Belhaven Neighborhood, Fortification Street, and the Civil War in our Front Yard

Belhaven College is located in a wonderful neighborhood – also called Belhaven (which I point out often, was named after the College, not the other way around.)  But they grew up around us over the past 125 years, and now this historic neighborhood circles our campus.  They are great neighbors and we work hard to be good neighbors too.

One of the projects they have undertaken, is to enrich a major street bordering our neighborhood – Fortification Street. It will someday soon be filled with shops, restaurants, and great places for students and residents.  The Saturday Belhaven Market on Fortification has built a loyal following already.

The process of improving our neighborhood is overwhelming and takes great patience to work with all the governmental agencies involved, and I applaud Virgi Lindsay and the Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Association who have worked so hard to bring about such good change for us all.

But I never drive onto Fortification street without remembering it was a critical high point of ground in defending Jackson during the Civil War.  If you’ve never read the history, it is fascinating — and while I wouldn’t recommend students quote Wikipedia in a term paper, here is the history from that web site…..notice the last line. (see the map of the battle)

Despite its small population, during the Civil War, Jackson became a strategic center of manufacturing for the Confederate States of America. In 1863, during the campaign which ended in the capture of Vicksburg, Union forces captured Jackson during two battles—once before the fall of Vicksburg and once after the fall of Vicksburg.

On May 13, 1863, Union forces won the first Battle of Jackson, forcing Confederate forces to flee northward towards Canton. Subsequently, on May 15, 1863, Union troops under the command of William Tecumseh Sherman burned and looted key facilities in city of Jackson, a strategic manufacturing and railroad center for the Confederacy. After driving the Confederate forces out of Jackson, Union forces turned west once again and engaged the Vicksburg defenders at the Battle of Champion Hill in nearby Edwards. The siege of Vicksburg began soon after the Union victory at Champion Hill. Confederate forces began to reassemble in Jackson in preparation for an attempt to break through the Union lines surrounding Vicksburg and end the siege there. The Confederate forces in Jackson built defensive fortifications encircling the city while preparing to march west to Vicksburg.

Confederate forces marched out of Jackson to break the siege of Vicksburg in early July 1863. However, unknown to them, Vicksburg had already surrendered on July 4, 1863. General Ulysses S. Grant dispatched General Sherman to meet the Confederate forces heading west from Jackson. Upon learning that Vicksburg had already surrendered, the Confederates retreated back into Jackson, thus beginning the Siege of Jackson, which lasted for approximately one week. Union forces encircled the city and began an artillery bombardment. One of the Union artillery emplacements still remains intact on the grounds of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. Another Federal position is still intact on the campus of Millsaps College. One of the Confederate Generals defending Jackson was former United States Vice President John C. Breckenridge.

On July 16, 1863, Confederate forces slipped out of Jackson during the night and retreated across the Pearl River. Union forces completely burned the city after its capture this second time, and the city earned the nickname “Chimneyville” because only the chimneys of houses were left standing. The northern line of Confederate defenses in Jackson during the siege was located along a road near downtown Jackson, now known as Fortification Street.

Evangelical Leader Named to 100 Most Influential

My good friend Richard Cizik was recently named to the 2008 TIME 100 list of “The World’s Most Influential People.” Rich, an ordained Evangelical Presbyterian Minister, is Vice President of Governmental Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).  I think the world of Rich, and tell him often how much we need his clear and caring voice in the debates to lovingly share the evangelical perspective.

The Time Magazine honor was shared with Eric Chivian, Harvard professor and Director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. Richard and Dr. Chivian have been working together to develop understanding between leading members of the scientific and evangelical communities to care for creation.

Rich was instrumential in bringing the issue to forefront of evangelicals, working with Creation Care to develop the original document signed by only 87 Church leaders, calling for the government and Church to be active in global warming issues.  As a fly fisherman who loves the splendor of God’s creation, I was pleased to be one of the original signers of that document several years ago.

