Southwest Baptist University President Resigns - Word&Way

Southwest Baptist University President Resigns

Eric A Turner

Barely two years after being unanimously elected by trustees, Eric Turner resigned Tuesday (Oct. 20) as president of Southwest Baptist University. His resignation, made during an executive session of a contentious Board meeting, comes amid a two-year conflict over theology and control at the school in Bolivar, Missouri.

Eric A Turner

Eric Turner during the announcement of his election as Southwest Baptist University president on July 24, 2018. (Brian Kaylor/Word&Way)

“As the University and Missouri Baptist Convention rearticulate their long-standing relationship, I think it is vital for the two entities to have a fresh start with a new leader at the helm,” Turner said in an Oct. 21 statement. “It has been my honor and privilege to wave the purple banner for these past two years. I have fond memories of many I have encountered during my time of service at SBU.”

Turner fired Clint Bass, a religion professor, in 2018 for violating the school’s faculty handbook after Bass met with MBC leaders and others in an effort to allegedly drive out other professors in SBU’s Redford College of Theology and Ministry. As Bass unsuccessfully appealed his termination, he released documents leveling charges against those professors that the professors criticized as inaccurate.

Then ahead of the MBC’s annual meeting in October 2019, the MBC deviated from standard practice and replaced SBU’s entire slate of trustees to put five new individuals on the Board. Turner criticized the treatment of SBU during that nominations process in his report at the 2019 MBC annual meeting. Ahead of this year’s annual meeting next week, the MBC changed its Nominating Committee rules to match its treatment of SBU last year.

SBU trustees recently approved new governing documents, which includes a creedal requirement on religion professors, the president, and provost. The MBC’s efforts pushing for new governing documents sparked an accreditation complaint.

Some of the newer trustees have been targeting Turner for dismissal. One professor targeted by Bass left last year to pastor a church, and another was previously informed his position would be eliminated at the end of this academic year. Other religion professors are also being targeted for firing, perhaps by the end of this semester.

Turner’s resignation is effective Nov. 20. Brad Johnson, vice president of institutional advancement, will assume the role of acting president.

Even before Turner’s resignation, Tuesday’s meeting sparked multiple moments of controversy, including a report on low faculty morale due to MBC actions. Word&Way attended the open part of Tuesday’s meeting, but multiple items were moved to executive session, including the election of new Board officers.