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Proposed Belmont Univ. ‘covenant’ would break from convention

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Belmont University trustees have given leaders of the Tennessee Baptist Convention a proposed covenant that would take away the convention’s current responsibility of electing trustees for the university.

Belmont President Robert Fisher presented the proposal to TBC Executive Director James Porch one week before the TBC executive board’s scheduled Sept. 14 meeting.

Fisher said the covenant proposal was in response to a request in May from the TBC budget and program committee that asked each TBC institution to rewrite its current program statement in the form of a covenant. Institutions were given a year to develop the covenant agreements which would be approved by the appropriate executive board committee and the full executive board before being presented to convention messengers at the 2005 annual meeting in Clarksville for consideration.

Fisher said Belmont trustees decided to propose the new covenant at their Aug. 21 board meeting. “We followed the format given to us,” Fisher said.

Porch said he informed Lynn King, chairman of the executive board’s education committee, and a meeting of the education committee was called for 4 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 13. Porch said he expected the education committee to discuss the matter and report to the full executive board at its Sept. 14 meeting.

Porch was unavailable for comment Sept. 15-16 about the executive board’s deliberations.

Fisher told the Tennessee Baptist & Reflector newsjournal he did not know what would happen if the covenant proposal is not accepted by the executive board. “We aren’t going to presume what that response will be. We will wait and see,” Fisher said.

Belmont University has been affiliated with the TBC since 1951 when the convention purchased the old Ward-Belmont College property. The school has grown from 136 students in 1951 to approximately 4,000 in 2004. Convention records document the school has received more than $53 million in Cooperative Program funds since 1951. That amount does not take into account funds channeled to the university by individual Tennessee Baptists and churches.

One reason cited for the new covenant proposed by Belmont, as noted in its preamble, is “the challenge of maintaining excellence in education at affordable prices for students.” The preamble notes that in fiscal year 2004 the TBC allocation of $2,337,514 will comprise 2.79 percent of Belmont’s total revenue and other support.

“The convention has been generous with all of its affiliated educational institutions,” the preamble notes. “Yet, the convention’s missions endeavors and other important programs and projects have placed increased demands upon its finances and limited the convention’s ability to provide significant additional support to Belmont and its sister institutions.”

The proposed covenant itself notes that the convention’s bylaws state that Belmont and its sister-affiliated institutions “are autonomous nonprofit corporations, neither owned nor operated by the convention,” with governance of the institutions being “vested in their respective boards of trustees or directors in all matters.”

The proposed covenant also states:

“Whereas the academic excellence and Christian values of Belmont University have encouraged non-Baptist Christians to give of their talent, gifts, and resources to support Christian higher education at Belmont and to desire to be actively and meaningfully involved in its governance and future, and

“Whereas, after prayerful consideration, the board of trustees of Belmont has determined that it is in the best interests of Belmont University to include non-Baptist Christians on its governing board.”

The covenant lists four areas in which “Belmont University and the Tennessee Baptist Convention do hereby covenant and agree:

“(1) Belmont University shall continue to fulfill the mission of being a Christ-centered, student-focused Christian community with a Baptist heritage providing an academically challenging education that enables men and women of diverse backgrounds to engage and transform the world with disciplined intelligence, compassion, courage and faith, and endeavor diligently to present to each student the claims and gospel of Jesus Christ.

“(2) The convention shall support this mission by generously contributing funds to Belmont. Belmont shall increase the amount of scholarship assistance it provides to Baptist students from Tennessee from its current level of $1,400,000 a year to an annual amount equal to the most recent yearly contribution to Belmont by the convention ($2,300,000 in FY 2005).

“(3) The board of trustees of Belmont University will establish its own qualifications, composition, and terms of service as well as nominate and elect its own members. At least 60 percent of the members of Belmont’s board of trustees shall be members of Tennessee Baptist churches. The remaining 40 percent of the members of the board will be comprised of persons who are committed active Christians who may be members of Baptist churches or churches affiliated with other Christian denominations. The president of the convention and the executive director-treasurer of the convention Executive Board shall serve as non-voting, ex-officio members of Belmont’s board of trustees.

“(4) Belmont shall keep the convention informed by making regular reports of its operations, programs, and finances for inclusion in the convention’s Book of Reports, and provide this information at other times if requested by the Executive Board of the convention. In addition, Belmont will otherwise participate as fully as any other institution affiliated with the convention in the meetings and activities of the convention’s Education, Budget, and Executive Committees, the annual meeting of the convention, and any other activities of the convention that Belmont and the convention mutually identify as appropriate.”
Based on reporting by Lonnie Wilkey. Art Toalston contributed to this article.

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