SWBTS Reform Part Two: Faculty

The enrollment at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary reached a forty-year low under the leadership of Leighton Paige Patterson. The number of full time students reported to the Southern Baptist Convention was 1,249 in 2017, marking a ten-year drop of more than 700 students.  This year, it dropped again to 1,222. (See Page 85).

Meanwhile, the total number of full-time faculty has held steady, hovering just above the 100 mark, down from a Patterson-era high of 119 in the 2008-2009 academic year. (See pages 237-8, here)

Note: The last year Russell Dilday gave the Southwestern report to the convention, there were 3,171 full time students and 105 elected faculty. (See pages 263-64, here).

Or put another way, the current student-to-full-time faculty ratio at Southwestern Seminary is 12-to-1.  At the end of Dilday’s tenure, the ratio was 30-to-1, though there were several dozen adjunctive faculty under contract and teaching regularly. This coming Fall semester, there is at least one scheduled course at Southwestern to be taught by an adjunctive faculty member (See PRCHG-3313-A). Most other courses will taught by the remaining full-time faculty.

This trajectory is unsustainable.

The Baptist Blogger has been made aware of another problem area resulting from Patterson-era faculty expansions. In 2015, for instance, SWBTS trustees authorized the creation of the School of Preaching, which constituted the 7th school at the seminary.  David Allen, himself a former trustee and Patterson-appointed dean of the School of Theology, transitioned to the new school and kept the title “dean.”

Seven schools means seven deans, at least. Currently, the Southwestern website lists nine distinct schools: The School of Theology; the School of Missions and Evangelism; the School of Preaching; the School of Church and Family Ministries; the School of Church Music; Scarborough College; the Havard School; Women’s Programs, and Archaeology Programs.

Southern Seminary, with more than double the FTE enrollment of Southwestern, only has three schools. Mohler, soon after his election, unified the core M.Div. curriculum, eliminating academic reduplication and closing the Carver School of Church Social Work. He caught hell for it, but the pruning worked.  Today, Southern is the largest theological institution in the Evangelical world.

In Texas — at least for the Pattersons — bigger has always meant better. Unless you’re talking enrollment, of course.

By expanding the number of schools, Patterson was able to increase the number of deans reporting to him and create sinecures of negligible academic benefit to the students or administrative efficiency for the institution. He could, as it were, have a half-dozen deans while Al Mohler only has three.

Which brings me to our present concern.

The faculty of Southwestern Seminary is exceedingly top-heavy. There are more deans than necessary — which means more expense to the school — and at least one of the men who’s benefited from accumulative Pattersonian kingdom-building brings neither significant scholarly contribution nor administrative expertise to the job.

Which brings us to Dr. Waylan Owens.

Consider just for fun’s sake that that Owens, whom Dorothy Patterson nominated to serve as the Convention Registration Secretary at the 2017 annual meeting, garnered a meager 28.8 percent of the vote.

His loss notwithstanding, Owens returned to Southwestern last year and continued in his role as Dean of the School of Church and Family Ministries, Associate Dean of the Research Doctoral Program, and full Professor of Church and Family Ministries.

(Side Note: Owens biography states that he formerly served as Vice President for Planning and Communication at Southeastern Seminary.  In fact, he never held such a title. He had, however, served in teaching roles at the middle and junior high levels. His doctoral research at New Orleans seminary examined the concept of “water” in the Bible.)

Patterson hailed Owens as an “accomplished biblical scholar, with a track record of remarkable achievement in every conceivable area of pastoral ministry,” and eventually named him Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment. This post ostensibly put Owens in charge of the seminary’s accreditation review.

What, then, is Owens present scholarly contribution to Southwestern?

  1. For the past year, Owens principle classroom responsibility has been the teaching of a course styled RECMN-4323.  The three-hour course met on Mondays from January 1, 2018 to May 5, 2018 in Room 216 of the seminary’s J.M. Price Hall.  He is scheduled to teach it again this Fall, beginning August 23rd and ending December 14th.

    And what exactly is this course, you ask?

    “Ministry Through the Outdoors.”

    The course description is telling:  “A study of the biblical, theological, and programmatic foundations that guide the utilization of the outdoors as a ministry to men and boys. Special attention will be given to ministry programs that strengthen the church and family relationships, outdoor skills, safety, and the stewardship and conservation of natural resources.”

    We’re guessing his doctoral work on “water” has some bearing on his theology of conservation and natural resources.  What an M.Div. student would get from Owens graduate level course that any 10 year-old Boy Scout doesn’t get at the annual Jamboree is unclear.

    But we digress . . .

  2. Owens is responsible for one two-hour doctoral reading seminar, and one four-hour seminar on “Family Ministry in the Church,” a course billed as “a study of the Scripture’s view of Family Ministry in the church, including the basis, structure, function, purpose, and place of Family Ministry.”  “Students,” we are informed, “will evaluate current and historic models and approaches to Family Ministry against the teachings of Scripture in an effort to determine what Family Ministry is, where it fits in the church, and how it should be engaged.”All well and good . . .
  3. Owens leads a course course styled RSRCH-7002-A: “Advanced Academic Writing Practicum.”  In this two-hour course, Owens ostensibly provides young scholars at Southwestern Seminary “instruction, practice, and critique of academic writing and an introduction into academic research.”  Students completing the course will “demonstrate ability to produce scholarly writing.”It is this last area that draws our greatest concern.

Given that Owens is charged with teaching Southwestern’s doctoral candidates in the skills of scholarly writing, we thought it might be interesting to review his own scholarly writing.

As best we can tell, Owens’s singular contribution to any scholarly publication in the last fifteen years is a book review of Building faith at home: Why faith at home must be your church’s #1 priority for the Spring 2010 edition of Biola University’s Christian Education Journal.  Owens’s review begins:

“Could this book be the most important work for the local church so far in this century? Only time will answer that question . . . ”

Insert eye roll here.

Owens has also provided “Seven Reasons why I will vote for Donald Trump,” an analysis for SBC Life entitled “A Different Look at the Frog,” and a handful of other pedestrian musings at Southwestern’s faculty blog, Theological Matters.

Apart from this, his pen has largely run dry.  And it’s just staggering.

How can a man who contributes next-to-nothing to the scholarly enterprise be tasked with training a new generation of writing scholars? How can he be given the title “Associate Dean of the Research Doctoral Program” when he conducts no meaningful research?  On what planet does a course in water conservation and campfire sing-a-longs rise to the level of graduate theological education?  And how can a man with almost no supervisory responsibility of staff in his previous administrative or church ministry posts rise to a deanship at Southern Baptist’s one-time largest seminary?

To answer that, you have to go back and watch Dorothy’s nominating speech.

He simply made the Patterson’s happy. By which, I mean he made Dorothy happy.

Herein lies one of the root problems at Southwestern. The faculty has been built over the last 13 years — or at the very least administered — by a cult of personality.

Apart from interim president Jeffrey Bingham and the school’s long-time provost, the spoils of institutional sinecures have largely been awarded at whim to inexperienced men and women claiming minimal church experience and very thin academic records.

The head may have been severed, but the flailing tentacles yet have life.

Reforming the seminary must begin with a new standard for promotions. Deanships, indeed entire schools, must be eliminated and the school’s core M.Div. program must be re-emphasized. The curriculum and course offerings of a growing seminary bearing the imprimatur of the Southern Baptist Convention must reflect the churches’ need for rigorous pastor-theologians and not a proliferation of applied course offerings in homemaking, or campfire building, or Dead Sea Scroll authentication for that matter.

Stay tuned . . .