After a month of public controversy surrounding the firing of a Baptist college professor who allegedly first sought to oust other professors, trustees of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo., affirmed the firing of the professor for misconduct. Trustees also reaffirmed their support for the Baptist Faith & Message of 2000, and censured a fellow trustee for a conflict of interest in the case.
On Nov. 28, the president and provost at SBU fired Clint Bass, a tenured associate professor of theology and philosophy, after he allegedly met with Missouri Baptist Convention leaders over multiple years in an effort to drive out other professors. According to the dismissal letters and documents released by Bass on Dec. 17, he collected statements by his colleagues he disagreed with and met with outside individuals without taking his concerns to his colleagues or administrators. After Bass appealed his dismissal, the educational policies and personnel committee of SBU’s Board of Trustees held a five-hour hearing on Dec. 21. SBU confirmed that hearing later that day in a statement to Word&Way.
In January, the educational policies and personnel committee notified Bass, SBU officials and the full trustee board of its unanimous decision to affirm the firing of Bass. That ends his appeals process.
“The dismissal is based upon conduct that was in violation of the Faculty Handbook,” a Jan. 23 statement from SBU to Word&Way explained. “Employee dismissals always are carefully considered and conducted in accordance with University policies and procedures.”
The statement also noted that the members of that committee are trustees “nominated and elected by the Missouri Baptist Convention.”
A special-called meeting of the full SBU Board of Trustees occurred on Jan. 22, but the dismissal of Bass was not an action item as the committee had already reported its decision the previous week. However, that meeting did result in some related actions.
According to a Jan. 24 statement from SBU, the trustees voted to “formally accept the commissioning” of the external peer assessment committee previously approved by the Board’s executive committee. Additionally, the trustees voted “to affirm its longstanding commitment to traditional Baptist theology, including the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.”
Bass had claimed other professors in Redford College did not teach according to the BFM 2000. The SBU statement on the trustee action noted that all faculty in Redford previously affirmed the BFM 2000.
“We want to reassure Missouri Baptists that our board stands for the same core biblical values that we all believe and share,” Ryan Palmer, vice-chair of SBU’s Board, said in the statement. “We are all committed Missouri Baptists.”
At the special meeting, the Board also took action against one of their trustees. According to a Jan. 22 statement from Mark Rains, the chair of SBU’s Board, they “took the difficult step of censuring and excluding one of our trustees during a special board meeting.” The statement adds the Board took the action to follow its values of “biblically-based truth and grace” and “to act in the best interest of the University and Missouri Baptists.”
“Serving on the Board of Trustees is a serious responsibility, and trustees cannot have divided loyalties,” Raines added. “The SBU Board of Trustees Conflict of Interest Policy states, ‘Any member who has a conflict of interest, actual or perceived, shall be disqualified from service as a trustee.’ We felt our trust had been violated by the board member’s actions.”
Although SBU did not name the trustee, the trustee involved was Kyle Lee, who serves along with Bass as an elder at Southern Hills Baptist Church in Bolivar, Mo. Lee was just elected as an SBU trustee at the 2018 MBC annual meeting, and his term runs until 2023 with the possibility of reelection. However, the Board action means Lee will not receive any Board documents nor be included in Board functions for an undefined time.
John Yeats, MBC executive director and one of the MBC leaders Bass met with while trying to build a case against other Redford professors, expressed concern in an MBC publication about the move to censure and exclude a trustee.
“Censuring and exclusion of a duly elected trustee from any MBC entity board is very serious matter and warrants careful review by Missouri Baptist Convention leaders in discussion with SBU leaders,” Yeats said. “There are numerous issues that will be addressed in future conversations, including the exclusive legal right of the Convention to both elect and remove trustees. We need to understand SBU’s views as to whether there is a process to restore a censured trustee to full service. The trustee relationship to the Convention is a sacred trust in the Baptist world. Any unsettling of that relationship inhibits the mission we have asked the trustees to do. MBC leaders are giving this matter the urgent attention it deserves.”
In 2002, the MBC sued five Baptist ministry organizations — including Word&Way — after those organizations made changes in the election process of trustees. The MBC won its case against the Missouri Baptist Foundation but lost against Windermere Baptist Conference Center and dropped its claims against Word&Way. Two more cases — those against Missouri Baptist University and The Baptist Home — are still in the courts more than 16 year later.
Lawyers for MBU have consistently argued in court that the school needed separation to protect it from the MBC trying to, as one MBU court filing put it, “intervene in the educational programs.” Such actions by MBC trustees, MBU added, could “put at risk the accreditation of the University, which would be catastrophic to the University.”
SBU Profs Speak Out Amid Controversy (Jan. 3)