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SWBTS hires 1 professor, promotes 5, gives 1 tenure

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–In matters related to seminary personnel, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees March 11 elected one faculty member, promoted five professors and granted tenure to one. The recommendation for another faculty appointment was withdrawn without a trustee vote being taken.
Scott Langston was elected assistant professor of Old Testament. Step promotions were approved for associate professor of preaching Grant Lovejoy, distinguished professor of youth education Phil Briggs, professor of administration Gary Waller, professor of music theory and composition William Mac Davis Jr. and professor of piano Robert Carl Smith. Angela Cofer, associate professor of voice, was approved for tenure.
Tommy Lea, dean of the school of theology at the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary, withdrew a recommendation to elect Steven Harmon as assistant professor of New Testament during trustee interviews. There was no vote on the matter.
Langston, an adjunct teacher at Southwestern since 1992, earned his bachelor’s degree from Houston Baptist University; his master of divinity and doctor of philosophy degrees from Southwestern and has done additional study at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University and the University of Texas-Arlington. He presently meets weekly with Rabbi Sidney Zimelman of Congregation Ahavath Sholom in Fort Worth to study the Mishnah (tradition Jewish doctrine).
He served as minister of youth at First Baptist Church, Baytown, and First Baptist Church, Splendora, both in Texas, and presently is a member of First Baptist Church, Grapevine, Texas. He and his wife, Donna, have two children.
Lea said, in addition to the professional recommendations, Langston was widely supported by students. Earlier in the year a representative of one of Langston’s classes came to Lea asking if there was any way students could “encourage” his appointment to the faculty. “We love Dr. Langston,” the student told Lea. “He makes us love a tough subject like Hebrew.”
He didn’t know Langston was already being interviewed for a full-time position but, at Lea’s suggestion, told other students to put their position in writing. “I have more than 20 glowing recommendations and easily could have had 60,” Lea said.
Harmon, a doctor of philosophy student at Southwestern who anticipates receiving his degree this year, was recommended for a position by the four faculty members of the school’s theology department. Harmon also is an adjunct teacher at Southwestern’s extension center in Oklahoma City.
After being interviewed by Lea and Southwestern President Ken Hemphill, the seminary administration presented him for election to the faculty. However, as the approval process unfolded and Lea “listened to what was being said, I felt it best to take a step back and withdraw the recommendation.” Lea described Harmon as “a young man with lots of piety and ability. This is in no way a reflection on him. It just became clear that withdrawing the nomination was the proper thing to do.”
Hemphill agreed. “We believe Steve is an outstanding young scholar and believer. This should not be interpreted negatively toward him any more than a pastoral search committee’s choice of a particular pastor makes a negative statement toward others not chosen.
“Our election process has numerous checkpoints where candidates may be removed from consideration for various reasons. At the initial level, they are often removed by the faculty search committee. At any point in the process the dean and president may remove the name. In light of input from our trustee body we came to believe that it was not God’s will to bring this candidate and, therefore, removed him from consideration. We prayed fervently, followed due process and I believe we made an appropriate decision.”
Hemphill and Lea declined to discuss specific topics discussed with Harmon at the trustee level, citing the confidential nature of personnel matters and feeling Harmon should be allowed to speak for himself.
Harmon told reporters issues included a letter he wrote to the Baptist Standard, the weekly newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, about the firing of former Southwestern President Russell Dilday and the role of women senior pastors of churches.
Lea stressed his decision to withdraw the recommendation was not influenced by Harmon’s views on any of the several issues discussed in the interviews but by “a determination to do what was best for the seminary, the trustees and for Steve Harmon.”
Trustee Arthur Mallory, current president of the Missouri Baptist Convention, former president of Southwest Missouri University and for 17 years commissioner of education for the state of Missouri, said he had sat in on the meeting, with his interest “primarily focused on the process.”
“I am in sympathy with the candidate, with Tommy Lea, with President Hemphill and with the trustees,” he said. “In my years as president there were two or three times — out of scores — when I felt I was bringing the best person for the job but the trustees didn’t agree.
“At those times I had to remember that my board was composed of thinking people and had to realize they might come to a different decision. That is what happened here. I think the process worked very well.
“From my perspective I would like to emphasize this is an excellent, bright young man,” Mallory said. “But during the process you came to the impression that he wasn’t the right match at this time. There was a good discussion, pro and con. But the board does have the final function of employing faculty.”

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  • Craig Bird