Rich has spoken on our campus, and in 2004 I had the joy joining Rich and a small delegation of seven NAE leaders in Germany, including David Neff, editor of Christianity Today and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, to meet with German political and business leaders, including former Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the then yet elected current Chancellor Angela Merkel.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel             dsc02668_5-iphoto-edited.jpg

Let’s Go Walkn’ Mississippi

Our Governor, Haley Barbour, who was our commencement speaker a year ago, has a campaign to get Mississippians exercising, called Let’s Go Walk’n Mississippi. Did you know that walking one mile briskly in 15 minutes burns nearly as many calories as jogging the same distance in 8.5 minutes?

On the Belhaven campus we have 74,423 square feet of sidewalks.  That is 4.7 miles of sidewalk.  Amazing that we can have nearly five miles of sidewalk on a campus that is only 50 acres including our lake.


Related to sidewalks, here is a trick of college administration I learned early on. When building a new building, try to not put in the sidewalks at the beginning.  Wait to see where students make a path, and then build sidewalks where they want to walk. We’ve done that many times through the years, which is why we have very few paths through the grass across campus and the grounds can look so nice.

New Belhaven College Online Degree Commercial

We have a marvelous group of students headed to Jackson this fall to come to school – new freshmen, transfer students, and returning students.

Belhaven also has students who work full time coming to study on the Jackson campus in the evening, participating in our accelerated programs, as well as our graduate programs.  And we have hundreds of adult and graduate students on our branch campus in Orlando, Houston, and Memphis as well.  Over 2,500 students in all.

But Belhaven’s newest campus is online, where this fall over 100 students will come together to meet virtually to work on their undergraduate degree. We just launched a new video to explain the distinctives of our Belhaven Online degree from all those other programs out there – most of which have horrendous drop out rates – did someone mention the University of Phoenix?  This video was filmed by Edward St Pe, one of our alums.

In addition to this online program, we offer our Worldview curriculum online at a high school level too in our High Scholars Program.  We have students enrolled from across the country and even around the world – some home schoolers, some private school students, and some public school students.

Southwest Airlines Low Fares to Belhaven

For all the new students who will fly to Jackson this fall, let me share with you a technique for finding the cheapest airfare. This only works because Southwest never charges a cancellation fee when you change or cancel a flight.  That fee is $100 to $150 with most other airlines.

  1. Figure out which day you need to travel, and go to the Southwest web site to book your trip.  Try to book it as early as possible, since their lowest fare sell out several weeks ahead.
  2. Sign up and Download to your computer Southwest’s DING.  When you install it on your computer, once or twice a day, it will automatically be updated with special low fares – but they are only available for a few hours so you have to move fast when one is offered. (You can set your preferences in the program for your home city and Jackson, so you only get notified if fare sales come up for those locations.)
  3. If you do find a DING fare for the day you’ve already booked and it is significantly less expensive then the ticket you already have, then get that ticket up on your computer screen — but don’t buy it yet!
  4. Open up your current ticket in a new browser window, and cancel your current flight, and when it asks, save the value for another purchase.
  5. Immediately go to your new DING ticket, and buy it, using the value from your original ticket toward that purchase.
  6. Since you bought the DING fare at a lower rate than your original ticket, you will have a surplus credit – which you’ll save online and use it toward your next flight. (Be sure to keep the confirmation number which is how you look up your saved value the next time around.)

If a DING fare doesn’t come up for your days of travel (this usually works only about 30% of the time), you still have in hand the lowest priced ticket you bought earlier.  And if you do get the savings, that’s a nice bonus.

* Remember to get your online boarding pass almost exactly 24 hours before the flight, you’ll be in the “A” group and have your pick of seats.  Also, become a Rapid Rewards member, and you’ll earn a free trip by your sophomore year.

Mississippi State Football Coach Receives $700,000 Raise

Today’s Clarion Ledger reported that the MS State head football coach, Sylvester Croom, will receive a $700,000 raise, to bring his total salary to $1.4 million.  He is a great guy, wonderful role model, and knows his football so I’m glad for him.

But should sky-rocketing coaching salaries really be the priority of any university? A December USA Today story found that the average salary for a Division I football coach topped $1 million for the first time last season.  In 1999, only five college coaches topped the million-dollar mark

If the market for big-time athletics can support that level of salary, then that’s free enterprise.  But I get bewildered by those who care so much about evangelism and the Church making large gifts for Division I athletics (not just at State but all across America) when those dollars would do so much good for God and His Kingdom work, through Christ-centered higher education, rather than inflated coaches salaries.

