Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Does my Degree Still Matter? Thoughts on the Closing of my Alma Mater

A drawing I made of the CCU Worship & Ministry building. Colored pencil
on paper, 2014. 
Two days ago it was announced that my old college, Cincinnati Christian University, would be closing its doors after this semester. 

I have very many mixed feelings about this. 

On the one hand, I believe it's good. The university has been floundering for years. 

It is deeply in debt, it has failed to align its increasing liberal arts bent with its long history of theology and ministry, and has failed to find a good president in years. The revolving door of leadership has brought people who came up with extravagant building projects and costly new programs, while alienating donors, alumni, and students.

The truth is, I've long believed CCU's days were numbered... although I hoped, and dearly wish, that number were a little larger.

Tonight I spoke at length with one of the trustees, in an effort to understand what brought the university to such a sudden end.

A student-led worship campus worship service. The lyrics on the screen
read "you are for us, you are not against us." I truly believe that even right
now, God is not against us.
Hindsight is 20/20, and he agreed that in hindsight, many, many mistakes have been made in the governance of this university. He agreed that communication has never been a strong suit, and that some of the attempts made to save the school, while well-intentioned, were very poor choices. 

He freely admitted that some of these decisions were made, and/or communicated, without enough research and consideration for the potential consequences, direct and indirect.

In my gut, I wanted to throw it all back at him and say his job was to communicate properly, consider every possible implication for every possible decision, and make the wisest choices to keep CCU going. But I didn't say any of that. What's done is done. Humans are human, and they make mistakes, and they can hardly be held accountable for the mistakes made by others. By the end of our conversation, the trustee I spoke with sounded just as defeated as I feel. I trust that he, for one, did everything he could to save CCU. 

Where I was angry and hurt, I now feel mostly sad. Deeply sad for a university that never truly functioned properly, and a strong community that  has loved it despite all of its issues. 

That thought takes me to the other hand. My heart aches for those whose lives just took a drastic turn: current students, staff, and faculty. I have friends who, in a couple of short months, will be job-less and school-less. Some of these woman and men are one more semester away from graduation. Some of these women and men chose CCU for it's highly-respected counseling graduate program, or took the opportunity to be the first college student in their entire family, or were given the priceless chance to play their sport at a college level. Some of these women and men have worked or taught there for years. Decades, even. 

My grandpa, Glen Springer, later known as Poppa.
Wasn't he handsome?
I'm heartbroken for the hundreds of people directly affected by this. 

Naturally, I thought about this all day yesterday and all day today. I thought long and hard, with a heavy heart, a resigned heart, a drenched and aching heart. I thought a lot about the school itself, about my friends there, and my professors. I also spent a lot of time thinking about my personal history with CCU.

CCU opened 95 years ago, in 1924, as Cincinnati Bible Seminary (CBS). My Great-Grandpa Woods attended CBS not long after it was established. 

My dad before he was a dad, dressed for Halloween c. 1986. Any CCU
Gents recognize this hall? He's posing in one of the halls of Restoration!
My grandpa went to CBS. He and grandma lived in a tiny apartment above a diner in East Price Hill when he was a student. He went on to work as a minister, a camp director, and a diesel mechanic.

My parents, aunts, and uncles went to Cincinnati Bible College & Seminary (CBC). As students, my family all went to the original Skyline Chili on Glenway Avenue. And until that location had to close, I went there, too. It was the family meeting place, the family celebration place.

As a child I lived two doors down from everyone’s favorite CBC professor, Dan Dyke. He would give my sister and me little trinkets and gifts. He liked to get Happy Meals at McDonald's just so he could give us the toys.

My sister and me hyped for a CBC basketball game!
I'm the one in front, posing like a starfish. Or maybe like
an eagle, wings outspread? I definitely had more school
spirit then than I had as an actual student... check out
those matching purple cords!
I spent hours playing on the CBC practice field with my sister and our friends. At the time the field was bordered all around with large square blocks of stone, and (oddly) my sister and I found it amusing to walk laps around the field on those rocks.

My babysitters went to CBC, and my cousins went to CBC. Once my cousin took my sister and me to a basketball game, and we both dressed head to toe in purple and yellow... complete with purple and yellow cheer pom-poms!

