About 75 people gathered Friday (Feb. 26) afternoon outside the administration building at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, to protest the treatment of several professors in recent months. Waving signs, wearing masks, and holding purple-and-white balloons, the group stood in front of the school’s main entrance as cars driving down the town’s busiest road honked in support.
“I feel like the event went really well,” Carey Bethell, an SBU graduate who organized the rally, told Word&Way. “I wanted to keep a positive and supportive environment, and I feel like that happened.”
“My main purpose for organizing this event was to show support for professors at SBU who have been treated unjustly. We wanted an opportunity for students, alumni, and the community to show the professors how much we love them,” she added. “My secondary purpose was to help raise awareness in the community about what is happening at SBU.”
The rally comes after more than two years of controversy at the school over theology and control after some individuals in the Missouri Baptist Convention plotted to drive out several religion professors. Some of those professors either left for different jobs or opted for retirement. Then the school decided to eliminate its philosophy program and tenured professor position at the end of this academic year. More recently, trustees denied tenure or promotion to several professors in psychology, social work, and other programs.
Additionally, the trustees elected by the MBC adopted changes to the school’s governing documents to give the MBC more legal control. These actions sparked a complaint to SBU’s accreditation body, which opened an ongoing inquiry. And SBU President Eric Turner resigned in October amid the conflict after just two years on the job.
At Friday’s rally, some individuals held handmade signs about the situation in general while others praised specific targeted professors on their signs. As the rally occurred, individuals from the SBU Board of Trustees and the Faculty Senate met to discuss the recent denials of tenure or promotion.