I wrote a column about football salaries and giving for our campus magazine last fall, and had lots of comments about it.  So here it is again:

There are two visible trends in higher education this time of year, which I don’t like at all —

1)    Making the football coach the highest paid person on campus.  In fact, at most football powerhouse schools these coaches make more than 25 or so top faculty combined — that is not right.

2)    Including in the annual report a listing of donors in decending order, by the amount of the gift, in order to pressure alumni and friends into giving more — that is not biblical.

We pay our football coach reasonably, and we don’t list our supporters by the amount of their gift.

In our annual report thanking our givers for your support of Belhaven, there is a name you won’t know.  And if we did follow the pattern of the rest of higher education and list the names by the amount you give, this name would be near the bottom of the list.

This friend of Belhaven grew up in a communist country and escaped from the oppression of Christians a quarter century ago.  He left his wife and family behind to get established in the United States as a student, and to eventually bring his family here.  He was enrolled in a course my wife taught years ago, and become a friend of us both.

He was a man of great stature in his homeland, but gave that all up to come to the US and start over again — he moved from the top of the list to the bottom, because he wanted to give his children the freedom to follow Christ.

Through these years, he has slowly been able to bring his children to this country but his level of sacrifice to give them a fresh start in America is remarkable.  He has so little of the world’s possessions.

This year he made a small gift to Belhaven for scholarships and his name is in our honor roll.  But that gift is not out of excess or because he could afford it. Rather, he gave knowing what a Christ-centered education did for him and he wanted to help our students have opportunity too.

We have friends who give us very large gifts — their gifts are critical to our ability to help students and I’m deeply thankful for these supporters. But if we used a biblical standard, and listed all the gifts in decending order of significance, my friend’s name should be on the top of the list:

Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions.  For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”  Mark 12:43-44

Football coaches get huge salaries at major universities and the big donors have their names listed first in the honor roll of donors.

At Belhaven, we don’t follow these two patterns of higher education — and as we do in many areas, we buck the trends as we seek to honor Christ in all we do.

Student Loan Problem? Not at Belhaven.

There is much in the news about students unable to secure loans for school this fall.

First, Belhaven has not had one student unable to get a loan for this year. We have wonderful relationships with our lenders and do not expect loans to become a problem for Belhaven students.  Our Assistant Vice President for Student Financial Planning, Linda Phillips, and her team are the best, and they will find a loan for any student who needs one.

Second, for the rest of the country, the federal government is taking steps to assure that student loans will not become an issue.  Below is part of a letter I received this week from the Secretary of Education.


In response to concerns regarding the availability of student loans for the upcoming school year, Congress passed and the President signed the “Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act of 2008” (Pub.L. No. 110-227) (ECASLA).  The legislation provides the Department of Education with new authority to address concerns about student loan liquidity.  As a result, and since my last letter to you in late February, we have seen a number of lenders announce plans regarding their participation in the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program.  Of the nearly 2,000 participating lenders, 64 have indicated they will not originate loans for the coming year.  This trend appears to be slowing, and, in fact, two lenders that had announced their nonparticipation have now indicated that they will continue to make loans.  In addition, other lenders have announced their intention to continue broad and open participation in the FFEL Program.Based on this legislation, the Department has designed programs that support the current FFEL Program as a successful public/private partnership.  Since enactment of the Higher Education Act of 1965, non-federal lenders have provided the majority of the capital necessary to make student loans.  

On May 21, 2008, I provided FFEL Program lenders with information about our comprehensive plan that ensures borrowers have access to federal student loans and encourages private lenders to continue to participate in the FFEL Program for the upcoming academic year.  That plan includes four key components: (1) An offer to purchase FFEL Program loans from lenders for the 2008-09 academic year and to offer lenders access to short-term liquidity; (2) A pledge to work with the student lending community on forward-looking solutions to ensure the FFEL Program and other student lending programs serve the best interests of students and taxpayers for years to come; (3) An enhanced lender-of-last-resort program designed to provide access to FFEL Program loans for those students who face difficulty obtaining conventional loans; and (4) A more efficient Direct Loan Program with increased capacity.

