The Patterson firing Pt. 2


The tape began recording at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, February 22, 1985.  Present in the meeting was Dr. Russell Dilday, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Also present were Curtis Vaughan, John Newport, and Bill Tolar.

And of course, Farrar Patterson was there.

Dr. Dilday began:

“It is February 22, 1985 at 11:00 a.m. and we have come together to meet in compliance with the bylaws step suggested on page 17 in our faculty manual related to the bylaws of the seminary suggesting that if reconciliation over a personnel matter cannot be effected through informal discussions, then we meet for formal discussions and that formal charges shall be discussed with the faculty member involved, the dean, the vice president of academic affairs and the president, and the faculty member shall feel free to request the presence of a colleague in these discussions.  So we have Dr. Farrah Patterson and his colleague, Dr. Curtis Vaughan.”

Tolar interrupted:

“Is it beyond the realm of informal discussions up to this point? I am asking for information — are we at the point of the formal, or is it still in the realm of possibility that the informal discussions between you and Farrar?

Dilday responded:

“We are at a formal step as outlined here, but I think the indication in the bylaws is that if some negotiated agreement can be reached even at this stage, then you can move on to a solution without progressing to the full steps outlined in the manual.  To that extent, I would assume that at any point where that becomes possible we can continue on that line. So the door is wide open for that, although officially we have moved from what the bylaws describe as an informal kind of confidential level to a more formal step. But if in this discussion we come to some agreements, or negotiations, then that is perfectly O.K.”

From that point, Farrar Patterson clarified that he was eager to hear the formal charges against him, though he hoped to avoid “forcing” the matter to the trustees.  Dilday then outlines the history that had brought them to an impasse:

“I believe it was the 14th of January that I called Dr. Patterson following the faculty meeting to ask him to come down to the office as soon as possible to talk about a very important matter. His response was that he couldn’t come, just to drop everything at my call at that point. I insisted that it dealt with his future here at the seminary and would wait as long as necessary but we needed to talk before he left that day. I told him to call me back as soon as he could arrange his schedule to come to the office. He called back to say that he would be there. He appeared with Cal Guy who said he wanted to meet with us. I told that that this would not be possible and met with Dr. Patterson alone.

“I shared my concerns over the past years and the incidents of the past few days indicating that we had reached a point where we could no longer tolerate this behavior and I asked him to resign or face steps taken to dismiss him. I needed a reply soon as to whether he would pursue the informal steps outlined in the bylaws or else we would move to the formal steps of dismissal.  He said he would need until February 11 to decide that. So we set a meeting date for February 11. It was made clear that these discussions were to be confidential if we were to continue with informal discussions. A few days later, I heard from Davis Cooper. Someone had called him and Jimmy Draper about this matter indicating the word had already spread.”

Farrar Patterson responded and clarified why he had asked Dr. Cal Guy to join him in the Jan. 14 meeting.  Dilday noted that despite the requirement of confidentiality for the informal process to proceed, Cal Guy had been “talking to others.” about the Patterson debacle.  Farrar insisted that he was within his rights to talk about Dilday’s request for his resignation with attorneys and “several advisors.”

Dilday then reads quotations from his Jan. 14 notes:

“I offered him a choice between two approaches: (1) continued negotiations related to the informal stage of our procedure, or (2) proceed with formal steps outlined in the manual. Dr. Patterson said, ‘If you continue this — hurt me and my family, you will die paying for it.’ I asked him again to repeat that threat and he said, ‘I say it to you again, if you continue this and hurt my family, you will die paying for it. You will lose your job. You are selfish, vindictive, hurtful. You are out of your gourd.’ He threatened to publish this on the front page of the Star-Telegram and when he was through with me . . . “

Patterson interrupted: “Wait just a minute.”

Dilday continued:

“Let me complete and then you can answer — when he was through with me before the Board I would be ruined. I told him if he chose to move to the formal stage of procedure, he would be suspended from class teaching responsibilities and meet with the dean, vice president and me with a faculty colleague (not Dr. Guy). He said he wouldn’t trust me — that I lied.  And he hung up the phone. Then that ended that day…”

By this point in the negotiations, Patterson had been suspended from teaching responsibilities and his classes were covered by other faculty. Having been an elected and tenured — back when tenure was a possibility for a Southwestern professor — Patterson asserted his right to be terminated only by the trustees.  Dilday called his bluff and moved forward with a recommendation at the spring trustee meeting that Patterson be fired outright.

But a 2/3 majority of the trustees — the number required by the seminary bylaws — would not vote to fire Farrar Patterson.  And he stayed on payroll without any teaching responsibilities. As best we can tell, he did not have a 10,000 sqft. residence on campus paid for by Southern Baptist churches.

What he did have were allies on the seminary board of trustees. And he was an open line of information about the internal workings of the seminary whom they were careful to protect. In the end, however, concerns about Patterson’s use of profanity, his secret recordings, his classroom performance, and his church participation proved too convincing — or perhaps too problematic — for his trustee confidants to countenance.

Jimmy Draper was one of the handful of trustees who did not vote to fire Farrar Patterson in the Spring of 1985. Later that year, at the Fall 1985 trustee meeting, the trustees voted to fire Patterson. But not before he’d received a year’s compensation.

So let’s recap our lessons to date:

  1. If you choose the path of formal termination at Southwestern instead of voluntary resignation, you may survive a vote of the trustees.
  2. On the first vote.
  3. Eventually, if you choose termination over resignation, you will be likely be terminated. Those who have supported you in your “righteous cause” will slowly, but surely, die off or peel away.
  4. If you are terminated, you may choose to file a lawsuit. And you will do so alone.
  5. If you file a lawsuit, you will likely lose.
  6. While you are fighting your losing battle, you will not be given access to a seminary classroom to make your case to students studying for ministry.
  7. The above holds true whether you are a male professor in the 1980s or a female professor in the 2000s.
  8. When the dust settles, you will likely not teach again in a higher education context because even if you are 100 percent right, litigious and stubborn intrepidity tend to tarnish the most sterling curriculum vitae. There are exceptions, but they are few.
  9. And without a seminary willing to hire you, you become the proverbial bridesmaid who never catches the bouquet.
  10. It’s best to resign.

Now a final point before we continue with Part Three of the Patterson Firing . . .

Southwestern Seminary has a history of taking very seriously the church participation of its professors. In fact, failure to serve faithfully in a local church has been grounds for dismissal from the faculty.  But Southwestern also remains one of the few Southern Baptist institutions that will not allow a professor to serve concurrently in a ministry staff position.

Full-time pastors, on the other hand, are advised to enroll and take full-time course loads. The outdated CP funding formula, and all.

These incongruities warrant further examination.

Stay tuned . . .


Transcriptions of the meetings between Russell Dilday and Farrar Patterson are located in the Russell Kaemmerling papers, Archives and Special Collections, Library at Southeastern, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, NC. The secret recording of some of these meetings became a subject of Baptist controversy in the mid-1980s.


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