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Carson-Newman trustees vote to elect their successors

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. (BP)–Trustees of Carson-Newman College voted 29-5 on April 17 to change their trustee selection process.
The 36-member board, in a special called meeting held in executive session which excluded media and other participants, voted to amend its charter, allowing the trustees to select their successors. The action takes the selection process out of the hands of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, which has been nominating and electing the college’s trustees since 1919.
The amendment to the college’s charter returns the 147-year-old institution to its original method of naming trustees.
At a news conference after the meeting, board members stressed the charter change in no way signifies a lessening of Carson-Newman’s commitment to Tennessee Baptists or a shift from its Baptist heritage and roots. All trustees must be Baptist, with at least 75 percent from Tennessee Baptist churches. In addition, the president of the convention along with the TBC executive director-treasurer will be considered “designated” trustees with full voting privileges. Presently all trustees are Tennessee Baptists with the exception of three. The convention voted in 1994 to allow each college to have up to three Baptist alumni from outside Tennessee on their respective trustee boards.
School officials also said in prepared materials that the action “paves the way for a broader and more representative board of trustees who can expand C-N’s base of financial support and who have a true commitment to the future of Christian higher education.”
“This action will provide a more stable and secure future for Carson-Newman and ensure that the college can remain true to its Baptist heritage and its commitment to serving Tennessee Baptists,” said board chairman Jeanette Blazier, a member of First Baptist Church, Kingsport. She stressed “the mission of the college does not change.”
Marvin Cameron, vice chairman of the board and pastor of West Hills Baptist Church, Knoxville, told the TBC’s Baptist and Reflector newsjournal “the action was the best thing to do to ensure Carson-Newman is a strong Baptist college in the 21st century.”
Tennessee Baptist Convention leadership, including Executive Director James Porch and its education committee, which relates closely to the three Baptist colleges and Harrison-Chilhowee Baptist Academy, were not informed of Carson-Newman’s intentions until approximately one week before the trustee meeting. The college’s executive committee voted on the matter March 31.
After learning of the called trustee meeting, Ray Newcomb, pastor of First Baptist Church, Millington, and chairman of the TBC education committee, issued a call for the committee to meet. Three Carson-Newman representatives — President Cordell Maddox, Cameron and Fred Steelman, pastor of Red Bank Baptist Church, Chattanooga, and chairman of the college’s endowment campaign — met with the committee April 15 to discuss the college’s proposal.
After several hours of discussion, the education committee requested that C-N’s board of trustees “allow adequate opportunity for negotiation and open dialogue regarding trustee selection and governance issues and to delay until after Aug. 1, 1998, any final action revising the school’s trustee selection process that might adversely affect the relationship that exists between the Tennessee Baptist Convention and Carson-Newman College.”
The education committee proposal also reaffirmed a previous commitment to Belmont University and Union University in discussion of those same issues.
The committee’s proposal to the C-N board also noted “it is understood that negotiation will include, but not necessarily be limited to, (1) the percentage of trustees chosen by the Tennessee Baptist Convention and the college and (2) the restrictions on trustees elected from local churches and/or associations.”
During the news conference, Maddox said trustees prayerfully considered during their meeting the request from the TBC education committee.
“They reluctantly felt they needed to move ahead with their plans,” Maddox said, stressing their decision was not made hastily.
Maddox, who has been involved in Baptist higher education 43 years, said the action was particularly hard for him and he searched for peace about the decision for three days before finally reaching that peace. “I came to the conclusion that this was the best thing to do, although I knew it would make some people unhappy,” Maddox said.
“The trustees made a courageous decision,” he said.
Not all trustees favored the action.
Trustee Jay McCluskey, pastor of North Cleveland Baptist Church, Cleveland, mailed a letter to all trustees prior to their April 17 meeting. McCluskey provided a copy of the letter to the Baptist and Reflector after the trustee meeting.
In the letter he noted that “much of the rationale behind the proposal to change the trustee election format is based on the presumption that the current system of election can no longer be trusted to provide adequate board leadership. Frankly, I see little evidence that the present format has failed to produce a well-qualified board of trust,” he wrote.
While noting the trustee election process “clearly has worked well in the past,” McCluskey acknowledged in the letter “there is a fear that, in the future, those people with a critical agenda toward Carson-Newman College will elect unsuitable candidates to the C-N board. While I cannot say whether or not such a threat really exists, I know of no example of an unsuitable candidate ever being elected to this board of trustees. We must not hastily react to mere threats of danger.”
