As Southwest Baptist University searches for a new president to lead the school in Bolivar, Missouri, amid controversies over theology and control, trustees sparked additional concerns by creating a presidential search committee made up only of themselves and two Missouri Baptist Convention leaders. The school’s Faculty Senate passed a resolution on Friday (March 26) criticizing this search process.
The last presidential search committee for SBU, in 2018, included trustees as just half of the committee. In addition to six trustees, the announcement of that 2018 committee noted it also included “a faculty member, an academic dean, a member of the executive cabinet, a staff member, a student, and an alumna.”
In contrast to that model, the search committee announced on March 22 to pick the school’s 26th president is made up 10 members of SBU’s Board of Trustees. Additionally, the MBC’s president and executive director are also listed as “ex officio” members. The press release didn’t note if the two ex officio members would be non-voting or not, but SBU’s new trustee bylaws approved last year say that the MBC executive director would serve as “a non-voting ex officio member of any search committee for the chief executive of SBU.”
After the announcement of the search committee, SBU’s Faculty Senate passed a resolution by a vote of 22-2 that expressed concerns about the search committee and other issues with the trustees. The vote comes amid growing faculty complaints about the trustees elected by the MBC.
On Feb. 13, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution criticizing the decision by the Board of Trustees to deny tenure or promotion to five faculty members. The trustees later reversed two of those decisions, but not the other three. And last October, the Senate passed a resolution criticizing the elimination of the school’s philosophy program.
On March 12, 60% of the school’s faculty backed a resolution expressing “no confidence” in the Board of Trustees, but it was later deemed unofficial due to procedural concerns. The new Faculty Senate resolution repeats the concern from that “no confidence” resolution about the tenure and promotion.
“The Faculty Senate remains gravely concerned about the process the Board of Trustees, particularly the Education Policy and Personnel Committee, used for the promotion and tenure decisions in 20-21 and the lack of faculty, administration, staff, and students on the presidential search committee, and continues to weigh further responses to these and other areas of concern,” the Faculty Senate resolution approved March 25 reads.
The resolution comes ahead of an SBU Board of Trustees meeting on April 7, and before a focused visit in May by SBU’s accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission. The initial HLC complaint centered on MBC actions to control SBU.
After two years of public tussling with the MBC over trustees and other issues, SBU President Eric Turner resigned in October. Now a search committee will select his replacement. But before the search begins, the faculty are already publicly expressing concern.
And the search committee chair agrees.
After the Faculty Senate vote Friday, Word&Way asked David Brown, the SBU trustee chairing the presidential search committee, about the lack of faculty, staff, student, and alumni representatives on the search committee and if he was concerned such a committee might signal the trustees did not value the opinions of those other communities.
“I agree that this needs to be addressed. We are going to work on that,” Brown, lead pastor at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Lebanon, Missouri, responded in an email.