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Midwestern trustees postpone action on proposed communications policy

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Midwestern Seminary chairman Carl Weiser offered a trustee communications policy in an effort to strike a balance between letting “Baptists know what we’re doing with their seminary” while keeping “sensitive personnel issues” in-house. After discussing the proposal for more than an hour Oct. 18, Weiser offered to restudy the issue with further trustee input.
The board chairman’s proposal called for channeling business-related requests for information by trustees through the board chairman who then would contact the president. Committee chairmen were encouraged to contact the appropriate vice presidential liaison for requests while also notifying the board chairman who informs the president.
All official press releases would be made by or through the board chairman, according to the proposal. Inquiries by media of an individual trustee were to be directed to the chairman or president.
Weiser further proposed that “confidential information concerning trustee actions and discussion in executive session would not be disclosed to third parties who do not have a business need to know.” Failure to abide by the “no-disclosure policy” would be “vigorously enforced with violations resulting in discipline or removal actions against the offending trustee.”
Calling the proposal “too quick” and “too much,” Colorado trustee Ken Barnett opposed the measure, adding, “I don’t like gags and muzzles. I haven’t lost my freedom of speech to come over here,” and urging “more collegiality” instead of “building more walls.”
Missouri trustee David McAlpin expressed appreciation for the “time and thoughtfulness” that went into guidelines that he described as “desperately needed.” McAlpin said, “We’ve seen careers damaged and destroyed” and “confidences breached.”
“I submit that the responsibility of a trustee is not to get in and cause as much trouble as one can, but rather to build up the institution to protect her servants and to build a sense of camaraderie, loyalty and integrity.”
Mississippi trustee Gary Peek acknowledged that such policies are essential in a corporate staff setting, but opposed implementation in a ministry board context. “If some of these trustees are causing trouble, we need to get them out now.” He went on to state, “You can kick me off and I can still cause trouble when I’m gone.”
Weiser assured trustees there was no desire to control trustee communication with the seminary, but simply to “get this thing back moving in the right direction.”
First vice chairman Bob Collins of Blue Springs, Mo., agreed to delay consideration of the policy, while expressing concern that no structure existed to deal with an apparent violation of confidentiality.
Indiana trustee Steve Simpko expressed sympathy with the spirit of the proposal, but added, “We should be intrinsically motivated to do the right thing.”
South Carolina trustee Conrad “Buster” Brown responded by noting, “We have never stated our procedure by which the right thing is the right thing. This does that. It cuts down on innuendo and smoke-filled room bargaining.”
California trustee Ron Fullerton opposed such limitations, stating that a trustee’s “fiduciary responsibility” necessitated gaining information. “When there’s not free-flowing information from the executive committee, I have to use other means to get that information.” He agreed with the need for a policy for staff and restricting of executive session discussion.
Trustee Kent Cochran of Missouri called for referring the policy to the executive committee for “refinement” in January and board reconsideration in April. Weiser asked Cochran and Barnett to withdraw their motions in order to allow removal of the policy from consideration at this time. He said he will receive further input from trustees before reconsidering the matter in April.
Trustees received a report of interim president Michael Whitehead’s implementation of communication protocols intended to “foster communication” through an orderly process. While welcoming trustee visits to the campus, classrooms and faculty offices, Whitehead said the policy clarifies expectations of staff members regarding contacts with trustees and the media.
An established chain of command through the president will be followed for business-related communication with advance approval for contact initiated by seminary staff with a trustee. When responding to trustee requests, staff members will channel responses through the president and keep him informed of all trustee business contacts. Trustees have been asked to channel their official inquiries through their chairman who will work with the president to provide a response.
In addition, staff members are to keep the president informed of media contacts and route inquiries to the communications office for response in cooperation with the president. Whitehead said the goal is to “communicate to the media with one voice so that seminary policy is communicated accurately.”

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter