SWBTS Reform Part Three: The Cabinet

Section Five of the Southwestern Seminary bylaws states the following:

“The President’s Cabinet is chaired by the President and consists of the Executive Vice President and Provost, the Vice President for Business Administration, the Vice President for Institutional Advancement, the Vice President for Student Services, and the Vice President for Strategic Initiatives. The President’s Cabinet serves as a forum for consultation and coordination between the various entities of the Seminary.”

At present, the following men serve on the Interim President’s Cabinet. All of them except one were appointed by Paige Patterson. Three of them were elected by the trustee Executive Committee in special-called sessions apart from the full board’s regular meetings. These men are:

  1. Dr. Craig Blaising (Ph.D. Aberdeen; Th.D. DTS; Th.M. DTS; B.S. UT Austin)
  2. Dr. Charles Patrick (Ph.D. Rice; M.Div. SWBTS; B.S.Ch.E. LSU)
  3. Mr. Kevin Ensley (M.B.A. SMU; B.B.A. Texas A&M)
  4. Mr. Travis Trawick (Ph.D. cand. SWBTS; M.Div. SWBTS; B.S. Florida State)
  5. Dr. Kyle Walker (Ph.D. SWBTS; M.Div. SWBTS; B.S. Alabama)

It is difficult to understand how Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary could have suffered precipitous enrollment losses, the tragic decline of faculty and staff morale, or the prolonged financial hardships brought on by wasteful spending and misguided funding priorities without the complicity of some — if not all — of these five men.

Allow me to explain.

Craig Blaising is an aerospace engineer by training. He later pursued advanced degrees at Dallas Theological Seminary and the University of Aberdeen. He’s served as the president of the Evangelical Theological Society, and he’s an informed patristics scholar and highly-regarded progressive dispensationalist. Prior to his election as provost under former Southwestern President Ken Hemphill, Blaising was one of the early faculty hires at Southern Seminary under its new president, R. Albert Mohler.

The contrasted vantage point of seeing Southern Seminary’s enrollment begin to explode under Mohler versus the steady decline of Southwestern under Patterson leaves one wondering if Blaising was paying close attention at either school.  Moreover, Blaising is no academic lightweight, which raises serious questions about the advice he was giving to Patterson regarding Southwestern faculty hires. How did Southwestern end up with a theological journal nobody reads, seven distinct schools with a greatly-reduced student population, and a faculty deeply divided over personalities if Blaising were doing his job?

Did he never tell Patterson that the school was going in the wrong direction? Did he ever speak up to trustees — either privately or during reports to the board — about the fault lines that have split the campus so terribly in recent months? Did he even see them?  Did he care?

The seminary bylaws make Blaising’s job pretty clear:

“He shall have concern for the entire operation of the Seminary . . . shall review the faculty salary structure and recommend to the President salaries for faculty [and] he shall also monitor the expenditures for academic programs.”

At what point did Blaising’s “concern for the entire operation of the Seminary” give way to Pattersonian administrative, financial and theological misadventures? When Patterson was cutting faculty retirement benefits, reducing healthcare coverage, and limiting the outside earning opportunities of seminary professors, did Blaising ever say “stop”?

When millions were being spent on bogus Dead Sea Scraps and building million dollar retirement homes . . . when faculty were being bullied and the Baptist Faith & Message was being twisted to support all manner of Pattersonian doctrinal eccentricities, did Blaising ever speak a word of objection?

The Baptist Blogger hears almost daily from numerous corners of seminary life that faculty morale is at a record low. Even after Dilday’s and Hemphill’s firings, there remained a sense that the faculty was together in mutual love and support of the seminary, its mission, and its students.

Today, however, the divisions run deep.

Patterson’s eventual ouster and the trustee’s refusal to allow Blaising to accede to the role of Acting President as the bylaws stipulate — preferring instead to empower one of Blaising’s subordinates, Jeff Bingham — indicates they might have known something about Blaising’s support inside the faculty. Or at the very least, his ability to gain that support and trust in short order.

Simply put, they couldn’t let him take the seminary’s reins in earnest. For whatever reason.