My church was (and still is) filled with alumni, and staff and faculty both current and former. Older kids from my youth group went to CCU. 

The Associate Minister at my church was also on staff at CCU when I was looking at colleges, and he’s the one who suggested I consider applying to CCU. I did so. Grudgingly, but I did it... and a few months later I moved into room 301 of Alumni Hall.

I met some of my dearest friends there. During Orientation Week, I and one of my new friends were looking at old class pictures and discovered that we knew each other’s grandparents. Our families had known each other for generations, thanks to CCU (and CBC and CBS).

One of my first college classes was History and Literature of the Old Testament, with my old neighbor, Dan Dyke. Taking his classes was a highlight of my time at CCU!

I got my first real (non-babysitting) job at CCU. I learned to make coffee at CCU, and soon after that I learned to love coffee at CCU. 

I had art shows at CCU. I met my first boyfriend at CCU.  I had my first panic attack at CCU.

A drawing I made as an abstract illustration of a campus worship service,
using rock-like shapes to suggest where people were sitting and standing.
I preached a sermon on prayer and God's faithfulness at CCU. I never imagined I'd stand on the stage and preach like that, but I did. When my friend suggested speaking in public, I laughed out loud... and then immediately knew I needed to do it. I waited a few days before signing up for a speaking slot, but I knew I'd regret if I didn't go for it. I will forever be glad I did. 

My life-long best friend started at CCU a year after I did. I had many heart-to-hearts with her and our other friends within the walls of Alumni, Restoration, Worship & Ministry, Crouch, and President’s Hall, Bloc Coffee, and the Skyline Chili on Warsaw Ave.

I got my second real job at CCU. I painted the halls of Restoration and ripped out flooring and built-in furniture that was all at least twice my age... Furniture that had been around when my Dad and uncles lived in that dorm. I counted signatures on old closet doors, collected long-lost memorabilia, and on the last day of my summer job I was allowed to make a collage of all the old photos, movie tickets, event flyers, class notes, student IDs, and everything else we found in those rooms.

I think it's safe now to reveal that I even broke some rules in my time there. Some (anonymous) friends and I sneaked into the condemned Rhine Hall just months before it was torn down. I went to a concert in Columbus with friends from CCU, and we drove back that night and sneaked into our dorms well after curfew. Yes, we had a curfew! I ate a chunk of raw cookie dough whenever I made cookies in Hilltop. I gave away the occasional free coffee, free cookie, free squirt of whipped cream. I broke dress code, I swore, I broke curfew, I skipped classes, I danced. Yes, dancing wasn’t allowed at CCU! I sometimes went barefoot when the weather was nice. Yes, even going barefoot wasn’t allowed.

I cried, laughed, did homework, ate cookies fresh from the oven, drank too much espresso. 

At the coffee shop, there was a drink on the menu called an Undertow. It consisted of vanilla syrup, an ounce of half and half, and a single shot of espresso, served in a tiny glass and knocked back like a shot. I had a few Undertows in my four years!

In April 2017, I handed over my portfolio, a hulking 95 pages of material demonstrating my abilities in the English field, collected from 20 courses in the fields of English and Communication Arts. 

I was working on yet another paper in the CCU library when I got the news that Poppa passed away. 

In May 2017 I graduated from CCU, my proudest achievement yet. I was one of the first three students to receive an English degree there, just two and a half years ago.

This history, these numerous personal connections, are not mine alone. Many students were 2nd-, 3rd-, or 4th-generation Eagles. Students traveled around the globe to attend the school their families, friends, and pastors attended. We are a close community.

My graduation cap, tassel, and magna cum laude cords.
Moving forward, I know that my degree is still valid. I earned a degree from a fully-accredited, fully-functioning university.  No one and nothing can take that away from me. 

I know that, by law, my transcript will always be available at my request. 

I know that I am, unfortunately, far enough removed from graduation that I still have to pay off my loans... 

And I know that the relationships forged there are far more important than the university itself. But this still hurts me personally, because CCU was, and still is, my college. It is a huge part of my life and my history. 

