KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s administration responded via a six-paragraph statement Sept. 21 to a reported conflict between MBTS President R. Philip Roberts and trustee chairman Gene Downing of Oklahoma City.
The Midwestern news release did not mention specifically Downing, a businessman who joined the trustee board in 2002 and became its chairman last year, nor David Hodge, who was placed on administrative leave and subsequently resigned as chief operating officer and chief financial officer at the Kansas City, Mo., campus. Hodge joined the seminary staff in early April.
Roberts met with Midwestern’s faculty and staff beginning at 1:30 p.m. to address the situation and answer their questions. The meeting started with prayer and lasted about 45 minutes.
Downing, speaking with Baptist Press Sept. 21, said the issue at Midwestern does not involve finances but it “has to do with leadership.”
Downing said Roberts had not followed directives from trustees on March 19 and July 9 which stipulated that he “let [Hodge] do his job. He [Roberts] didn’t.” Downing said he asked Hodge for a confidential review for the trustee executive committee of various facets of the seminary’s operations, such as its strategic plan and a “game plan” for how funds would be used from a recent sale of a parcel of MBTS property.
Downing said from his observation, “Things were not functioning. Things were not getting done.”
Downing said the trustee executive committee will conduct an exit interview with Hodge, “then we will visit with Dr. Roberts about why he refused to carry out those two directives, and then go from there.”
Roberts told Baptist Press, “Both our assistant vice president for communication and I have reviewed minutes of our March trustee meeting as well as our July trustee executive committee meeting. There is nothing in the minutes about directives of this nature.”
On the matter of directives, Roberts added for example, he had been working with Hodge “to implement progress on the construction of new apartments at Midwestern as voted by the trustees at last fall’s trustee meeting.”
Roberts said “it was my initiative” to establish a COO/CFO position at Midwestern “to work under my direction. David Hodge was the man I selected for this position.”
The full Midwestern statement follows:
“We are deeply disappointed by the article released today by Associated Baptist Press concerning Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary which needlessly attempts to undermine public confidence in our institution. This article consistently puts the least charitable construction upon neutral facts and thus creates an atmosphere of suspicion regarding our motives and procedures. Additionally, the president and executive staff were not consulted with or by any of the other parties mentioned in the ABP story regarding the health and status of the seminary.
“Midwestern has undergone an external audit for the academic year, and we are confident that these reports will more than satisfy our constituents as to the institution’s financial well-being. Indeed, our audit report is consistent with this statement in the Associated Baptist Press: ‘Midwestern is not in financial trouble and there are no financial issues.’ Subsequently, the article notes [in a quote from Hodge], ‘There are no financial improprieties at the school and that Southern Baptists can have full confidence in the seminary.’ However, in the article the ABP repeats accusations regarding the president’s leadership and alleged financial ‘irregularities’ without supporting evidence.
“In the article a claim is made as to the president’s ‘handling’ of the sale of property belonging to the seminary. This transaction was approved by the MBTS board of trustees. The use of these funds will now, as always, be approved by our trustees.
“Concerning the statement that President Roberts ‘awarded a student and three family members bachelor’s degrees,’ we note that our faculty, and not the president himself, are the ones who confer academic degrees. Like all Midwestern graduates, the persons in question earned their degrees by completing all required coursework.
“The article also implies that MBTS now operates an extension site in violation of policy requirements at the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and the Association of Theological Schools. In fact, these agencies expressly permit member institutions to offer off-campus courses on a trial basis, and we are presently availing ourselves of this provision. Prior to proceeding with classes, we notified NCA and ATS personnel that these courses were due to be offered, and our request was acknowledged without concern.
“It is the desire of President Roberts and the executive staff to address any and all concerns related to these matters openly and forthrightly. Midwestern is currently experiencing record student enrollment and fiscal health. It is the express desire of the Seminary and College that this positive development continues unhindered by innuendo and inaccurate information.”
A request by Baptist Press left for Hodge seeking comment was not returned at BP’s Sept. 21 deadline.
Midwestern trustee David Tolliver, the interim executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, with offices in Jefferson City, told Baptist Press, “Certainly these are serious matters, but they need to be dealt with in the proper way by the trustees, not in the press. The Midwestern [trustee] executive committee has not had an opportunity to hear all the facts, and until we do, I will have no comment.”
James Freeman, a Midwestern trustee from Kansas City, told BP, “The MBTS [trustee] executive committee was informed yesterday of Mr. Hodge’s resignation, after he had been placed on paid leave earlier in the day by Dr. Roberts. In accordance with our policy on departures of executive level personnel, the executive committee is scheduling an exit interview with Mr. Hodge. Mr. Hodge’s resignation follows a series of departures at MBTS by executive level personnel, which continues to concern various trustees. MBTS’ faculty continues to provide excellent seminary education, with an emphasis on practical evangelism to win souls for Christ. Under Dr. Roberts’ leadership, solid gains have been made to place MBTS under excellent academic and financial footing. The trustees look forward to continuing to provide excellent, conservative Bible-based seminary education to tomorrow’s evangelical leaders.”
Roberts was elected as Midwestern’s president in January 2001 after seven years with the North American Mission Board where he had served as vice president for the Strategic Cities Strategies Group and, earlier, as director of the interfaith witness team.
Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press. Allen Palmeri, associate editor of The Pathway, published by the Missouri Baptist Convention, contributed to this article.