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Interim Ambassador University president
offers severance pay to staff

BIG SANDY, Texas--"I'm here to speak on the future of this university and your future with the university as well," said interim president Russell Duke in opening a faculty and staff meeting at Ambassador University June 27.

Dr. Duke's first topic at the meeting, convened at 4:30 p.m. at Ambassador Hall, was the school's budget. He reported that a budget proposal recently submitted to Worldwide Church of God headquarters in Pasadena, Calif., had factored in a 25 percent decrease in the church's subsidy of the university.

He said the budget was based on a student population of 700, down from the averages of 950 to 1,000 for 1994-95 and 1,100 for 1993-94.

Dr. Duke, a 1970 graduate of Ambassador, Big Sandy, commented that he thought the 25 percent cut was less than the "more likely 30 to 40 percent" subsidy decreases that might be required, depending on WCG income, which he said "is down."

Dr. Duke said he hoped that, "after a year or two of cuts, we can start a growth pattern" in student enrollment. "Our ultimate goal is 1,500 students."

The new administrator, who also serves as chairman of the theology department, then outlined the university's "employment philosophy," saying, "It is important that we be in harmony with the Worldwide Church of God's present teachings. In classrooms the current doctrines of the Worldwide Church of God will be emphasized."

"Ambassador," he said, "will be a Christian university. We have three students from Baptist backgrounds who are planning to attend this fall."

"Staff and faculty need to be united in support of [church] doctrines," he said. "I realize we'll never have 100 percent agreement, and we're not trying to lose any staff and employees, but we can't continue on as we are," with some employees and students clearly not in support of the church, evidenced by their failure to attend Sabbath services or by their attending the services of "dissident" church groups.

Dr. Duke said that, to alleviate the situation, the university would offer "discretionary" financial assistance to employees who were not comfortable with the new rules. "Obviously, we want them to continue to serve, but, if their conscience is offended by the direction the university is taking, we are offering them some relief."

"Supervisors and department heads," he said, "will be selected for their tasks and roles as supervisors based on their obvious support of church doctrine because they are working with students and other staff members and they need to be showing by their examples their support."

He said employees' beliefs affect their job performance.

"If you have been a member and then become a nonmember, you do not serve as well in your job. Of course, if you are hired as a nonmember-and we have several of them in our midst-they can serve very well."

Dr. Duke announced that all "severance packages" would be decided on a case-by-case basis and that employees who "are not adhering to the university's policy on supporting the church's teaching are subject to termination."

After explaining that Texas is an "at-will employment" state, Dr. Duke said, "Relax. We're not going to fire everyone."

He then laid out the particulars of the one-time employee-severance offering (valid for 10 days, until July 7), saying it was patterned after the procedure for former WCG ministers who had been disfellowshipped and terminated after attending the United Church of God's organizational conference in Indianapolis in April and May. Such ministers, Dr. Duke said, received a maximum of eight weeks' severance pay.

Dr. Duke said nonfaculty employees wanting to take advantage of the settlement offer must submit a letter of voluntary resignation and agree to give up rights to unemployment benefits. They would then receive a week of paid salary for every year of employment up to a maximum of 12 weeks' pay. Nonfaculty staffers would also receive one month of paid health benefits and could purchase up to an additional year's coverage.

The package for faculty members wanting to resign was virtually identical, though Dr. Duke said signed 1995-96 faculty contracts would be honored through their expiration, in July 1996.

Dr. Duke spoke of a limit on academic freedom, that only current doctrines would be allowed to be taught in classes, and proselytizing or teaching against the church would be a violation of the contract and cause for dismissal. Faculty members hired after the 1995-96 contract year will be required to sign a clause attesting to their support of the Worldwide Church of God.

When a member of the faculty asked if faculty members could attend the church of their choice, including the United Church of God, Dr. Duke said yes but made it clear that faculty employees under contract should uphold their end of the bargain and be loyal to the goals of the university.

"I don't think anyone will find it difficult to embrace the Christian focus of this university," said Dr. Duke.

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