EDITORS’ NOTE: This story replaces the (BP) story with the same headline dated 8/15/97.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has been notified of the removal of two notations by the Association of Theological Schools regarding trustee governance and the atmosphere of the learning environment.
Two other notations are retained with a progress report due in November of 1998, allowing time to demonstrate the effectiveness of planned improvements in financial planning and evaluation procedures.
In addition, the North Central Association has reaffirmed the seminary’s accreditation by the Committee on Institutions of Higher Education.
Midwestern Seminary President Mark Coppenger called the spring visit by ATS and its subsequent June report “most helpful and encouraging.” He added, “The team recognized Midwestern’s strength and progress and made suggestions for fine tuning the seminary.
All of the ATS notations were incurred prior to Coppenger’s election as president in 1995. In the report of this year’s focused visit, ATS praised the new administration for “more than adequate documentation in preparation for the visit” and regarded presentations as “candid and to the point.”
The removed notations were first incurred in 1994 after trustees denied a recommendation from the faculty and administration that theology professor Bill Stancil be granted tenure. During those deliberations, the trustee board stipulated the necessity of a two-thirds vote to grant tenure.
That action prompted a focused visit by ATS in 1994 after which the accrediting agency issued notations, representing questions or doubts regarding school adherence to particular standards in the accreditation manual. Specifically, the first notation stated that “the Governing Board exercises inappropriate control over the Administration and Faculty.”
The recently released report indicated procedural concerns have now been addressed in a policy statement on “Academic Freedom and Tenure” which was adopted by trustees in the spring of 1996. Furthermore, the recent development of a comprehensive trustee handbook was cited as being “quite explicit about Board responsibilities and duties.”
In regard to the notation which stated the “general tone of the school impairs the capacity to provide significant theological education and ministerial training,” the ATS representatives discussed the overall climate of Midwestern Seminary with administrative vice presidents, faculty, and students.
The report indicated “the atmosphere at present is very positive,” recommending removal of such a notation. It further stated, “There has been upheaval and there continue to be adjustments but the transition” from one administration to another “has been handled reasonably smoothly.” New ATS Standards on Governance were suggested as helpful guidelines for trustees during a time of transition.
Retained by ATS is a notation expressed in 1992 which reads, “This institution has not demonstrated future financial planning as required by the standards.” Despite the decision to retain the notation until further actions are taken by the seminary, ATS representatives observed “the overall fiscal situation at MBTS is very positive at the present time.” They commended the seminary for “its energetic attention to bringing its financial house in order and its intention to develop a comprehensive financial plan.”
Recognizing the financial plan “must address so many areas” and “do so with two new senior administrators,” the ATS team reported “MBTS needs at least until December 1, 1998, to evolve a comprehensive and viable financial plan.” They further noted their belief “MBTS has the infrastructure, personnel, and positive attitude to accomplish this task.”
The team noted “excellent progress” in response to a second concern cited in 1992 that “the evaluation procedures are insufficiently developed or implemented in this institution.” Lifting of this notation awaits development and implementation of evaluation procedures with a report to be made by seminary before December of 1998.
ATS does not project another focused visit regarding the two retained notation. Instead, they will work with written reports to be forwarded to them by the seminary in 1998. The next evaluation by North Central is scheduled for 2001-2002.
The approval through North Central came with a stipulation that the seminary cannot start a new degree site without prior commission approval, an expectation which Midwestern’s new vice-president for academic affairs said is made of every institution affiliated with North Central.
“As more institutions are utilizing distance learning, the accrediting association simply wants to make sure they keep track of these programs and any new sites,” stated Jim Cogdill. “There is a detailed process governing institutional change that every institution must follow to establish either a new degree or a new site and this has been the procedure we have followed in the past. We’ll continue to do so according to NCA and ATS regulations.”
“There’s no reason whatsoever to doubt the quality of education a student would receive at Midwestern,” Cogdill said. “The accrediting agencies have given us a good bill of health and we believe we offer an outstanding theological education program.”
The ATS visiting team included Arthur Van Seters of Knox College in Toronto and William Baumgaertner of St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. A representative from Midwestern Seminary’s regional accreditor, North Central Association, also participated.