, with only a bachelors in hand, has just been flown up from down south to research and write them for Mark?

    It is a real shame that there are no handily located doctorates in epistemology living locally with time on their hands that could have helped.

  14. Anon, if that is true, then we rationalists can rest a little easier. With Christian higher “education” discrediting itself like that, it’s one less job for us.

    Ah, Christians. Go ahead, sink your own ship. We, on the other hand, will pursue excellence. Let’s see how history turns out, shall we?

  15. Dave

    I don’t think history will turn out as you think. In fact given what many humanists believe about history, I doubt it has panned out in the past the way many of the claimed either.

  16. Matt, maybe it will, maybe it won’t (but I think eventually it will). But if what Anon says is true, Christian colleges are doing just what we would expect if they WANTED to be relegated to irrelevance, which suits us just fine. We’ve been calling them irrelevant to the modern world for some time now!

    I do wonder, however, just how “Anon” came to have this inside info about Laidlaw and Maxim’s inbreeding. Is it publicly available? Or is this someone from the inside engaging in inappropriate public comment?

  17. It is not that big a secret. Anyone on campus who wants to find out can all you have to do is start this subject up with a staff member of a student whose been there a while and you can blog search on google for all the other places this issue has come up too. If you do you’ll see I’m not saying anything much new.

    As for what this means for humanists and their own pursuit of excellence, which theological and philosophy of religion publishing houses do Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens publish in? Both sides have their unqualified popularists and to be fair both sides have their scholars. Take a look at the blog you are on, you won’t read about ways of knowing how to tell the grand story in the big picture here.

  18. Interesting Anon. Some googling on this subject eventually led to an article at Matthew and Madeleine Flannagan’s blog. Forgive my speculation, but it does make me wonder who all the “Anon” posts here came from (especially when “Anon” coincidentally backs Matt up).

    My comments about the pursuit of excellence just meant this: Other institutions that want to be excellent at what they do will hire people based on their qualifications, and if it became known that they did otherwise, their reputation would fall. Richard Dawkins was hired by Oxford because of his qualifications, which he most certainly has! Of course people can write books on whatever they want with no prerequisites, but getting teaching positions in higher education is another matter. I meant that seeing a fundie Christian institution doing what you say they are doing – hiring people because they are involved in an organisation for which Laidlaw’s principal serves as a board member (!), whose own board “shares faces” with Laidlaw’s board (according to a comment at you blog Matt), in spite of a lack of relevant qualifications for those roles – does not bode well for the state of Christian higher “education” in New Zealand. I mean, Laidlaw is the biggest Bible College in the country, is that not correct?

    I reject the Richard Dawkins comparison here. Secular/public colleges do not engage in this sort of stuff, at least if they did, they would be a laughing stock if it were discovered, and disciplinary action would be taken.

    That it seems perfectly acceptable to Laidlaw is reassuring to us rationalists that Christianity has a much lower bar for education than the rest of the world – a fact that we can now point to with further publicly accessible evidence. I guess they’re showing us how deep (shallow?) the pool of Christian “scholars” really is.

    Thanks, Christians! You’re helping us win the war. I always thought it would be a shoo-in anyway (pun intended, given the subject at hand).

    As for “the blog you are on,” what of it? Making Christianity sound smart must take some skill, so this place gets kudos for that. Doesn’t make it true.

  19. Dave,

    Much of what you say here is dubious and actually a bit of a stretch. First you refer to an article I wrote on MandM, unfortunately nowhere in that article did I make comments about Laidlaw’s hiring practices, some people brought this topic up in the comments thread but it seems to me that to associate what a person says in a comments thread with the author of the post is dubious. Is Glenn a rationalist humanist because you comment in here?

    Nor do I see Anon (which one?) backing me up, but if they were that hardly proves anything, are you suggesting that I never say or make a point that someone else in the world agrees with. I see Sandra on this thread backs up some of the points you make about colleges hiring on qualifications, am I to suppose then that Sandra is you.

    Finally, you seem to engage in a whopping non sequitur suggesting that if Laidlaw has done what Anon claims it somehow tells us about Christian scholarship and academia in general. This obviously does not follow, you cannot justifiably make inferences about every Christian scholar in the world on the basis of the actions of one institution, and it’s hard to believe that you seriously think you can.

  20. Matt – I did not attribute any claim about Laidlaw’s hiring practices to you. I did not say that you personally made a claim at your blog, I said that the claim appeared in a comment at your blog. You suggested that I google it. I did. I only told you what I found. I admitted that my conjecture on the authorship of the “Anon” posts was only speculative.

    If you say that Anon is not you, then fine. I accept your claim.

    However, is it really fail to accuse me of making “inferences about every Christian scholar in the world.” I did not such thing – not even close. I was deliberate in refering only to the state of Christian academia “in New Zealand.” Forgive me if I am wrong, but Laidlaw is the largest Christian college of higher education, is it not? And unless I am mistaken, it offers higher degrees than any other Christian college of higher education in New Zealand, does it not? If so, and if the suggestions being made by Anon (and in the comments over at your blog) are correct, then what is the most prestigious Christian college of higher education in this country sets the bar for hiring low for its friends in partner organisations, hiring them with little or no regard for their qualifications. This claim seems clearly warranted by the evidence (accepting that the claim rests on a big “if”).

    So as I said, Laidlaw is making it easier to discredit Christian higher “education,” thereby leaving less work for us to do. It’s very simple really.

    Or do you think that these actions on the part of the most prestigious Christian college of higher education in New Zealand send the message that they play by the same rules as everyone else? Hardly!

  21. Dave

    Sorry I misrepresented your comments about

    “That it seems perfectly acceptable to Laidlaw is reassuring to us rationalists that Christianity has a much lower bar for education than the rest of the world – a fact that we can now point to with further publicly accessible evidence. I guess they’re showing us how deep (shallow?) the pool of Christian “scholars” really is.”

    As a comment about Christianity and Christian scholars as a whole

    As to the rest of what you say, first I did not request you google the issue, that was one of the other commenter’s in this thread. I think it was one of the Anon’s

    I freely admit there have been some questions raised on this blog and other blogs, and in general about some recent appointments at Laidlaw, I also agree that if what has been claimed is true then that does raise some questions about Christian higher education in NZ. However I think it’s fair to point out that these questions relate to some fairly recent appointments that have occurred in the last three years or so. I don’t think it tells us anything about the majority of faculty at Laidlaw, nor is it necessary say anything about Laidlaw grads from before this time. Or who have studied in courses other than the ones the appointments effect. I know several people who studied at Laidlaw who went on to get PhD’s through Otago, get published etc and whose competence is not in question.

    All this of course depends on the ifbeing true.

  22. i made a booboo, for some reason I always get Rod Thompson and Rod Edwards confused. It was Rod Edwards to whom I referred not Rod Thompson. Thompson was not there when I was there.

  23. LOL Geoff! Maxim wasn’t even a twinkle in anybody’s eye when Rod Edwards was hired, so I don’t think any conspiracy theory about his employ being rigged by them would have taken flight. 😉

  24. It was in regards to this comment by Sandra:
    “And now someone says that this is irrelevant? Holy cow….

    Can you imagine a science department advertising for a head of department, saying “no degree required”? I’m sorry, being a nice person really doesn’t take the place of ana ctual prerequisite. This is actually a real shock to me. My view of a Laidlaw College graduate just changed.’

    Its irrelevant because Dr Thompson was suitably qualified. and the person of whom I was thinking.
    Besides, a persons ability to teach is NOT determined by the amount of letters after their name, but by their ability, passion, and desire.
    For example, my mother in law did not finish high school (in the USA), and yet she home-taught my wife, who when she finally went to school, achieved a 4.02 (better than perfect) grade point average, and was doing college level algebra at high school.

    Perhaps a slightly smaller horse would be more appropriate for your travels.

