An agenda for reform at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Introduction


Paige and Dorothy Patterson still occupy the presidential home on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The Baptist Blogger has received several unconfirmed reports that Interim President Jeff Bingham has moved to reduce the staff serving the presidential home to a skeleton crew, down to a few hospitality employees from the bloated personal and administrative corps required to satisfy Pattersonian spendthriftiness.  We are reliably informed that Bingham’s move to exercise plenipotentiary command of the seminary is well underway, and early efforts by some Patterson loyalists to impose punitive measures against the school — including the recall of donor commitments — have started to die down.

Southwestern is no doubt in crisis. Enrollment will likely take another major hit this Fall, and with enrollment shortfalls come increased financial constraints because of how the Cooperative Program seminary funding formula works. Even keeping the lights on at the seminary is an increasingly real problem these days.

Inequities in faculty salaries continue, with Patterson loyalists occupying the highest-paid positions as endowed chairs, department heads, deans, and posts on the seminary cabinet. The sense that the faculty is divided between Patterson’s deputies and those who refuse a blood-oath to the erstwhile president is mitigated by virtue of the summer break.  Come August, these crises will erupt full force unless Bingham is empowered to address them, head-on. Without decisive action on numerous fronts, the ongoing palace intrigue and alliance-forming will spill into the classrooms. The seminary’s mission — to equip God-called men and women to fulfill the Lord’s calling on their lives — will suffer.

Jeffrey Bingham now faces some very hard decisions. Circumstances may require a few terminations, several demotions, and more than a handful of reprimands of existing employees.

Indeed, these are the times that try trustees’ souls.

Ending the reputation of theological authoritarianism, practical chauvinism, fiscal mismanagement, and administrative terror at the school will not happen unless the Pattersons are evicted forthwith from their campus palace, prohibited from holding meetings with faculty, staff and students on the seminary grounds, and denied access to any seminary resource that could possibly be used in pursuit of an ongoing campaign of dissension.

This sounds drastic, to be sure.  But tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered.

Southern Baptists must not forget that the trustees have wrought this predicament. Had they acted swiftly when first learning of Patterson’s handling of campus rape and placed him on immediate administrative leave, they would have forced him to meet with them and brought the rogue executive to heel.

That the trustees did not place Patterson on immediate leave when he rejected the trustee chairman’s request to review all presidential press releases is troubling.  You simply cannot let a man run amok with $276 million in institutional assets and $40 million-a-year in revenues.

Nevertheless, what’s done is done. And while the trustees owe it to Southern Baptists to provide a full accounting of what has happened at the school — administratively, financially, culturally, and pedagogically — the road ahead should capture our greater attention.

As Jeff Bingham said eloquently during his report to the convention, we must look to the future of the seminary while reflecting responsibly on its past.

Over the next several days, The Baptist Blogger will publish an agenda for reform at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Tomorrow, we will publish Part Two: the Faculty.  Other installments will follow: the Cabinet, the Campus, the College, the Curriculum, the Chapel, and finally, the Committee.  We will then post a brief excursus on actions the SBC Executive Committee could take to help the situation, without running afoul of either the seminary and committee charters or risking a breach of institutional autonomy and trustee authority.

Stay tuned . . .