Cornerstone University Votes No-Confidence in President the Day Before Inauguration

By Kathryn Post
Gerson Moreno-Riano Cornerstone University
Gerson Moreno-Riaño is the president of Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Source: Video screengrab)

Faculty at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, voted no confidence in the Christian school’s incoming president on Thursday, one day before his inauguration. 

Since his appointment in May, Gerson Moreno-Riaño, formally named today as the university’s 12th president, has allegedly opposed diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and created a culture of fear by firing staff and professors with little or no warning.

Moreno-Riaño previously served as executive vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer at Regent University, the Virginia school founded by evangelical leader Pat Robertson.

The 42 to 6 vote, with 14 abstaining, is non-binding but was reported to the school’s board in a letter late Thursday.

In an earlier letter, 42 university faculty and staff said, “Our current campus culture has become one of fear and suspicion. Faculty and administrators — many of whom have dedicated long years of faithful service to the university and our students — have simply disappeared without explanation.” 

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Carole Bos, chair of Cornerstone’s board of trustees, said in a statement that the new president “is committed to continuing our diversity efforts and will lead the Board’s charge to build a diverse Cornerstone community. Our board is confident that he will seek collaboration with our tremendous faculty and staff to help our students reach even further in their goals to serve the global marketplace. Most of all, he will challenge each of us — and himself — to remain steadfast to the teachings of Christ while we reach above the more common, contentious dialogue within today’s social landscape, so that we all may remain focused on training future leaders.”

Cornerstone, a member of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, was founded in 1941 as the Baptist Bible Institute of Grand Rapids. Since then, the school has evolved into a nondenominational liberal arts institution with roughly 2,000 students enrolled in graduate and undergraduate programs and two seminaries.  

Cornerstone University
Cornerstone University logo. (Courtesy image)

On Oct. 3, written testimony submitted to the board detailed Moreno-Riaño’s alleged creation of a hostile environment.

The document was signed by 22 full-time faculty members and 19 staff, though some remained anonymous due to fear of retaliation. A summary document shown to media contains reports of bullying and intimidation, threats of dismissal and unilateral decisions in hiring.

The document expressed faculty and staffers’ additional concerns about Moreno-Riaño’s apparent opposition to diversity, equity and inclusion.

There has been a “disappearance of nearly every employee who advocated for DEI,” the summary said, including the assistant to the president for diversity and inclusion, the director of diversity and multicultural affairs and the vice president for student development.

Brenda King, who had served as assistant to the president for diversity and inclusion, declined to comment. 

Staff have allegedly been prohibited from using language connected to anti-racism, including “micro-aggressions,” “privilege” and “unconscious bias.”

The summary alleges that official documents have been edited to censor such language and that an intercultural studies lecture series was abruptly canceled.

“There is an expectation to conform to the president’s vision,” wrote one university employee in an excerpt included in the summary. “Thus, if one does not submit to the president’s vision, that person will be removed from employment at Cornerstone University. The president and his administration are not only hindering DEI efforts but are aggressively undermining the progress that has been made, to the detriment of faculty, staff, and students of color.”

The summary paper suggests Moreno-Riaño has characterized the previous administration as financially incompetent and adrift from the university’s mission. In one instance, the summary said, the president spoke of himself as an incoming hero who would solve the previous administration’s failures and reinstate Cornerstone’s original conservative Baptist identity. 

As word of these remarks circulated, former President Joseph Stowell, who served as president for 14 years and had been assisting with fundraising, resigned from his current position in early October. Close to the same time, a group of Cornerstone alumni posted an open letter online that was addressed to the board of trustees, expressing concerns about Moreno-Riaño. The letter was taken down on Oct. 18.  

In an Oct. 18, 2020, article for the Washington Examiner, Moreno-Riaño elaborated on his vision for higher education. He wrote that American higher education’s insufficient focus on Western Civilization and its excessive attention to “the oppressed” is shaping students into “vicious” and “intolerant” individuals who are participating in the “corrosion of US democracy.”

“American higher education must be renewed so that it can reject the revolutionary impulses that will lead to its demise,” he wrote. “This renewal begins when universities are held accountable to provide education that is truly tolerant — that fairly considers the breadth and depth of approaches to the true, beautiful and good, and is not myopically fixated on the perspectives of the ‘oppressed.’”

