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the Covenant experience narrative

The Blue Tribune is your place to learn about all things Covenant and keep up with stories from campus and beyond. By guiding you through the different aspects of Covenant, we'll help you decide if you want to pursue your very own Covenant experience.

Unwavering & Uncompromising

In our mission statement, Covenant College promises to educate students using a biblical frame of reference while clinging to our historic roots in the Reformed tradition. Although it is not uncommon or surprising to see religious-affiliated institutions sway in the current of the culture and drift from their mission in an attempt to prioritize relevance, Covenant has remained dedicated to holding firm to biblical truths.

Recently revised and amended, Covenant’s philosophy of education states that faculty “recognize with gratitude... [the] emphasis on careful doctrine, personal holiness, and cultural stewardship,” saying that “each of these contributes to the fullness with which we understand our work as faculty.”

While the mission statement and philosophy of education help communicate who we are on a deeper level, another way to better understand how seriously Covenant takes its educational mission is by taking a look at the rigorous application and interview process that each faculty member undergoes before being offered a full-time position at Covenant.

APPLICATION & QUALIFICATIONS

The application packet for a faculty member includes a cover letter, curriculum vitae, and four written pieces regarding their faith and beliefs: a personal testimony, Christian teaching philosophy, affirmation of Covenant’s statement of community beliefs, and response to the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Dr. Curt Stern, professor of engineering and director of the dual-degree program, describes his first reaction to the application packet: “I was an academic, I’d been doing this kind of stuff for 25 years, but I had never written any of those things, let alone in an academic setting.” He continues, “It was totally different and got my attention. It really made me do some soul-searching to write down my testimony and respond to the Westminster Confession of Faith.”

Applicants are requested to provide more than just a blanket statement of affirmation to the Westminster Confession but are asked to articulate any objections they may have to it. For example, the original document holds to strict Sabbatarianism. Many applicants may acknowledge this and respond expressing that they may not necessarily hold to this strict view on the Sabbath.

Dr. Collin Messer, vice president of academic affairs, describes this response as one of the most important parts of the application packet. He explains that each applicant must display a Reformed understanding of the inerrancy of Scripture and our deep need for grace.

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Since I was coming from a non-Presbyterian background, I went through the document with a fine tooth comb not so much to prepare for the interview, but because it was important to me that I aligned faith-wise with Covenant and that the doctrines that I hold true were the doctrines that the school held true.

Dr. Lynell Martinez

Assistant Professor of Biology

In addition to this, the written affirmation of the statement of community beliefs is also critical. Bryant White, assistant professor of French and one of the newest faculty members, describes being deeply encouraged by the statement of beliefs. He says, “To see concerns and convictions about, for example, the sanctity of life and issues of gender and sexuality so clearly articulated gave me confidence that I was going to a place where biblical convictions would be upheld and encouraged.” Once this initial application packet is received, many Covenant faculty and board members begin carefully reading, expertly analyzing, and prayerfully examining each application.

CHARACTER & CREDENTIALS

The interview process includes a virtual interview, eight in-person interviews, a sample lecture, hours of preparation by interviewers, and countless prayers for wisdom. Dr. Messer and Dr. Paul Morton, dean of academic programs and history professor, begin with initial vetting of the applications and virtual interviews where they inquire about the candidate’s desire to work at Covenant and affirmation of our statement of community beliefs.

After this, there are usually two, maybe three strong candidates that represent the caliber of individual Covenant seeks to employ. Then the real work begins. The candidates are invited to campus to undergo a series of interviews with various individuals who have one goal in mind—to make sure the person is the right fit and will uphold Covenant’s mission.

The first three in-person interviews involve getting to know the candidate, understanding their experience, and possibly listening to a sample lecture alongside faculty and students. After these interviews, many committee members have reviewed the applicant’s curriculum vitae and publications and evaluated their abilities—they know the applicant has the credentials. However, for Covenant, the process of finding the right person has just begun.

Dr. Stern explains how an interview for a tenure-track professor at Virginia Tech differs from the Covenant interview in that the committee seeks only credentials: “Tech wants applicants who have degrees in the right fields from recognizable schools. They want faculty members who are going to bring in money through grants, write papers, and supervise graduate students. So my interview was about my research, not my character or beliefs.” Covenant goes a step further by finding out how the individual will prioritize faith in their work.

To assess the applicant’s beliefs, Dr. Herb Ward, biblical studies professor, and Dr. Hans Madueme, associate professor of theological studies, meet with and dive deeply into theological astuteness and scriptural seriousness with the candidate. Although this is not done in an adversarial manner, this aspect of the interview is considered crucial and conducted with thoughtful deliberation.

Dr. Madueme says, “It’s a free-flowing conversation. We don’t enter the meeting with preset questions but are typically prompted by their response to the Westminster standards.” He explains that discussion might depend upon the applicant’s discipline. For example, they may ask a biology candidate to discuss evolutionary biology’s challenge to the historicity and theological significance of Adam and Eve.

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Although it was the most intense part, I loved that they were grilling me on my theological positions—I took it as a sign that Covenant is serious about hiring people who are theologically solid.

