After nearly two weeks of controversy following an unusual move to deny tenure or promotion to five faculty members, the Board of Trustees for Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, reversed some of those decisions in a meeting held virtually Tuesday (Feb. 16). The trustees reversed one tenure denial and one promotion denial, but still denied tenure to two professors and still denied promotion to another.
Word&Way broke the news on Feb. 4 that SBU’s trustees denied tenure to three individuals in the Division of Behavioral Sciences and denied promotion to two faculty members in other academic areas. The unusual move at the trustee level occurred even after the five had been approved at all earlier levels, including division chair, dean, and provost. A denial of tenure also means termination after one additional year of employment.
An online student petition created shortly after Word&Way’s report named the three professors who had been denied tenure: social work professor Dwayne Walker and psychology professors Bill DuVall and Debbie Walker. Word&Way has not named the two individuals who were initially denied promotion since they have not been publicly identified.
About 1,500 people signed the online petition in its first 12 days, with several individuals writing public affirmations of the professors.
SBU’s statement about the Feb. 16 meeting acknowledged the public concerns about the denials, and that the meeting was held “to reconsider the process and outcome of this year’s tenure and promotion decisions.”
“Given the concerns expressed by students, faculty, and alumni, we would like to address the process of tenure and promotion in 2021,” the statement reads. “We are thankful for all of the work of the faculty and administration that went into this process. We are also grateful for the students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, and friends who care deeply for Southwest Baptist University. The Board understands the weight of these decisions and wants to clarify that every employee is a valued person, and even those with whom there may be disagreement, we hold in high esteem.”
The statement acknowledges the Board’s Educational Policies and Personnel Committee interviewed faculty members who applied for tenure or promotion, and then made the initial decisions. Even three denials of faculty tenure or promotion applications that passed all previous levels would be more than the trustees at the school have denied in decades combined.
SBU’s statement notes that eight individuals applied for tenure, with six now receiving it. Additionally, four applied for promotion, with three now receiving it. The statement does not mention any changes from earlier decisions, but those numbers mean one tenure denial and one promotion denial was reversed.
Although SBU’s statement does not mention who, Word&Way confirmed the Walkers were both still denied tenure. Both Walkers are graduates of SBU with extensive academic and professional experiences in their fields. Dwayne Walker serves as the director of the bachelor social work program.
As Word&Way explained in a Feb. 5 article, this is not the first time social work and other behavioral sciences have been targeted in Southern Baptist life.
SBU’s statement also includes a response to a Faculty Senate resolution passed on Feb. 13 that criticized the tenure and promotion denials. That resolution noted that all five individuals initially denied tenure or promotion had “met and/or exceeded the criteria used to evaluate candidates in the Faculty Handbook.”
Thus, the Faculty Senate announced it “stands in support of these faculty members to affirm them and acknowledge their recommendation and approval of promotion or tenure by their peers and university administration and expressing concern how these actions can affect the University’s accreditation.”
Additionally, the Faculty Senate resolution requested a meeting between a delegation and the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees to discuss the denials, as well as a written explanation from the Board about the denials before the end of February.
In SBU’s Feb. 16 statement, it noted that “the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees will be extending an invite to a Faculty Senate delegation to meet and discuss faculty concerns and work toward a sincere spirit of unity.”
According to SBU’s statement, the Board on Tuesday also elected Acting President Brad Johnson as Interim President to serve until a new president is hired following the resignation of Eric Turner in October 2020. And the Board announced the creation of a search committee to be chaired by David Brown, an SBU alum who serves as lead pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Lebanon, Missouri. Other members of the committee were not named.
These moves by the trustees come amid a two-year controversy over control and theology at the school, and as the school already faces an inquiry by its accreditation body after a complaint about earlier actions by the trustees and the Missouri Baptist Convention that elected them. Until recently, most of the controversy involved efforts to drive out several religion professors in the school’s Redford Division of Christian Ministry.
In addition to the three professors who were denied tenure and terminated, another professor will see his position end. Last year, SBU decided to terminate its philosophy program and not renew the contract of its tenured philosophy professor at the end of this academic year.