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Midwestern trustees affirm Whitehead, while continuing presidential search

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees affirmed the leadership of interim President Michael Whitehead and the work of the presidential search committee during their Oct. 16-17 meeting, asking the committee to “prayerfully continue” the search that has been underway for the last year.

Following an extended executive session, the board unanimously asked Whitehead to “continue indefinitely until God reveals something differently to him or until the committee brings us a sense of direction.”

The board further affirmed Whitehead by expressing “full confidence in his administrative ability, leadership and decision-making in this present capacity.” Board chairman Carl Weiser of Lynchburg, Va., directed additional remarks to the faculty and student representatives as well as reporters, stating, “We unequivocally stand by the leadership that Mike Whitehead is giving to us at this time and in the days ahead.

“We unequivocally say to the students, faculty and Southern Baptist Convention that when Mike Whitehead speaks for Midwestern he speaks with the complete support of the board of trustees of this seminary, and that we value his leadership highly and we support him,” Weiser continued. “So we appreciate him very, very much. We want that message to be clear and precise.”

In a statement following the meeting, Weiser said Whitehead “speaks with the unanimous support and the single voice for the board and Midwestern,” referring specifically to his involvement with the Council of Seminary Presidents, Great Commission Council of the SBC and to faculty and staff of the seminary. “We appreciate his stable leadership and through this meeting learned that the seminary has moved forward, student count has gone up, financial stability has increased and the spirit of the Midwestern family is very good.”

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After the board applauded Whitehead’s leadership, Weiser addressed additional comments to reporters, stating Whitehead is still under consideration by the presidential search committee.

Also chairing the search committee, Weiser told trustees that the bulk of their report would be provided in executive session, but noted that extensive interviews had been conducted with one candidate. “It’s a difficult process, but we’re committed to finding God’s man to lead us. That is the criteria that stands above everything else.”

In the president’s report, Whitehead recounted the faithfulness God has shown the seminary during the time of transition. Quoting Lamentations 3:22-23 and the words of the hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” to illustrate, Whitehead said, “Through the interim period, I am reminded of God’s great faithfulness to us as I look at the accomplishments of our faculty, our students and our staff.”

Whitehead noted that enrollment is up over a year ago with 137 new students enrolled for the fall semester, and expectations that the number will grow even more next semester. “Our faculty has been stable, steadfast and immovable,” Whitehead described, “always abounding in the Word of the Lord.”

Relating God’s faithfulness in regard to finances, Whitehead said a recent audit revealed that the seminary had moved from a weaker position in 1996 to the best financial health it had experienced in years.

Several new initiatives he cited include Computer Assisted Seminary Education with 26 students enrolled, a reopened Child Development Center, progress toward self-study for future accreditation, training by Internet for diploma students in cooperation with Baptist College of Florida, a remodeled student center, and satellite courses in the Kansas City area.

Whitehead also noted the faithfulness of Midwestern graduates on the mission field, stating, “Many Midwestern alumni are being used around the world to share the gospel of Christ.”

“But we have great faithfulness in our Father for our spiritual health as well,” he said. “Our spiritual health is grounded firmly on an inerrant, trustworthy Word of God to which our Southern Baptist Convention is holding us freshly accountable.” Holding up a booklet of the Baptist Faith and Message, Whitehead said, “I’m delighted this little, bitty book has drawn a line in the sand across Baptist life about what we really believe in Southern Baptist life.”

After a morning of committee meetings, Midwestern trustees conducted seven hours of deliberation in executive session. Weiser reported that a range of topics were discussed in closed session, including land development, search committee progress, personnel matters, the Baptist General Convention of Texas recommendation to reduce funding of Midwestern Seminary and the Baptist Faith and Message.

Voting in open session, the board affirmed the Baptist Faith and Message as revised by Southern Baptist messengers on June 14. With such adoption, the new statement will serve as the articles of faith for the seminary, with all faculty handbooks, employment handbooks and related policies amended to reflect the change. “Faculty members will be directed to sign an affirmation of the Statement upon election or renewal of contracts, agreeing to teach in accord with and not contrary to the Articles of Faith,” the motion read.

The action serves as a response to a motion made at the SBC during which time a messenger asked entities to avoid requiring their employees sign the revised statement. Trustee institutional advancement committee chairman Joseph Bunce of Bloomfield, N.M., clarified, “We are not doing anything, per se, that has not been a longstanding tradition of our seminary,” noting the adoption of the current Baptist Faith and Message statement since the school’s inception.

A resolution commended the revision for “its faithfulness of teaching God’s Word and as a guide to faith and practice in the churches in our associations.” The resolution introduced by Kent Cochran of Kansas City, Mo., referred to the revision as offering “a strong statement on the inerrancy of Scripture, opposition to churches having women pastors, a strong family statement, and underscores the sanctity of human life and other more conservative statements.”

The board affirmed a resolution released Oct. 7 by the trustee executive committee and campus planning committee to end rumors of either a possible merger of Midwestern Seminary with another SBC school or relocation from the Kansas City campus. The board authorized the campus planning and building committee to continue to negotiate with Hunt Midwest Real Estate Corporation and other similar firms for services related to appraisal, land use planning and various options for developing new facilities.