In their advertising, colleges like to use words like “legacy” and “future.” CCU’s legacy is a beautiful one, and one I feel very close to as I look over my family history. When I heard that the Higher Learning Commission was preparing to pull accreditation, I wished I could believe that CCU would still have a future, but I knew the truth. CCU’s leaders finally dug a hole they couldn’t get out of. 

For all that beautiful legacy, the future is suddenly gone.

Ant yet… that’s not true. CCU’s future is not gone. CCU will be only as gone as our memories of it. Yes, it will fade away over time, just as memories fade. Sooner or later, the arrangement with CCCB will end. Sooner or later, the property will be sold and the buildings will be torn down. Eventually, our great-grandparents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and parents will pass away and take their memories with them. Eventually, my generation, the last generation to attend CCU, will be gone as well.

But until then, CCU’s future lies in us, the former students, just as its legacy lies in us. Starting in December, CCU will be freed from the control of trustees acting without honesty or integrity. CCU will no longer thrash from one “money-making idea” to another, announcing mergers and building projects it can never follow through on.

CCU’s future lies in us, the former students. Transfers, drop-outs, and alumni alike.

"An Abundance of Hope." Ballpoint pen on paper. I doodled this during a
slow evening at work in the coffee shop. 
CCU’s future lies in our sermons, in our mission fields, in our teaching, in our counseling sessions. It lies in everyone with whom we share the gospel. It is in the words we share with one another, the knowledge we keep, and the old essays gathering dust, either in our Google Docs or the boxes in our attics. It is in our dresser drawers of t-shirts and the highlights and underlines in our bibles.

CCU’s future lies in our relationships and our reminiscing. It is in the relationships we have with our mentors and our mentees, the wisdoms we share with one another. It is in our wedding anniversaries celebrated every May and June, and our friendiversaries celebrated every August. It is in our social media accounts, email address books, and phone contacts, and the small reunions that can happen at the oddest times and places.

CCU’s future lies in our shared love of Skyline, Chick-fil-A, Bloc Coffee, and the 86; in our love of brinner, bingo, The Price is Right, and chili served in a bread bowl. It lies in our strange love of dodgeball, and in Kentucky Christian University, and in the fact that every time we hear the word “yellow” we silently finish the chant, “is the color of urine!”, because CCU’s future lies not only in our togetherness but in our rivalries with one another and with other colleges.

CCU’s future lies in our job hunts, our diplomas, the transcripts we’re all suddenly anxious about, and in our fresh, perfectly-formatted resumes, reference sheets, and CVs. It lies in the books we write and the films we make.

It is, finally, in the anger we feel, because something we dearly loved was twisted and torn and made ugly before our eyes, and we were powerless to stop any of it. And that anger is good and honest and right and valid and true. And maybe it is the right time for the university to close, but for the current students, faculty, and staff, that does not ease the pain and stress of having to pick up the pieces. 

If you are a member of the CCU community and you need a listening ear, please don't hesitate to contact me. Unfortunately I don't have the knowledge or the authority to explain everything through the decades that led the school to Monday night's devastating announcement. I’m only one shy and sad alumna, but I see your hurt and I wish, I truly wish, that I could give you each the answers, opportunities, and resources you need as you move forward. I can only pray and listen, but I like to think that's better than nothing.



  1. Cailey. I'm forever thankful for our overlaps, especially as we walked through the Valley time and time again.

    1. "Yea, though I walk through the Valley..." =)

  2. I did not attend CBC/CBS/CCU, but I have my own history there... concerts and peformances, Ohio Jr Hi Conventions of the 80's, years of Piano & Vocal Competitions where I won my first vocal scholarships (I still have the certificates!), community events, private church events, and simply as a Christian in Cincinnati.

    For me, this announcement did not hit as hard or cut as deep as it did for others.

    For those who were rocked to their core on Monday, my tears are being shed in prayers for you.

    For all of us, thank you for the beautiful reminder that no matter the time or situation, the memories of the past ARE the hope for the future!

    1. I love that! I'd guess there are very few, if any, Christians in the area who aren't connected to CCU somehow... it's a rich history :) Thank you for your prayers <3