According to Carl Ruby, a pastor in Springfield, Ohio, the events at Cornerstone are part of a larger pattern of conservative retrenchment at Christian colleges and universities. In 2013, Ruby said, he was forced to resign as vice president for student life at Cedarville University, a Christian school where “there are fears of the institution drifting too far to the left, and most of those fears are prompted by concerns over issues of social justice,” he said.

“What happened at Cedarville and what is happening at Cornerstone reflect a deep rift that is developing in evangelicalism,” Ruby added, “and this is just a symptom of that.” 

Moreno-Riaño’s inauguration is scheduled to feature several notable conservative leaders. They include Kay Coles James, former president of the Heritage Foundation, and Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars and author of “1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project,” a book that locates America’s founding at the signing of the Mayflower Compact.

Kathryn Post is a writer living in Washington D.C. She is a graduate of Calvin College and an editorial assistant for Sojourners magazine. 



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31 thoughts on “Cornerstone University Votes No-Confidence in President the Day Before Inauguration”

  1. It is refreshing to see an educational leader moving the school away from these aspects of Marxism’s Critical Race Theory.

    1. Robert, are you saying diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are bad things for a college to attempt? Also are you saying the many votes of no confidence should be ignored?

      1. In the university realm, “diversity, equity and inclusion” are like the “Ministry of Truth” in Orwell’s 1984; it means the exact opposite. And the Faculty Senate at most universities is notoriously leftward leaning.

        1. And part of educational quality is learning about the role that racism has played in the shaping of policies, politics, attitudes and cultures throughout the world – INCLUDING the US. Leaving that out because it makes people uncomfortable is damaging to educational quality. Only studying policies and theories we agree with – instead of learning how to critically think and debate them – is NOT high educational quality – it’s BRAINWASHING.
          A quality education does not base the curriculum on preferences and feelings, but facts needed to be an informed, responsible, productive citizen.

      2. Susan Vonder Heide

        I don’t think anybody is suggesting that the votes of no confidence should be ignored but I think that people want to know whether they were motivated by something we don’t know about or whether they were motivated by an uninformed belief that DEI is harmless. The Bible regards Christians as children of God. DEI, as it is being pushed across the USA these days, defines all people, including Christians, as completely shaped by their skin color. White people are considered automatically guilty of racism. Black people are considered automatically perpetual victims. This ain’t biblical, folks.

    2. Agreeing with Robert Simpson! Anyone who does not agree with the creation of “one new man in Christ” in Ephesians chapter 2 should be disciplined out of the Church. Dr. King was right that the ideal is a color-blind society. The BLM and CRT promoters are in the end race hustlers for political purposes. It has no place in a Christian University that claims the Bible as its authority. Those ideas wrongly condemn “whiteness” as a sin (even as a category it is ridiculous). All those ideas should be swept up and taken out with the trash, not given positions to indoctrinate the young. We have Christ to unify us. We don’t need the lies of Marxists to help us achieve the ideal.

  2. Looks like God is separating the wheat from the chaff. Thank God for leaders who recognize the subtle work of the enemy sowing leaven into our once solidly orthodox institutions. Thank you for this article and praise God for this man!

  3. It sounds like the new president is trying to push back against this unbiblical Marxist CRT. That will probably not be successful if there is not a corresponding spiritual awakening. I think the push back should also be done in humility and graciousness. The writer of the article seems to suggest that the new president is using a heavy hand, but I do not trust slanted news reporting, so it is difficult to know the truth.

  4. There are an abundance of liberal and progressive schools in our country that have adopted the language and self-flagellation of the god of identity.

    Kudos to this new president for standing up to the seemingly irresistible tide that is flooding our colleges, corporations and churches.

  5. Concerning developments at this university. The issue is not that push-back against current ideological trends is illegitimate, but rather that Gerson Moreno-Riaño is not the person you want representing push-back. As with Trump, strong tendencies in USA society, are leaving the door open for dangerous push-back personalities and politics.
    It does seem that, at the macro and micro levels, the USA has become addicted to polarised thinking and activity. The variants of Christianity that the USA has developed and committed to, facilitating and intensifying this tendency.
    Is there time and appetite for deeper reflection that might slow down this juggernaut development. So often, what begins in the USA, leaches out into the wider world.