In addition, trustees recommended that the committee pursue, as the preferred option, the relocation of the campus within the metropolitan Kansas City area rather than building additional facilities at the present 200-acre site. The resolution noted that the board “is fully devoted to the vision and mission of theological education in the Midwest, based in Kansas City, as assigned by the Southern Baptist Convention, while maintaining a heart for the world.”

Noting that the SBC Executive Committee had adopted a resolution on the threatened Cooperative Program agreement between the SBC and Baptist General Convention of Texas, Midwestern trustees affirmed the statement, expressing gratitude and support for the Cooperative Program. The resolution further noted “appreciation to state conventions and local churches who continue to honor this 75-year-old relationship that has been blessed by God to direct more resources to the Great Commission than any other program in the history of the church.”

Academic affairs committee chairman Conrad “Buster” Brown of Charleston, S.C., presented recommendations of renewed five-year contracts for associate preaching professor Ben Awbrey and associate missions and evangelism professor Ron Rogers. Trustee Ralph Sawyer of Wentzville, Mo., presented the committee recommendation that the contract of assistant Christian education professor Bruce Merrick be extended for one year, subject to notice of non-renewal at that time. In addition to approving contract recommendations, five faculty requests for six-month sabbaticals were approved in accordance with existing policies.

In order to allow for earlier approval of faculty candidates, the board recommended changing the spring meeting date from April to mid-March. The bylaw change will be discussed in the next meeting for possible implementation in 2002. Trustees also asked their executive committee to consider changing the date of the fall meeting to avoid a conflict with the meeting time of the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists.

Trustees approved changes in the criteria for faculty evaluation and development, clearly stating expectations of faculty eligible for a higher rank. The board also clarified that only elected faculty have voting privileges and established three levels of teachers: elected faculty (approved by the trustee board), appointed faculty (approved by the trustee academic affairs committee) and visiting teachers (recommended by the seminary president or academic dean).

Brown reported on team-building exercises conducted at the faculty retreat held on campus. In surveying attitudes of the faculty, he said, “Executive leadership had the highest ranking of all, which speaks volumes to the leadership of Mike Whitehead and Gary Smith (interim academic affairs vice president).”

A faculty questionnaire approved in 1996 will no longer be used in the initial stage of interviewing candidates. When asked by trustee Charles Sams of Cincinnati for clarification, Smith said the newly adopted revision to the Baptist Faith and Message incorporates many of the questions relating to family, women pastors and abortion. Smith said candidates will be asked to clarify their positions on the issues raised in the questionnaire, making written responses unnecessary. Smith informed trustees that 17 candidates had been considered to fill a vacancy in theology, with five now under consideration. He expects to bring a recommendation for presidential appointment in November with board approval in the spring.

Tuition increases were approved, to be implemented on a timetable to be approved by the administration, expected to be effective in the fall 2001 term. SBC students will pay $90 per credit hour while non-SBC students pay $180 per credit hour. The cost of extension studies was set at $110 per credit hour. A tuition cap previously set to encourage students to take more than 10 hours at no additional expense was removed after noting the practice had not increased revenue significantly.

The seven Missouri trustees offered a resolution of sympathy to the family of Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan who was killed in a plane crash Oct. 17. The full board joined those trustees in recognizing that “Missouri Baptists have lost a dedicated public servant and fellow Southern Baptist churchman.” They called upon Christians across the state and nation to “uphold this family in prayer at a time of great loss.”

In other business, trustees received a report without qualifiers from its auditor, extended the commitment with the accounting firm of Keller and Owens for an additional three years and approved housing allowance designations by ordained employees for IRS purposes.

With the newly reopened Child Development Center achieving operational status, trustee business affairs committee chairman Reagan Bradford of Edmond, Okla., said, “It’s clear that we now need to take a more realistic evaluation of what we need to do in the next year in terms of funding.” Though not expecting the CDC to achieve a “cost-neutral” position, Bradford said the committee recommended allocation of up to $50,000 from capital needs during the fiscal year ending 2001. Trustees approved the motion while delaying allocation of $150,000 from capital needs for roof repairs until a decision is reached on relocating the campus.

Informed of the resignation of Gary Ledbetter as vice president of student development, trustees expressed their appreciation for his ministry over the last five years. Beginning in January, Ledbetter will direct communications for Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, a two-year-old convention organized to support ministry in Texas and SBC causes. Cochran spoke of chairing the student development committee to which Ledbetter related, stating, “Through thick and thin of debate, we’ve all come out with clean shirts, clean clothes, and the dirt fell off of us. You’ve been a great help,” Cochran told Ledbetter, “and you’re always welcome to come back and hold us accountable.”

Whitehead referred to Ledbetter and his wife, Tammi, as “a valuable team and asset for Midwestern Seminary,” expressing appreciation for the “investment of their lives in ministry in SBC agencies.”
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