LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The recent economic downturn has prompted budget reductions at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, R. Albert Mohler Jr. reported in a Dec. 15 letter to the seminary community.
The seminary’s executive strategy group, consisting of Mohler and the three senior vice presidents, has reduced the current budget by $1.7 million. Mohler projected $800,000 to $1.5 million in additional reductions over the next several months.
The reductions include reducing the number of employees at the Louisville, Ky., campus; a hiring freeze on non-critical positions; and decreases in travel expenses, Mohler said.
“Given the personnel-intensive nature of our budget, the only way we can act responsibly in this situation is to anticipate a reduction in force in terms of total employees and total personnel expenditures,” Mohler said.
The seminary is halting campus improvement projects that are yet to be contracted and funded. However, a new pavilion and other projects already under contract will proceed as planned.
Despite the financial crunch, Mohler said there is good news at Southern, noting that due to “investment changes made before the immediate market downturn” SBTS avoided “catastrophic losses.”
“Nevertheless,” Mohler said, “we are looking at a real loss of a significant portion of our invested funds over the last twelve months. The weeks since September 1 have brought the worsened news regarding these investments, but in reality, the market downturn must be dated far earlier in 2008.”
Other considerations in the decision to make cuts included anticipated drops in donor support and gifts through the Cooperative Program, the Southern Baptist Convention’s unified program for funding missions and ministry, Mohler said. He emphasized that such practical planning did not reflect a poor opinion of Southern Baptist supporters but was an acknowledgement of the financial strains negatively impacting households as well as congregations.
“The issue here is not donative intent,” Mohler said, “but the ability of individuals and churches to give what they would want to give during a time of reduced income.”
Mohler assured students that the seminary will charge no more tuition than is absolutely necessary to balance the budget.
“We are going to do our very best to limit tuition increases because our goal is to make quality theological education accessible to as many God-called ministers and missionaries as possible,” he said. “Our commitment to our students and to the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention is to do our very best to make and keep theological education as affordable as possible.”
Southern faces no danger of being unable to carry out its ministry in the future, Mohler said.
“As you read headlines and see institutions facing dire and dramatic crises, we should be thankful that what Southern Seminary now faces is not the question of our future vitality as much as the question of our present stewardship,” he said. “For this we should be very thankful.
“We are warned to anticipate that this time of economic challenge will not be measured in future months but, in all likelihood, over the next two to five years. With that in mind, we must take the responsible actions now that will maintain proper stewardship and planning to ensure even greater opportunities in the future.”
On Dec. 16, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, announced that it will be cutting its budget by approximately 10 percent, or $3.5 million to $4 million. Among reductions being made to the budget are “temporary suspension of many overseas travel programs and adjustments to campus facilities.” SWBTS President Paige Patterson was quoted in a seminary news release as saying, “The administration is doing the best it can to find ways to cut spending that do not involve the release of existing faculty or the students employed by the school.” The news release then stated that Patterson “went on to say that current economic trends would make this goal difficult to achieve.”
On Dec. 10, Woman’s Missionary Union announced it was enacting measures to reduce its 2009 budget by $1.4 million. Some of those steps included reducing team expense budgets in areas such as travel, projects and activities; implementing four weeks unpaid furlough for each staff member between January and August 2009; a hiring freeze on vacant positions; reducing employer contributions to retirement plans; freezing merit pay increases; and eliminating incentive bonuses in 2009. The organization’s revised budget for 2009 is $9.6 million.
David Roach is a writer for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.