  6. Actually, the issue may be more about a culture of fear and intimidation than conservative values. A conservative demagogue is still a demagogue. With knowledge of how the man used “his own prayers” as an excuse for eliminating a professor of 30 years at Regent, I applaud the faculty of Cornerstone. In fact, does one realize what it takes to get faculty united on any issue? As a former administrator, I thank God for a discerning and courageous faculty.

    1. Just as the boogy man is the word liberalism, now CRT has been added as another boggy man by the FUNDAMENTALIST. They will never be satisfied.

  7. It’s agonizing to watch so many folks -from M-R himself, to those supporting him on the current board, to many of the commenters above- get so badly bamboozled by conservative media outlets that their knee-jerk reaction is to assume any and all efforts toward diversity, equity, and inclusion are more rooted in “Marxist ideology” and “woke CRT” than they are the heart of God.

    Do yourselves a favor, friends – try reading and searching the scriptures and letting the God of the universe speak into your lives and hearts at least as much as you give Ben, Dan, Sean, Tucker, et al. those active daily opportunities, and a few wonderful things will begin to happen. Your critical thinking skills will markedly improve, sure, but more importantly, you might just step back from the posture of fear you’re being conditioned to be ever-vigilant about maintaining in order to make you a dutiful, gullible pawn in an imagined ‘the-stakes-have-never-been-higher’ culture war.

    Thank God for Joe Stowell’s years of faithful leadership at Cornerstone and all that he was wisely doing to try and bring about racial healing and reconciliation in what somehow yet remains one of the single most segregated cities in America. Shame on the board and M-R for trying to taint Stowell’s legacy by taking the bait and equating those good and godly efforts with anything other than a heart beating in step with God’s desires for justice and reconciliation.

    May God have mercy on the snookered American church and all those who would dare proclaim themselves heroes in a culture war that has so demonstrably little to do with the ever-expanding mustard seed of His kingdom.

    1. Susan Vonder Heide

      I can’t comment on the situation at Cornerstone because I am not familiar with it, but just speaking generally of DEI mandates, if one reads the Bible, one finds that God views people as individuals created in the image of God not as racial categories as those pushing DEI mandates do. Might some sincere Christians have been deceived into thinking DEI mandates are harmless? Sure, but they are sadly mistaken. A liberal staffer at Smith College found this out from sad personal experience. Her name is Jodi Shaw and she has posted some interesting videos online about her experiences.

      1. Susan – the problem is that people don’t live up to how God calls us to treat those who are different – hence a history steeped in slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, etc. (We even see some of these sins in scripture, like the Jews vs the Samaritans, the enslavement of Jews by Egyptians, etc.)

        These sins demeaned entire races of people and impacted generations of communities (but we are to pretend that didn’t happen, because talking about it is a horror of “CRT”), thus creating the need for DEI programs and policies. Without them, people default to a lot of biased attitudes and behaviors that birthed the very “isms” we CLAIM to be against.

        And the church is one of the biggest violators. There’s a reason why churches continue to be the most racially segregated communities.
        The church should be the FIRST to embrace diversity and inclusion of ALL created by God. But instead, we are the ones rallying and crying anytime we see the words “diversity and inclusion.” Very sad.

        1. Susan Vonder Heide

          Don’t forget that it is not “diversity and inclusion” which might be fine if it was true diversity (including allowing diversity of thought instead of rigid political correctness only, and allowing inclusion of biblical Christians as well as the “woke”). The phrase being pushed is “diversity, equity, and inclusion”. Equity is not the same thing as equality. Equality means equal treatment (which just about everybody I know would agree with). Equity means equal outcomes (no matter how unjust and forced that might be in a given situation and no matter who gets hurt in the process). You seem like a sincere person sincerely concerned about discrimination. I advise finding out more about discrimination against people based on their race by the DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) industry. There are people making big bucks to give seminars telling all white people that they are racists and all black people that they are victims. This is being forced on many from school kids to employees and it is toxic. People of all races need to be treated as human beings not as pawns fulfilling somebody’s script with the notion that present day racism can somehow erase historical racism.

