LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — Campbellsville University has informed Kentucky Baptist Convention leaders that the school intends to create a self-perpetuating board of trustees and welcome non-Baptist trustees onto the 52-member group.
In a called meeting at the Kentucky Baptist Building July 11, Campbellsville’s attorney, Jim Straus, also presented a draft copy of changes to the university’s bylaws and articles of incorporation that will be considered when its board meets Tuesday (July 15).
Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director Paul Chitwood issued a letter to KBC Mission Board members following Friday’s meeting. In the letter, Chitwood said he hopes Campbellsville leaders will decide to honor its covenant agreement with the KBC and maintain its long-standing relationship with Kentucky Baptists. The university, located in Campbellsville, Ky., has been affiliated with the convention since 1938.
Joseph Owens, chair of CU’s board of trustees responded to Chitwood’s letter Friday evening, saying the school is “disappointed by the decision of the Kentucky Baptist Convention leadership to issue the statement relative to decisions that may be under consideration” by CU’s trustees.
“We are saddened by the decision of the current KBC leadership to move away from the traditional relationship that we have enjoyed with past KBC executive directors,” Owens, the pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Lexington, said. “Over the course of the past few weeks, we have experienced a significant deterioration in our ongoing relations with the current leadership of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Today’s statement is further evidence of this.”
In addition to Chitwood and KBC President Chip Hutcheson, convention representatives at the meeting included First Vice President Kevin Milburn; Garnetta Smith, chair of the Mission Board’s agencies and institutions committee; and members of the convention’s executive staff, Curtis Woods and Jim Donnell. The KBC’s attorney, James Taylor, also was in attendance.
Kentucky Baptists, through their Cooperative Program gifts, currently contribute about $1 million to the university’s budget annually, accounting for less than 2 percent of its $57 million annual budget. Any action by the university’s board violating its covenant agreement with the KBC would potentially jeopardize that funding, a KBC press release stated. Convention officers plan to meet July 17 to discuss the convention’s response.
“In the opinion of our attorney, James Taylor, these (proposed) bylaws are clearly inconsistent with the covenant agreement that governs the relationship between the KBC and CU,” Chitwood said in his letter to Mission Board members.
According to the letter, Straus indicated that Campbellsville’s leaders want to forge a new partnership agreement similar to one forged between Georgetown College and KBC in 2005 after that school requested to end its covenant agreement with the convention in order to establish a self-perpetuating board. But KBC messengers ended that partnership arrangement and severed ties with the college at last year’s annual meeting.
Campbellsville’s board is currently comprised of 44 full trustees and eight non-voting associate trustees.
“We have desired to have a dialogue with the KBC leadership that would help lead to a new partnership and relationship — one that would retain our proven commitment to Kentucky Baptists while protecting academic freedom and institutional integrity,” Owens said. “We have requested a dialogue on a continuing partnership, and we stand by that position.”
Chitwood urged members of the Mission Board to “pray for wisdom on the part of our KBC officers and leaders as they help us navigate these waters.”
“While we grieve the decision of another school to distance itself from the churches that have long supported her,” Chitwood wrote, “we know that we still have institutions who remain faithfully committed to their covenant with Kentucky Baptists and to the mission of reaching Kentucky and the world for Christ.”
Campbellsville University, which boasts an enrollment of more than 3,600 students in its various undergraduate, master’s and post-graduate programs, was established in 1906 as Russell Creek Academy by Russell Creek Baptist Association. The institution was instituted as Campbellsville Junior College in 1924. In 1957, the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky (now the KBC) authorized the school to become a four-year institution.
Read Chitwood’s full letter:
Dear Mission Board Member,
I am writing at the request of our convention president, Chip Hutcheson, to make you aware of an announcement from Campbellsville University. CU’s attorney, Jim Straus, met today with KBC officers (President Chip Hutcheson and 1st VP Kevin Milburn, A&I Committee Chair Garnetta Smith), KBC attorney James Taylor, and representatives from the Mission Board staff (Jim Donnell, Curtis Woods, and me).
Straus announced that CU plans to create a self-perpetuating board and welcome non-Baptist trustees onto the board. He also supplied a draft copy of edits to CU’s bylaws and articles of incorporation that will be recommended for adoption when the board meets next Tuesday. Straus is confident the changes will be adopted. In the opinion of our attorney, James Taylor, these bylaws are clearly inconsistent with the Covenant Agreement that governs the relationship between the KBC and CU.
Ironically, Straus indicated CU wants to deal with this matter as “a family” although CU leadership chooses for only their attorney to communicate rather than have a family discussion. Straus also indicated CU wants to forge a Partnership Agreement similar to the one forged with Georgetown although he insisted that CU’s desire to replace the Covenant Agreement has no similarity to Georgetown’s pathway.
James Taylor is requesting that Straus inform us of the outcome of CU’s vote on the changes to the bylaws and articles of incorporation after Tuesday’s meeting. KBC officers plan to meet again on Thursday to discuss these matters. We will update you on the situation as soon as we have additional information.
In the mean time, please pray for wisdom on the part of our KBC officers and leaders as they help us navigate these waters. While we grieve the decision of another school to distance itself from the churches that have long supported her we know that we still have institutions who remain faithfully committed to their covenant with Kentucky Baptists and to the mission of reaching Kentucky and the world for Christ.
Paul H. Chitwood, Ph.D.
Executive Director-Treasurer, Kentucky Baptist Convention
Todd Deaton is editor of the Western Recorder. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).