The faculty at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, passed a resolution Friday (March 12) expressing “no confidence” in the school’s Board of Trustees. The unprecedented move comes after the Board denied tenure or promotion to several faculty members.
After a multiple-hour meeting spread over a morning and afternoon session Friday to discuss the denials and the resolution, the faculty voted and about 60% backed the “no confidence” decision.
Word&Way broke the news on Feb. 4 that SBU’s trustees denied tenure to three faculty members in the Division of Behavioral Sciences and denied promotion to two other faculty members. A student petition launched to support the professors and the Faculty Senate passed a resolution on Feb. 13 affirming the five professors and requesting the trustees meet with a delegation of faculty about the denials and explain in writing the justifications for the decisions.
The Board met in a special-called meeting on Feb. 16 and reversed one tenure denial and one promotion denial but affirmed their other three denials even though the professors had been approved at all previous levels. A meeting between some trustees and some faculty members occurred on Feb. 26 at the same time a crowd from the community held a rally in front of the school to support the targeted professors.
The unusual move to deny tenure or promotion to multiple professors came amid a two-year controversy as some Missouri Baptist Convention leaders sought to exert more control over the school. After the MBC unilaterally changed the trustee-selection process, SBU President Eric Turner resigned.
The trustees also approved new governing documents for the school to give more legal control to the MBC and declare that SBU’s trustees have a fiduciary responsibility to the MBC instead of solely to SBU. But those documents have not gone into effect due to legal challenges from multiple people.
In addition to the two professors still denied tenure and therefore terminated, the school is ending its philosophy program and eliminating the position of its tenured philosophy professor. Meanwhile, the school also faces an ongoing accreditation inquiry due to the actions of the MBC and SBU’s trustees.
Earlier this month, SBU Board of Trustees Chair Eddie Bumpers told the MBC’s publication that SBU is “proud” of its relationship with the MBC.
“The churches of our convention can be assured that the Board of Trustees and Southwest Baptist University are proud of the strong relationship that we have with our convention of churches,” claimed Bumpers, who is senior pastor at Crossway Baptist Church, Springfield, Missouri.
The remarks by the MBC-elected trustee were published the day before a majority of SBU’s faculty voted “no confidence” in the Board that Bumpers leads.
UPDATE [March 14, 2021]: After this report was published, the president of the SBU Faculty Senate announced the faculty would redo the vote due to procedural concerns.