Shortly, we will provide more detailed information about this plan and the other provisions of ECASLA to financial aid officers at postsecondary educational institutions.  We continue to refine the details of our plan, but the general response by the lending community has been positive.  Schools may still face some hurdles in securing loans for their borrowers, but I am confident that federal loans will be available for this coming academic year to all eligible borrowers.  

Margaret Spellings, Secretary of Education, Washington, DC

Iraq War – Baghdad Pastor’s Perspective

One of Belhaven’s good friends is Cannon Andrew White, who was our Day of Learning speaker two years ago. Andrew is the pastor of St. George’s Church in Baghdad – having ministered there for over ten years (obviously before the war as well as since). He lives in London, and “commutes” to work.

He is the key Christian leader in Iraq, and negotiator between the various religious groups, as well as often called on in hostage situations too. I’ve had the joy of knowing and working closely with Andrew for several years, and he is one of the world’s most fascinating people.

Andrew has been a critical player in the entire Middle East peace process, as the Envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury. You may remember Terry Waite, who was held hostage for many years – and he has that position before Andrew. If you’re interested in more about Andrew, check out his web site: The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation.

Whatever your position on the war, we all are asking the same key question: “was it worth it?” I’ve asked Andrew that question many times, and he addressed it again this week in an email to some friends.

Greetings from Baghdad. At times things have been so awful here that I have even wondered if the war of 2003 was right. Then I remember the things I saw and heard before the war. This morning I went to the Iraqi Memory Foundation and the memories came flooding back.

The torture and murder of not tens of people but hundreds of thousands of people. The fear, the persecution the suffering of the majority. It was this that I saw before the war. This was the reason I was so adamant that Saddam and his regime had to be removed. There is no way to describe the previous terror and fear that existed. There is no way to describe the suffering of not a minority but the majority. What the Shia endured must never be forgotten but I fear it has.

The terror of the moment has eclipsed the suffering and memory of the past. I was given some DVD’s at the Memory Foundation this morning. They were simply called “Iraqi Testimonies” and they simply tell stories of death, destruction and the torture of the masses. They are stories that never must be forgotten. They are stories that say why we are here. Sadly they are stories that have been forgotten in the terror of the moment. The MNF I and Iraqi Government are doing an outstanding job but they must be supported and not just brought down. The people of this land are great and one day this land will be great again but we must remember what was and never allow it to happen in any country again.

A huge amount has been given to bring change. Many young men and women of coalition countries, especially from the USA and UK have lost their lives. Not one of them has lost their life in vain. All have given their life for the freedom of the land and people I love and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Blessings from Baghdad, Canon Andrew White

Father’s Day: Dad…and College President too.

I’m honored to be a third generation college president, following my grandfather – I work at the big partner’s desk my grandfather had specially made back in the 1930s when he was president of Olivet Nazarene University – and then my dad who was president of two different schools for a total of 25 years.

Around our house, my wife and I are convinced that if there is to be a fourth generation College president in our family, it will have to be our daughter.  She is the one who God has gifted for College leadership because she has never seen a problem that doesn’t have a solution, and she knows how to hold to a budget with an iron fist.

But our son is the philosopher about higher education.  And I keep framed by my desk the essay he did when asked to define leadership in first grade:

“If I were President of the College, I would expect nice artwork.  Better education.  Having more students know more about God.  Everybody will be working and studying.  And I’d want to make the college better.  And after the 4th year, I’d expect that when the students leave, they would be smart and they would obey the Lord.”

Being a dad is lots more important to me than being a college president . . . but if I can help Belhaven hold to those goals laid out in my son’s first grade essay, I’ll feel like I did the right things in the president’s office too.

2.1 Million Emails Every Week

Jamie Lamar in our IT department tells me that Belhaven College receives 2,100,000 emails every week ….. but only 28,000 of those are legit, and the rest are spam.  Because colleges are such targets for spamers, we have a very sophisticated system that catches nearly all the spam.

I get about 350 emails a week (and not an internet joke among them because I block anything not personal.)  On Monday, I was really happy that for the first time in a long time, my inbox was clear and every one of them was answered. And then I heard that sound of another bunch coming it.

To me, email a great way to stay connected to so many different people – it would be impossible through any other medium.