FORT WORTH (BP) – David Dockery can see the light at the end of the tunnel for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The seminary has faced ongoing financial and leadership challenges that led to its receiving a warning from its accreditation agency in June.
“There’s longstanding financial issues that are systemic in the institution,” Dockery said. “There’s a sense of instability because of the turnover that has happened, not only at the presidential level, but among other administrators and faculty as well,” he said in a Baptist Press This Week interview. (Watch the interview here.)
Still, he said, the seminary is starting the new semester with a 5 percent increase in total headcount for the 2022-2023 academic year compared to the prior academic year.
Dockery was installed as the 10th president of the seminary Aug. 22. He has 40 years of experience in higher education and is well-known for his longtime leadership at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
“The financial challenges are complex,” Dockery said.
The seminary is working to get a clear picture of the financial situation, addressing the need to oversee restricted and unrestricted gifts and endowments as well as its operational budget.
An endowment of more than $150 million has helped SWBTS endure a season of financial instability, he said in the video interview.
According to a financial statement released by the seminary on June 9, it operated at an average budget deficit of $6.67 million every year from 2002 through 2022.
Financial concerns were the majority of the reasons the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools issued a warning to the seminary.
Dockery speaks at length in the interview about the seminary’s financial struggles and leadership’s plan to address them.
As he leads SWBTS toward appropriate financial stewardship, he is also increasing communication among staff, trustees and students.
“We had a faculty staff meeting on August 9 to begin the new year, bringing everyone together,” he said. “Often, the staff meets by itself or the faculty meets by itself or some are not involved. But this was everyone. And we tried to give a full one-hour update on where we are as an institution, so we all know where we are. We can’t know where we’re going unless we know where we’re starting from.”
Dockery said the third part of the warning called for greater communication with the seminary’s board of trustees “…to make sure the board is informed and acting wisely as good fiduciaries of the institution, making sure that they are acting with all the information that they can.”
“We’re going to do our best to make sure that that happens,” he said.
He knows many Southern Baptists want to see the seminary grow in accountability and transparency.
“Southwestern has been a great beneficiary of the Cooperative Program … of the gifts that have come through from the work of the churches. We don’t take that for granted at all,” he said.
“Our responsibility is to be good stewards of that.”