          1. I actually work in DEI, which is one reason I’m appalled at how the church is so opposed to it. Equity is about meeting people where they are. You cannot approach the problem of any “ism” with a “one size fits all” solution, when all of our needs differ.
            For example, if there’s a 5 mile race, to give everyone the same bicycles is what equality is about. Equity considers height and capability: my significant other is over 6’5″; my young nephew has yet to learn how to ride a bike. To give us all the same bicycle in the name “treating everyone the same” would be ludicrous. Equity would involve giving us bicycles that consider our height variance, and with training wheels for my nephew, so that we all have a shot at completing the 5 miles. We’d still have to do the work to complete the 5 miles. It’s not “handed” to us (which is the lie against equity).
            The church should be the first at championing this. But we scream against it. Wow.
            Another concern: when talking about how to educate and address the generational impacts of racism, the FIRST concern is how it would hurt white people. Isn’t that a bit ironic? And how does learning what you have overcome make you a victim? FWIW, I’m a PROUD Black descendant of slaves whose parents attended segregated schools…and I view us as those who thrived in the face of hatred by the grace of God. THAT should be the lesson.

    2. Amen! to the comments of David Jennings. The message of the prophets and Jesus should make both the political left and right uncomfortable.

    3. David Jennings,

      I think the onus is on the proponents of the new “gospel” to demonstrate that it is correct–not on the remnant that continues to faithfully abide by the original one.

      1. Brian – surely you can see that this is a conversation about the *implications* of the gospel and not a suggested new replacement of “the original one,” yeah?

    4. David Jennings, this is spot on. Sadly, it’s the “anti-woke” who are often sowing division and besmirching the names of godly men and women who are striving to be biblical. We should beware of letting any political ideals corrupt the Faith, not just ideals from the Left, but also from the Right.

  8. Dr. Peter J Oehler

    Although Diversity, Equality (not Equity, which seeks equal outcomes at the sacrifice of Truth) and Inclusion are fine Christian teachings and values, as we all know Paul states when he says “all are equal IN CHRIST”, it must also be known that they can fairly easily be taken too far, as we are also taught about “wolves in sheep’s clothing”, “false teachers” and “white washed sepulchers”. This is bore out in a recent George Barna survey that found although 76% of Americans self identify as Christian only 6% actually have a “Christian Worldview” (you’ll have to read the study for yourself to see what parameters they used).
    Jesus was NAILED to the cross with His arms spread wide Calling ALL and Accepting ALL who Come To Him. But His feet were nailed to the cross because His stand is Stationary, He does NOT move, you Must Come to Him. There is no categorization, no inequality, no exclusions except you are either In Christ or not and if you CHOOSE not to be then perhaps you shouldn’t be teaching or administrating or preaching because your criteria for judgement will be more stringent.

  9. Susan Vonder Heide

    In response to Marin Heiskell’s comments, I would just say that black people are often just as opposed to DEI as white people are. Christians see people as individuals created by God, not as racial categories. If somebody has had a difficult path, Christians want to help but they do not want to pretend that race is the only factor in that. For example, a poor white tenant farmer is not more privileged than Oprah Winfrey. A white worker at McDonalds is not more privileged than a famous black athlete making big bucks. I would suggest listening to black voices that oppose DEI of whom there are many.

    1. Just as white people can be on both sides of an issue, so can Black people. Pointing to “these Black people agree with me” doesn’t make your argument any more valid than if I pointed to “these white people agree with me” makes mine more valid.
      Christians should be leading the way to bringing about unity across racial lines. It should be embarrassing that Christian universities feed into this nonsense and church congregations are still so segregated. But we make excuses for it, so it continues.
      And from MY experience, Christians want to ignore racism by sloppily quoting scriptures we don’t obey and simple “God loves everyone as individuals” sayings that we don’t follow when faced with our own bigotries, biases, and differing beliefs. Or we do the “but in THAT country they are suffering more, so get over it” and leave suffering to continue in our own backyard. I’ve watched FIRST HAND a congregation be divided when “too many of THOSE people started coming”. Yes, that was said IN A SANCTUARY.
      And money does not wipe away racism. That is what you try to do via your examples. I grew up quite affluent and STILL was called racial slurs, stopped by police to explain “how I can afford to live in the area”, and more. Money doesn’t wipe those experiences away, and it’s hurtful that Christians try to point to money to do just that. Money creates a DIFFERENT privilege, but it does NOT erase the sting of racism. An affluent Black person is still a Black person. Trust me. We get reminded.

