NewsLocal News


Cornerstone University faculty votes 'no confidence' in new president days into tenure

Issues over diversity and inclusion policies promoted the vote and a lengthy letter from alumni
Posted at 6:46 PM, Oct 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-27 19:29:04-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Faculty members at Cornerstone University held a no-confidence vote against the school’s newly inaugurated leader, Dr. Gerson Moreno-Riaño, one day ahead of his swearing in as the university’s 12th president.

A spokesman with Cornerstone University confirmed the vote took place last Thursday, the day before Dr. Moreno-Riaño was inaugurated. The outlet Religion News Service reports 42 faculty members voted no confidence, 6 voted their confidence, and 14 members abstained.

Cornerstone University spokesman Bob Sack told FOX 17 by phone on Wednesday that the vote was not a “binding situation,” but the university and new president “don’t take it lightly.”

The vote comes after a group of about 300 current students and alumni penned a letter to the school’s board, citing issues with the way Dr. Moreno-Riaño was addressing diversity, equity and inclusion at the school. It claimed he was fostering a culture of fear by dismissing “prominent staff and faculty who were known for working towards a more inclusive environment.”

On the phone Tuesday, Sack said no changes have been made to the university’s DEI policies and procedures. However, he noted some academic programs and projects have been put on hold while the new president gets acquainted — but did not give specifics.

Sack added that Dr. Moreno-Riaño is “highly committed to DEI” and noted the new president is himself a native of Columbia.

The letter categorizes decisions made by Dr. Moreno-Riaño as “taking active steps towards an institution that is even more difficult for minority community members to navigate.”

It notes several dismissals and sudden departures from the university faculty, including Director of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs Kenneth Russell, and Director of Campus Ministries Susan Burner.

It also accuses Cornerstone University of altering a self-study report submitted to the Higher Learning Commission after it was approved, saying the school removed references to the word “equity,” past DEI infractions by Cornerstone, and occurrences of the acronym “DEI.”

Sack told FOX 17 Cornerstone, like other universities, is required to submit a self-study report every ten years to keep its status as an institution, and alterations aren’t uncommon after approval.

The letter also accused the new administration of putting the school’s CACREP accreditation at risk by failing to fill a counselor position at the school’s seminary.

Sack told FOX 17 a counselor position at the school’s seminary was put on hold but that it was part of a university-wide temporary hiring freeze during the administrative transition. As of Wednesday, the university’s job dashboard did show a position for an administrative assistant at the seminary.

The same day of Dr. Moreno-Riaño’s inauguration, several students protested on campus demanding more diversity and transparency.

Sack said Dr. Moreno-Riaño has extended invitations to student and alumni groups who want to meet to discuss their concerns.

This is a developing story. Stay with FOX 17 on air and online for updates.

Follow FOX 17: Facebook - Twitter - Instagram - YouTube