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TRUSTEES: SWBTS continues institutional reset, pauses budget finalization due to COVID-19

FORT WORTH (BP) — Meeting via video conference Tuesday (April 7), the Board of Trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary approved structural changes including the elimination of the School of Preaching, which is being folded into the School of Theology. And while trustees postponed adoption of the fiscal year 2021 budget until mid-July, if necessary, the school acknowledged it has instituted budget cuts of about 25 percent, including faculty and staff layoffs.

The trustees also authorized the SWBTS administration to make distributions from the seminary’s unrestricted endowment. The decisions were part of the seminary’s response to the severe economic downturn related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re going to come through this,” SWBTS president Adam W. Greenway said in his report to the trustees. “We’re going to come through this stronger than ever before. We’re going to come through this in a way that I believe is only going to glorify God.”

Like some of its peer institutions, SWBTS has been forced by the pandemic to make rapid adjustments — including the closure of campus and moving all classes online for the spring and summer terms — as well as significant longer-term changes. In his report to trustees, Greenway told trustees they were called to make “difficult decisions,” but that they would allow the seminary “to not merely survive but to thrive moving forward.”

Trustees voted to rescind, effective immediately, a motion adopted by the Board of Trustees in 2015 to establish the School of Preaching as a separate school of the seminary. All areas of responsibility assigned to the School of Preaching — including faculty, curricula, degrees, centers and programs — have been reassigned to the School of Theology.

“The ability to rightly understand the biblical text and to faithfully interpret the Scriptures as the written Word of God lies at the core of the mission of the School of Theology, and it is incumbent upon us to keep these disciplines inextricably linked in the training of pastors and preaching,” Greenway said after the meeting. “Administratively separating the academic disciplines of hermeneutics and homiletics by graduate school structure does not best serve our students nor accurately reflect our institutional commitments. This structural change in no way impacts current preaching students, as they will continue to receive the best homiletical instruction with all the same curricular and degree offerings that exist currently.

“We remain fully devoted to the task of training text-driven preachers for the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention and look forward to the discipline of preaching resuming its natural place of prominence back within its original and longtime academic home at Southwestern Seminary, the School of Theology.”

Greenway said David L. Allen, who has served as dean of the School of Preaching, will continue in his faculty role as distinguished professor of preaching and as director of the Southwestern Center for Text-Driven Preaching, overseeing the seminary’s Preaching Source online resources, as well as conferencing and events related to preaching and preachers.

Other cuts were not detailed during the trustees’ meeting. But in a statement Monday (April 6), SWBTS said it was discontinuing its archaeology program “as part of campus-wide budgetary reductions necessitated by the financial challenges associated with COVID-19,” and described the move as “unavoidable.”

“As part of our institutional reset, we will no longer offer degrees in archaeology because they are incongruent with our mission to maximize resources in the training of pastors and other ministers of the Gospel for the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention,” the school said in the statement.

In recommending adoption of the fiscal year 2021 budget be postponed until “on or before July 15, 2020,” John Rayburn, chairman of the business administration committee, noted the budget is normally adopted during the trustees’ spring meeting. He said postponement was necessary because “the coming months are hard to predict” amid the pandemic.

“We’ve decided we need a little more time to watch what happens with this and all that’s going on in our world today before we can really come up with a realistic, informed budget,” Rayburn said.

SWBTS’ fiscal year 2020 budget is $34,815,439. In a statement released Wednesday (April 8) to Baptist Press, the school said it would achieve “budgetary reductions of approximately 25 percent campus-wide through a combination of faculty and staff position deletions, furloughs, and discontinuation of certain academic programs. These actions realign expenditures with reduced revenue projections while undergirding mission-critical academic programs and continuing the institution’s renewal begun last year.”

Trustees also authorized the seminary’s administration to “execute special endowment distributions as needed on or before Dec. 31, 2021, up to the total amount of the unrestricted portion of the seminary’s endowment,” which was last reported as $13,310,454.