    2. And I’ll also say that I will NEVER stop fighting to make sure people of all races, colors, nationalities and more feel welcome and included around me – whether I’m at work, serving in my community, or worshipping at church. I do not want anyone to feel isolated, or like an “other” or “outsider” in my presence as a Bible-believing Christian.
      And as I have read more and more opposition from fellow believers about that, I’ve become more and more ready to stand alone. In the end, I have to stand before God and answer for how I treat others. And I’m not comfortable with all the “other-ing” I see in today’s Christian community.

      1. Susan Vonder Heide

        You are correct that people of all races can be on all sides of issues. This is in opposition to Joe Biden when he said “If you don’t vote for me you ain’t black” to some black people. You are correct that racism has not totally disappeared but it is only increased by forcing Marxist ideology dividing the races on people through things like CRT. I hope that you will channel some of your righteous anger to those who are trying to keep the races divided by forcing Marxist inspired ideology in schools, workplaces, etc. I support your desire to reduce “othering” and this stuff is “othering” on steroids.

        1. You were saying “listen to the Black people who agree with me” as if it somehow validated your argument, so not sure what that has to do with Joe Biden.
          And CRT in and of itself doesn’t divide people. It’s a theory. I’ve studied lots of theories in school, and I’m grateful my parents didn’t freak out over my learning about any theory they didn’t like. They encouraged me to learn how to critically think and debate. Isn’t that what education is about? (Or maybe it’s because I’m the child of a lawyer).
          CRT doesn’t increase racism; it’s a theory that examines its impact. I say, if you don’t think racism has impacted our political, social, and economic structures, then pull your data points together and debate it. I’d be interested in hearing your view. But don’t label those who agree. THAT is divisive and intellectually lazy.
          As my mom often says, “if as many Christians believed what they claim about us all being valued individuals created by God, there would have NEVER been the need for an abolitionist or civil rights movement in the first place.” So why were those movements needed? THAT’S what we as a church don’t like to discuss – that we didn’t always get it right, and our sins had a VERY lasting impact. A lot of “isms” have been upheld by Christians who sit idly by, which is all but condoning them. I wish that Christians would FINALLY decide to lead the way on making everyone feel included and valued, regardless of race. But I fear history is not going to be kind to us on this issue.

  10. Concern with Diversity, Equity/Equality and Inclusion, will take many forms, depending on what deficit on those dimensions exists for a particular constituency of persons. Where, in most instances that deficit and its remedy, become subjects of intense and fundamental controversy. As societal change and adjustment is invariably needed; where its this necessary change which sparks controversy.
    That intense controversy breeds polarisation, stereotyping, parodies; basically all the outcomes which allows people to not listen to some other side. People hoping they can achieve or prevent change, by force or gridlocking.
    That, in the USA, DEI has come to so exclusively be about race and racism, indicates something important. Why, when DEI should be working on myriad fronts, has the race front come to be so all-consuming of American concern.
    The obvious answer would seem to be that race and racism has been and remains a divisive dynamic in American society. The structural reason would seem to be that Europeans tended to enslave in their colonies, while America brought its slaves to the homeland; and the implications of that are still unwinding, albeit the gear wheels of change grind painfully slowly. A difference which still sees Europe having to work through its variant of this particular DEI issue.
    What I struggle to really understand, is the Christian resistance to DEI in the USA. While accepting that DEI advocates do tend to overbalance in their ideological zealousness. Why isn’t Christianity serving to better balance process.

  11. Charlie Selmon Jr.

    Very good discussion,please check out what Cornerstone U was like in the 50’s 60’s and early 70’s when it was Grand Rapids Baptist Bible College. The new President wants to return to the principles and regulations that lead to the limited racial climate of the college. Praying for the new President.

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