Bryant White

Assistant Professor of French

The candidate proceeds to meet with the faculty development committee regarding their Christian philosophy of education and is asked questions regarding how the Bible views knowledge and the pedagogical role of a teacher. A second faculty committee, the faculty status committee, talks with the candidate regarding rank and promotion, and then the applicant meets for an informal conversation with the president of the college.

After meeting with a vice president, dean, their appropriate department, Bible professors, multiple faculty committees, and the college president, the candidate then enters into the last lap in what they have found to be a marathon, not a sprint. This last meeting is a virtual interview with Covenant’s board of trustees’ academic affairs committee. The committee typically discusses the applicant’s testimony or field of study, but they might also have concerns regarding something in the candidate’s materials that needs clarification.

“The academic affairs committee is important,” says Dr. Messer. “Though they are not necessarily making hiring decisions because they trust us, they do their due diligence to be sure nothing has gone awry. In fact, they pray for the candidate before and after the interview, which shows their heart and the mission for the college.”

After this two-day interview process, there may be one person who has stood out, clearly aligns with the college’s mission, and is prepared to accept the position—or there may be none.

PROTECTING & UPHOLDING

Dr. Bill Davis, a philosophy professor on Covenant faculty since 1997, recalls an interview process for a professor that took over three years to find the right candidate. The demand was high and the added position was justified, but the committee did not compromise to fill the need–instead, they patiently and prayerfully waited.

“We interviewed 11 people over three years,” he says. “We said ‘no’ to 11 applicants who looked great on paper but had some level of discomfort with the vocal role we think their faith should play in their work. This is the very heart of what makes Covenant successful. We are willing not to hire at all than to hire someone who would disrupt the college’s mission.”

The hiring process is long and stressful, yet rewarding. Each committee works to be loving and supportive of the applicant. “If you apply to Covenant, we somewhat require you put your whole life, soul, and Christian pilgrimage on the line,” says Dr. Messer. “But even then, we make sure we are hospitable throughout this vulnerable process.”

Over twenty-five individuals make an intentional effort to be involved in the hiring process and take the time to responsibly prepare for their role in the process. “I was astounded,” says Dr. Martinez, “and thought, ‘How is it that the president of the college and all of these committee members have time for little old me?’” She describes how it was clear that everyone had carefully read her materials. “It was not a quick cursory gloss over,” she adds, “and I think that’s why Covenant has been able to hold true to our values.” The administrators and committee members search with prayerful care to protect students and uphold Covenant’s mission.

ACCOUNTABILITY & CONSISTENCY

Once a faculty member is hired, the process of becoming a Covenant professor does not end. Covenant professors then work to obtain tenure with a five-year rolling contract; this is a process of accountability. First-year faculty members meet almost every week with a group to discuss philosophies of Christian higher education and the integration of faith and learning. This involves dense reading and deep discussion with faculty and deans.

“The first few discussions in the first semester were difficult for me and for other new faculty,” Dr. Martinez recalls, “including those who had graduated from Covenant.” Dr. Davis, who leads these new faculty discussions, explains that they are extensive because Covenant wants the faculty to fully understand what an immense difference knowing Jesus should make in their work. After two years of these meetings, each professor then begins to research and work on their three-year paper, which is about how they integrate faith into their discipline.

Apart from the extensive onboarding process and the three-year paper, all faculty are annually required to reaffirm Covenant’s statement of community beliefs and the Westminster Confession of Faith and are asked to submit written documentation if their affirmation has changed in any way. Dr. Messer describes how the faculty are held to a standard long after they are first hired, “Our biblically- infused mission is the heartbeat of what we do here, so it would be really hard to stay here and pretend.”

INTEGRITY & PASSION

With gratitude, Dr. Messer states that he knows there are many Covenant professors who could have worked at prestigious universities. “It’s clear that our professors are teaching here because they love the college’s educational mission.”

Dr. Stern explains his desire to work at Covenant despite being in a highly regarded position at Virginia Tech: “Covenant made it clear they wanted me to share my faith, which is something I couldn’t do at a secular university.” Bryant White had multiple offers for full-time tenure track positions, but states, “Here, I can pray before my classes and even start class with a Bible verse in the target language of French, which you’d never do at Vanderbilt where I was coming from.” Dr. Martinez describes how her experience throughout the interview process reflected the college’s faithfulness to ensure that the message to students was consistent and “not getting watered down.” For our faculty, the deepest satisfaction they have is the mission of the college.

A student in the 70s, Dr. Davis affirms that the mission has stayed consistent through the years, saying, “Although our professors are much more qualified, meaning we have better credentials in the world’s eyes and the faculty is far more likely to be publishing, in regards to theology, we have remained the same.”

The interview process is about maintaining a firm foundation in our mission, which is the pursuit of righteousness and godliness in the realm of education. “We want to have integrity and remain true,” says Dr. Messer, “Because a nominally Christian college can do a lot more harm than an avowedly secular one.” When asked what Bible verse he feels best represents the faculty mindset, Dr. Messer quotes, “Because we cared for you, we were not only delighted to share with you the Gospel, but our lives as well.” 1 Thessalonians 2:8

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