May 13, 2003 Volume 17, Number 04
Grad school closure shocks students
Prairie opens Centre for Intercultural Missions
By Tim Callaway | ChristianWeek Alberta Correspondent
THREE HILLS, AB-Prairie Bible Institute (PBI) has announced it intends to close Prairie Graduate School (PGS) in Calgary and "transform" the 15-year old initiative into a Centre for Intercultural Missions that will initially operate out of Three Hills.
The announcement from PBI's board of directors followed its ratification of a recommendation from the new PBI president, Jon Ohlhauser, who took office in January.
"While continuing to offer a core set of graduate level courses, the centre's distinct purpose will be to promote the work of intercultural missions and prepare people for service in missions and related activities," stated an April 11 press release.
"I want to ensure that PBI continues to be recognized for the priority it gives to missions," says Ohlhauser. "I believe the new proposed Centre for Intercultural Missions will be able to make a significant contribution in this area of ministry by creatively partnering with other schools and agencies who also recognize the importance of missions."
Students, faculty and staff at PGS "listened in disbelief" on March 17 when Ohlhauser informed them of the recommendation he was making to Prairie's board, said an April 8 letter distributed to the school's alumni by Annette Lengyel, communications officer for the PGS Student Association.
A number of recent developments led to the recommendation he made to the board, Ohlhauser told ChristianWeek. "The institute's subsidy of the grad school has been an ongoing reality that has concerned many for some time," he says.
"As well, in the course of pursuing accreditation for PGS with the (ATS), we were informed this winter that we would need to immediately hire two new full-time faculty members to meet ATS requirements at this point in the process.
"Further," Ohlhauser explains, "in order to bring the grad school's library up to ATS standards, our overall operation costs would have doubled. We didn't see being able to double the size of the student body at PGS in time to offset those costs.?
Lengyel suggests such factors offered a convenient "out" for Prairie's decision-makers and that there have been frequent indications of ongoing tension between Prairie's administrators in rural Three Hills and the realities faced by students living in a postmodern urban setting.
"When we attempted to establish a food bank at PGS in order to assist some of the international students and others who on occasion find it difficult to make ends meet," she told CW, "there was minimal support for the idea from those in charge at Three Hills.
"After some of us became aware PGS was facing financial problems, we volunteered to go out and aggressively promote the school," Lengyel adds. "But nobody in authority took us up on that offer. We think we should have at least been informed of the challenges confronting PGS and been given an opportunity to have some input into their resolution."
In response to the concerns of some PGS students that PBI's decision leaves them at loose ends in terms of achieving their academic objectives, Ohlhauser says careful consideration was given to that aspect of the decision.
"Students who have completed residency requirements at PGS can transfer credits obtained at another school for credit at PGS,? he points out. "Prairie also has an External Studies department that will facilitate the completion of some programs of study. And our registrar is prepared to work closely with PGS students to help them obtain maximum transfer credit to another graduate program.?
"I'm not sure why anyone would want to pursue a degree from a school that presently only exists on paper," counters Lengyel. "As for transferring to other seminaries, it's not a very convenient option for those of us with full-time jobs in Calgary."
PBI says the new missions venture will have three primary emphases: provide core courses to serve missions programs offered by seminaries and graduate schools, coordinate mission ventures for PBI schools, and support the work of external agencies through events that serve both the PBI community and mission organizations.