Report to the United Methodist Church from our colleges and university

Wofford College President Nayef Samhat presented this report on behalf of Claflin University, Columbia College, Spartanburg Methodist College and Wofford College to the 2018 Annual Conference of the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, June 4, 3:30 p.m., TD Convention Center, Greenville, S.C.


As president of Wofford College, I am honored today to represent all of the distinctive and vital United Methodist-affiliated colleges and universities in South Carolina. Higher education has always been a significant part of the United Methodist heritage, and to the church’s credit, providing educational opportunities for all has always been a visionary endeavor. The church’s current support demonstrates this and sends a very clear message that our future as a society depends on the education of its citizens.

Across the world, United Methodists support virtually every type of institution of higher learning. In South Carolina alone, the conference supports Claflin University, the state’s oldest historically black university, founded in 1869 in Orangeburg. Claflin offers undergraduate, graduate and continuing education programs. The conference also supports Columbia College, founded in 1854 in Columbia as a college for women that now has an enrollment of female and male students in undergraduate and graduate programs; Spartanburg Methodist College, an associate degree institution founded as the Textile Industrial Institute in Spartanburg in 1911; and Wofford College, a nationally ranked residential liberal arts college, founded in 1854 in Spartanburg.

While we all have different missions, visions and goals, our Methodist heritage — and the commitment to making educational opportunities affordable and accessible for all — ties all four institutions together. In addition, the confluence of vigorous academic inquiry and spiritual development contributes to each institution’s legacy of producing visionary leaders who are both compassionate and intellectually prepared to engage in issues impacting the social fabric.

Each college and university has had much to celebrate over the past year, and in all cases, those celebrations have at their roots a reservoir of gratitude to the denomination that provides founding principles, spiritual guidance, scholarship support through the Senior College Scholarship Fund and strategic leadership in the form of board members, alumni and United Methodist students.

For example, Claflin University has been working to develop partnerships with other educational institutions across the globe to benefit current students. Their new three-four pharmacy program with Campbell University means a direct path from Claflin to a fulfilling career in pharmacology. The university has a new Master of Science in Criminal Justice program and has partnered with the Mellon Foundation to review the general education curriculum. Claflin just joined the Central Intercollegiate Athletics Association, which means more opportunities for competition for Claflin student-athletes, and the university is considering a new research and study partnership with Africa University in Zimbabwe, another great United Methodist institution with significant support from and strong ties to South Carolina.

Columbia College recently received a $100,000 Google grant to be used for a new Women’s Business Center, an initiative designed to strengthen the college’s relationship with the local community and to spur women’s entrepreneurship statewide. The college also has formalized a new nursing program with Midlands Technical College. Through this program, students may earn associates’ degrees in nursing from MTC followed by Bachelor of Science degrees in nursing from Columbia College. Columbia College also offers a slate of thriving summer programs for young athletes, young leaders and young writers, all of whom enjoy its beautiful campus for a few weeks of summer enrichment and fun.

Spartanburg Methodist College has expanded to include a new downtown Spartanburg event space, featuring a conference room, a classroom, social space for parties and receptions, and an art gallery. The college now offers its first fully online associate degree in criminal justice, and the college’s board of trustees also recently approved a recommendation to offer a Bachelor of Arts degree in the near future. For 107 years, the college has offered two-year degrees, so this could definitely be a history-making event in the life of Spartanburg Methodist College.

Wofford College has been in a building phase for the past few years, with the addition of a new Greek Village, a new center for the arts and a new indoor stadium. We have revamped the student recreational, fitness and club sports facilities and made major upgrades to student residence halls. The Wofford College January Interim program celebrated 50 years of innovation during January 2018, and the college rose to #4 in the nation for the percentage of students who study abroad for credit. Wofford also is reimagining the general education curriculum thanks to a Mellon Foundation grant, and a grant through the Council of Independent Colleges in partnership with the AARP Foundation has helped Wofford develop an intergenerational scholars program to foster community-based learning with low-income older adults in the Spartanburg community. Wofford was one of only 21 institutions nationwide to receive the multiyear grant.

Each of the United Methodist colleges and universities has a different way of supporting campus ministries, but all have at their core engagement with the greater world through a lens of faith. For example, Wofford College offers an active Wesley Fellowship and 13 other faith-based organizations through the college’s Halligan Center for Religious and Spiritual Life. The Reverend Dr. Ron Robinson, Perkins-Prothro Chaplain and Professor of Religion, and other staff in the center also offer community service opportunities and interfaith initiatives that provide an open forum for discussion and community engagement among different religious and faith traditions. Claflin University holds weekly worship services, a mid-week “Power Hour” service featuring speakers from the campus and community, and continues to participate in the Lina H. McCord Summer Intern Program of The United Methodist Church Black College Fund. These students serve as ambassadors to United Methodist conferences and faith communities around the globe. All of the United Methodist-affiliated institutions in the state offer similar campus ministry opportunities. 

Collegiate ministries thrive on our campuses because of United Methodist support. Through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the United Methodist Church provides training, resources and networking opportunities for professionals who work in the field of campus ministry. These trained individuals, in turn, are available to students for ministerial discernment, the development of pastoral skills and the discovery of a community of other young Christian leaders.

The college years are a time of significant life choices — vocation, lifestyle, relationships and the role of faith, for example. Students are searching for meaning and purpose. They like wrestling with the big questions. They are still developing emotionally and spiritually. Keeping this in mind, consider a recent study of the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life. According to the study, 50 percent of college-age students say they absolutely believe in God, but only 38 percent say that religion holds a place of importance in their lives. While 39 percent of these younger millennials say they pray daily, only 28 percent attend weekly religious services. Reflection and discernment are critical during college, but students are not necessarily turning toward the church for guidance. What a great opportunity our college ministries have to give them food for thought, a network of support and a foundation of values embracing acceptance, love and respect. 

As you, the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, have embraced Claflin, Columbia, SMC and Wofford, so have our institutions embraced what it means to be a United Methodist-affiliated college or university. Just as you remain committed to our institutions and our students — through prayer, advocacy and annual apportionments – we remain committed to the United Methodist principles of education, social justice and service to humankind. United Methodist colleges encourage students to explore their faith and how it can be used to transform society. We support faith development in the Christian tradition while being inclusive of other religious traditions or those who do not identify with a particular faith. We seek a just community and academic integrity.

South Carolina’s distinctive colleges and university are special places, and we welcome our partners from the United Methodist Church on our campuses anytime. Attend a conference or talk, view an art exhibition, enjoy an athletics event, visit a worship service or bring a group of youth from your church for an admission tour. On behalf of Claflin University’s President Dr. Henry Tisdale, who retires this year after a successful tenure of more than 20 years; Columbia College’s new President Dr. Carol Moore; and SMC President Scott Cochran, I invite you to learn more about your South Carolina colleges and university. You will be warmly welcomed with gratitude and love — in the finest Methodist tradition!