An interesting side note: the word “provost” originally meant “the keeper of a prison.”  This curious etymology may, in fact, have become more culturally realized on campus than we knew during the regressive dispensation of Blaising’s tenure.

And now to the matter of the Vice President of Business Affairs, Kevin Ensley.

For several years now, Mr. Ensley has been fighting a valiant fight against cancer. We understand that during this time, he was also fighting back against the Pattersons’ accusations that he was guilty of administrative incompetence at Southwestern.

The Baptist Blogger would wish neither cancer nor the Pattersons on any Kingdom servant. So our sympathies are real, and our concern authentic.

But we are left with one brutal question: Did Patterson hold Ensley’s medical coverage over his head to force submission despite Ensley’s growing concern about the seminary’s fiscal condition?  Did he ever go to the trustees with his concerns, or was he forced to live in fear of Pattersonian retribution like so many others?

These questions need answers. And if the trustees were not being given accurate information about the seminary’s financial health, presidential expenditures, and budgetary priorities, then Kevin Ensley is in the unique role to come clean.

Nobody will hold it against him. The reign of terror made victims everywhere. At some point in such an environment, the desire to protect one’s family is a strong one. At other times, Stockholm Syndrome sets in. In either case, a full accounting of the seminary’s fiscal condition is owed to the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. As donors threaten to peel off, the convention deserves to know what impacts the loss of Patterson’s millionaire sycophants will mean to the seminary’s finances.

And the convention deserves to know what the end of Patterson’s ability to approve expenditures and sign checks will mean for the institution’s reserve accounts. Just how much did Pecan Manor cost the institution? And how did the Pattersons shuffle monies and spread expenses around to maintain the facade of their well-funded Potemkin Village?

Ensley is in a position to give those answers. And if he can’t — or won’t — then we’ve identified another layer of dysfunction on seminary hill.

Now for the rest of the cabinet.

We have very little to say about Dr. Charles Patrick except to note that he’s had one of the more unenviable responsibilities in recent years: spokesman for the Pattersons. I’m still not comfortable with the ridiculous press release he sent out last year announcing more lay-offs or how he handled the termination of a student worker who crossed the Pattersons. We are also aware of other terminations he handled at the seminary that raise questions about his ability to exercise independent administrative judgment.

Nonetheless, the trustees reversed Patrick’s termination of the $40,000/year Ph.D. student. And while I’m sure Patrick thought he was doing the right thing, the fact that he would think it was the right thing concerns us still.

We know little of Dr. Walker or Mr. Trawick, though we’ve heard good things about them both. In Walker’s case, we cannot begrudge his limited exposure to a coherent philosophy of higher education administration apart from a front-row seat to Paige Patterson’s meltdown.  You simply can’t hold a man responsible for what he doesn’t know and hasn’t been taught.

But neither do you elevate a man with such limited experience and narrow exposure to an influential Cabinet position without the resources to quickly attain this exposure and experience. This has been a pattern for Paige and Dorothy through the years, for obvious reasons and with predictable results.

Trawick, like Charles Patrick, has one of the more unenviable tasks at present. He has to keep up the fundraising while the Pattersons use seminary resources to continue pushing their allies to withhold donations or withdraw pledges to the school. All while Trawick is trying to finish his Ph.D. and support his family.

Trawick has been in the new role a little more than six months, which means he has had almost no perceptible hand in the seminary’s decline under Patterson. How he handles the next few months will prove his mettle, to be sure.

For now, the Baptist Blogger has one reform idea for Southwestern’s cabinet:

All five men should write an undated letter of resignation and give it to Interim President Jeffrey Bingham. A new Southwestern will require a new president.  And a new president will need men in his closest circle of confidence whom he can trust to help turn the school around.

These men may well earn that trust, but a new president will deserve the opportunity of a clean slate of administrative officers and the ability to accept previously proffered resignations without a scuffle.

Either that, or these men could follow the Pattersonian path and insist on their position to the detriment of the school’s health and reputation. If they choose the latter, it only reinforces why the former is needed.

Stay tuned . . .