A Baptist layman in Bolivar, Missouri, filed a motion last week to block Southwest Baptist University from changing its governing documents. Donald Jump, an alum of SBU who served on the school’s Board of Trustees for 10 years until 2018, filed his petition with the Circuit Court of Polk County on Feb. 22. SBU had earlier in February submitted its new governing documents that Missouri Baptist Convention leaders demanded the school adopt.
“Dr. Jump asserts that the so-called ‘reorganization’ documents that the University asked this Court to approve are not lawful and do not contribute to the public usefulness of the institution,” the petition explains. “These documents were passed by trustees who fundamentally breached their fiduciary duties to preserve the assets of SBU and the duty of loyalty to place the interests of SBU above all others.”
“This was not a reorganization; it was a takeover,” adds the petition, which cites several Word&Way reports about the two-year controversy. “A transfer of control to the MBC will result in irreparable harm to the University, its reputation, its faculty, its accreditation, and potentially its enrollment.”
In September, SBU’s Board of Trustees approved the final version of new articles of agreement and bylaws that name the MBC as sole corporate member and declare SBU trustees have a fiduciary responsibility to the MBC. Messengers to the MBC’s 2020 annual meeting approved the new governing documents the next month.
After changes to governing documents are filed with officials, Missouri law requires a waiting period to allow public review or comment. Someone can petition to intervene to block documents from being accepted, though the courts are not required to grant an individual’s request.
The new governing documents came after years of pressure from MBC leaders for SBU to adopt the changes, and after the MBC’s Nominating Committee unilaterally changed its process to install new trustees on SBU’s Board. Amid tensions with the new MBC-appointed trustees, SBU President Eric Turner resigned in October. Additionally, several faculty members were recently denied tenure or promotion in an unusual move by the trustees.
The petition highlights Jump’s ties to SBU, noting that the 1964 alum also has several family members who attended the school, including his grandfather, father, wife, two sons, and several members of his wife’s family. It also mentions his trustee service and that he’s been “an annual donor to SBU at the five-figure level.” A recipient of the school’s “Life Service Award” for alumni, Jump is a retired dentist.
“It is fair to say that the Jumps are a family that loves SBU, and has invested its efforts in advancing the University and its reputation,” the petition adds. “He has invested countless hours of his time and money over the years to continue improving SBU as an institution of higher learning.”
Along with filing the motion to intervene, Jump also filed a motion for discovery that, if granted, would allow his attorney to “conduct written discovery and take depositions” of SBU and MBC leaders. Jump’s attorney, Russell Jackson, is also an SBU alum. In August, Jackson filed a complaint with SBU’s accreditation body, which sparked an ongoing inquiry into the actions of the MBC and SBU’s trustees.
The first hearing in the case is set for March 5.