  25. Glenn, lol. True 🙂

    I certainly hope no one has doubts about his qualifications and ability to teach…
    Certainly not without sitting under him anyway 🙂

  26. The tricky thing is, by commenting on the subject (namely, whether a person without the requisite degrees should teach on a subject at a university or seminary), it will invetiably look like I am commenting on individuals. The reality is, these are comments that I would offer on the subject no matter which specific situation gave rise to the subject. So here goes:

    Geoff, I must disagree when it comes to qualifications. A person might be smart and a great communicator, but as someone noted earlier, we are talking about registered colleges of higher education – colleges that award degrees.

    Just imagine if a hospital hired surgeons who were intuitively clever and managed to not hurt anyone, but who had no medical qualifications. What’s more, it is absolutely not true that subjects in the humanities (like theology and philosophy) are things that anyone can just pick up and do. I realise that from the outside it might seem that way because they don’t look like “real” subjects to some people. But it’s a slight against higher education to think that someone can really know these subjects well enough to be responsible for the education of students when they do not have the robust background of actually having completed degrees in them for themselves. In light of this, why would you say that a person is “suiotably qualified” as you did in post 27 when you know that the person in question does not have even one degree in the areas he taught?

    Usually I stay out of this kind of fray, but that, in all seriousness, is a claim that is damaging to the reputation of Christian education.

    Dave: Yes, it’s true that the actiosn being discussed (again, taking the big IF into account) to speak ill of Christian higher ed. But let’s keep things in perspective: This is a situation that has drawn negative attention precisely because it (again, if it’s true), is not the norm.

    This blog post was never meant to be about hiring practices or rumours of corruption or anything of the sort. It has been hijacked and used as a vehicle for that, and I will likely close the comment thread if it persists.

  27. Glenn,

    I think your analogy is flawed. Its not at all like a “surgeon who is intuitively clever and managed not to hurt anyone”, its “a surgeon who is intuitively clever and healed the patient”. Not once, but so many times it can not be co-incidence, fluke, luck, or any kind of chance. Dont get me wrong, I’m all for qualifications, I have several.

    Anyway, I take your point, an institute of higher learning has to meet certain criteria, however, that does not mean the teachers are any better at all. In fact, its possible to argue the opposite 😛 ESPECIALLY when it comes to Christians… A surgeon can always find work, but a theologian? 😛

  28. Geoff, I used the analogy of “not hurting” anyone, so as not to give the impression that the surgeon in question does the most excellent job possible.

    I put it that way because it’s my belief that a person who is suitably qualified will in fact do a better job than a person who is the same in every other respect, but is not qualified.

    In other words, I do think that qualified teachers in a given subject are likely to be better at teaching it than those who are not.

  29. I used to think so too…

    But, I work in IT, and its obvious that in IT qualifications mean little. There are some for whom this does not apply, who are great at their jobs and their training has only enhanced it. And yet there are more who have pieces of paper saying that they passed this exam and have this degree… and yet they are useless at the job.

    Its the same in every kind of employment I have had.

    As I said, I agree, there should be and is a standard and it requires certain qualifications… but having the qualification is not a guarantee of expertise, only that someone can pass an exam/write a paper/etc.

  30. Well Geoff, I didn’t say it was a guarantee that a person would be a good teacher.

    Stated differently, I think that in order to be a great lecturer, the requisite study is a necessary but not sufficient criteria. In other words, you can have a degree in the subject and still not be a really good teacher at a tertiary level in the subject – but you cannot be adequate for the role without the relevant degree. See the difference?

    If you take two people who are the same when it comes to interpersonal skills, but one has the relevant education and one does not, then there’s absolutely not doubt in my mind about who is better equipped for the role.

    This is precisely why a number of public institutions have explicit stipulations along the lines of: “Anyone who lectures ata bachelor’s level shall have as a prerequisite at least a Master’s degree in that same subject area.”

    At the risk of offending some who work in the field, I think as a matter of public accountability and credibility as a college that awards degrees, all Christian colleges should have that same standard. A teacher should be at least one level above the level at which s/he is teaching.

  31. Ok, I agree 🙂

    When I was at BCNZ (because I refuse to call it laidlaw), I was offered a chance to teach, but only having a BMIN I was only allowed to teach diploma level. I was allowed to tutor first year BMins.
    I guess they must have changed that, because I know it was the same for at least 2 other people.

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