In the letter McCluskey also expressed concern about the timing of the called board meeting. He noted a full board meeting was scheduled for early May.
“The abruptness of this meeting makes our board’s action appear suspicious. The full Carson-Newman family should be aware of this pending action. Whatever gains result in this abbreviated time frame are surely not worth the cost of our respect. We must rise above even the appearance of impropriety. We owe this to Tennessee Baptists, to our alumni, and to all friends of Carson-Newman College,” McCluskey wrote.
After the meeting McCluskey told the Baptist and Reflector he was given opportunity to express his concerns before the board.
TBC President Doug Sager, pastor of First Baptist Church, Concord, Knoxville, attended the meeting as an ex-officio member along with Porch. Both were able to speak to the matter.
Sager said he appealed to the board “to allow us to sit down with leadership to see if we could work out our differences.”
Sager noted the convention’s Relationship Focus Group was to meet April 23-24 and was scheduled to meet with the presidents of the three colleges.
He said Carson-Newman’s decision not to delay their action was disappointing.
“I had hoped for more time. I could not understand their urgency,” he said.
Sager said the C-N action “will make it more difficult for us in trying to bring our convention together.”
During the meeting Porch said he cautioned trustees about the effect of their action on the college and the convention.
“I discussed the potential losses the college could experience and I urged them to allow the convention process to continue through a window of time as requested by the education committee,” Porch said.
However, trustee Fred Hurst, a medical doctor and member of First Baptist Church, Knoxville, called the decision a “banner day for Carson-Newman.”
The majority of the trustees “felt it important for this board to be above, beyond and apart from the political process that is inevitable in any large organization, including the Tennessee Baptist Convention … ,” Hurst said.
Some trustees said they feel the action does not lessen their commitment to the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
“I want to reiterate the strength of our trustees’ commitment to Tennessee Baptists and to remaining true to our Baptist heritage and roots,” Fred Steelman said.
“Never it its 147-year history has Carson-Newman wavered from its relationship with Tennessee Baptists. We do not intend to do that now.
“Actually this change we voted today will put Carson-Newman in the best possible position to continue strengthening its service to Tennessee Baptists,” Steelman stressed.
Calvin Metcalf, retired pastor of Central Baptist Church, Fountain City, Knoxville, and chairman of the board’s denominational relationships committee, said he looks forward to “a healthy, long relationship with Tennessee Baptists in the days ahead.”
Steelman, a former TBC president as is Metcalf, emphasized the college did not sever ties with the convention. “In essence, we are the same as we were yesterday — made up of loyal Tennessee Baptists. We merely changed the way we elect our trustees so we can better serve the needs of the college.”
Steelman said the trustees have discussed ways the college can maintain a strong relationship with the convention.
“It is our desire to sit down with the education committee and solidify ways to further strengthen the relationship between Carson-Newman and the Tennessee Baptist Convention.”
Areas of discussion, according to the trustees, are:
(1) “To restate our covenant between Carson-Newman and the TBC;
(2) “To discuss a negotiated role for the convention to recommend trustees to the college;
(3) “To determine future distribution of money received by Carson-Newman from the TBC for scholarships to Tennessee Baptist students;
(4) “To define ways for Carson-Newman to report to the TBC progress made on mutual goals;
(5) “To continue a liaison relationship between the Education Committee of the TBC and Carson-Newman;
(6) “To add the TBC Relationship Committee as a standing committee of the board.”
Steelman acknowledged there could be ramifications to the trustees’ action, including an attempt to escrow funds. The college receives $2.4 million from the state through the Cooperative Program. All of that, however, plus about $1 million more, goes toward scholarships for Tennessee Baptist students, Steelman said.
“The consequence (of escrowing funds) would be severe,” he said. “We don’t want to see it reach that point.
“We need to sit down and discuss how we can strengthen our relationship and get those monies to Tennessee Baptist students,” he said.
Porch, the convention’s executive director, issued the following statement:
“I am saddened and sincerely regret that the board of trustees of Carson-Newman College felt major action altering the trustee selection process was necessary.
“Further, I believe that continued discussions through the process of the Education Committee meeting with the trustees and the administration of the college would have resulted in a more congenial solution.
“I have great concern about the scope and intensity of potential effects this action may have both on Carson-Newman College and our state convention.
“The college’s trustees and administration have requested immediate dialogue with the Education Committee concerning the continuation of a mutually beneficial relationship. I ask Tennessee Baptists to join me in prayer as these discussions begin.”

    About the Author

  • Lonnie Wilkey
    Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector (baptistandreflector.org), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.Read All by Lonnie Wilkey ›