“This is to give our administration the flexibility to deal with whatever comes up that they need to deal with,” Rayburn said, “because, again, we don’t know what all of the ramifications and effects of this COVID-19 are going to be.”

Trustees approved a routine annual recommendation from the committee to authorize the administration to designate any excess available funds at the conclusion of the current fiscal year for various purposes.

The trustees elected three faculty members who had been serving under presidential appointment. Jonathan W. Arnold was elected associate professor of church history and historical theology; Chris S. Osborne was elected professor of preaching and pastoral ministry; and Carl J. Bradford was elected assistant professor of evangelism.

The trustees also approved nine new degrees and the revision of several degrees.

In Scarborough College, trustees approved the Bachelor of Arts in Political Economy, Bachelor of Arts in International Studies, Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education and the Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration. In the Jack D. Terry School of Educational Ministries, trustees approved the Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, Doctor of Ministry and Doctor of Education; and in the School of Church Music and Worship, the Master of Theology.

The trustees voted to revise certain degrees within the Terry School, including the Master of Arts in Christian Education, Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling and Doctor of Educational Ministry. Also, the Master of Arts in Christian Apologetics in the Roy J. Fish School of Evangelism and Missions has been revised and renamed the Master of Arts in Great Commission Apologetics.

“Our administration is doing everything they can to make sure our degree offerings are going to produce the highest caliber servants and ministers, missionaries and leaders that our convention, communities, and world can see,” said Kevin Ueckert, chairman of the academic administration committee and pastor of First Baptist Church of Georgetown, Texas.

Ueckert said the new bachelor’s degrees, specifically, were “a great indication of the vision for Scarborough College to flourish and become everything it can be for the Kingdom of God moving forward.”

The trustees also approved a recommendation to amend the seminary’s bylaws. They adopted the Nashville Statement for the first time and reaffirmed the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood “as official guiding documents” expressing the seminary’s “convictional standards, expectations, and beliefs,” and functioning as “proper interpretations” of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, which serves as the seminary’s Confession of Faith and is signed by faculty.

Philip Levant, pastor of Iglesia Bautista La Vid in Hurst, Texas, was reelected as chairman of the board of trustees; Danny Roberts, executive pastor of North Richland Hills Baptist Church in North Richland Hills, Texas, was reelected as vice chairman; and Jamie Green, retired speech-language pathologist in Katy, Texas, was reelected as secretary.

In his report to the trustees, Greenway noted that conducting the meeting via video conference was a “history-making moment” necessitated by guidelines discouraging in-person meetings during the pandemic. He assured trustees that “when challenges come to Southwestern Seminary, Southwestern Seminary always stands ready to meet the challenge.”

“We have, for now over 112 years, navigated a world that was filled with depression and war and strife and all of the other challenges that would have made lesser institutions crumble and fail,” Greenway said. “Southwestern Seminary is not, as our founder B.H. Carroll said, a ‘two-by-four’ institution. This is, indeed, an institution with a heritage that is unparalleled, with opportunities set before us that I believe are very unique and distinct. And in this moment of crisis, there is a calling upon each of us … to rise up to meet the challenge.

“It does mean a call to difficult decisions. It does mean a call to fiscal prudence. It does mean a call toward making cuts today that will enable us to not merely survive but to thrive moving forward.”

Levant closed the meeting by inviting fellow trustees and administrators to remember that Easter Sunday is just a few days away.

“In these uncertain times, we have to remember that Sunday is coming,” Levant said, reflecting on the disciples’ uncertainty between Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. “We have to remember that the tomb was only a pause; that it was not the end, but was only the beginning — of our salvation, of eternal life, of God’s plan.”

“And I have that same faith for our seminary,” he continued, “that God still is going to be using Southwestern, not just in this generation, but in the generations to come. And I have the same faith that we have given our president and his administration the necessary tools to keep moving the seminary forward in these times of uncertainty. … The sun never sets on Southwestern Seminary.”

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