Damage control . . .

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Human nature is the same whether you have a Ph.D. from a Southern Baptist seminary or you sell goats’ milk along the Khyber Pass. When you sense you’ve come under attack, you want to defend yourself.  And probably you want to fight back.

If you are the popular president of a Southern Baptist institution, you probably want — very quickly — to appropriate the words that are emblazoned on the official crest of Sao Paulo, Brazil: “Non ducor duco”

I am not led. I lead.

But whatever you do, you’re probably unwise to take a page out of Patterson’s playbook. You can neither dismiss the matter, discredit the messenger, nor defy the means of denominational accountability in the Southern Baptist Convention. Nevertheless, if you are the president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, your chief academic officer will probably advise a Pattersonian path forward. Acorns don’t typically roll far from the oak tree.

That will get you nowhere.

So here’s what we would do if we were in receipt of a letter like the one sent on Monday.

  1. Overnight a response to the author of the letter that: (a) acknowledges receipt of the original correspondence; (b) thanks the author for the opportunity to respond; (c) assures the author that this matter is being taken seriously; and (d)makes clear that the letter has been shared with trustee leadership, who are aware of the accreditation status of the school have been asked to respond in a manner they deem appropriate.  Shorthand: Be polite, but don’t take the bait. Since this is your first interaction with the author, it is best to assume his sincerity and respond with equal, but cautious sincerity.
  2. Share the letter immediately with the trustee officers, and perhaps the entire trustee executive committee. Ask the chairman to make a response to the letter an item on the agenda for the forthcoming trustee meeting.
  3. Instruct your chief academic officer to prepare a report to the trustees detailing every action that has been taken to address the concerns raised by the Higher Learning Commission to date and lay out the schedule going forward. Demand that the report be fully transparent with the trustees, no stone unturned. Demand this report be completed within 24 hours, a timeline that should not be difficult if due diligence is already the standard.
  4. Ask the trustee chairman to formulate a response to this matter in the event that media inquiries are made concerning the HLC accreditation or faculty plagiarism.  Stick to the script. Say nothing on your own. Get behind your trustees. Take your own advice, and cool it on social media for a bit.
  5. Formulate an email to your faculty, have it reviewed by your trustee officers and perhaps your mentor, explaining that public concerns about academic integrity have been raised regarding Midwestern Seminary. Reaffirm the faculty. Ensure them that you are responding appropriately with trustee guidance. Then tell them to focus on their classroom work and ministering to students and let this matter be handled by the administration and trustees.
  6. Inform the president of the Southern Baptist Convention about this matter and apprise him of your response plan.
  7. Get back to your primary job of overseeing a great, growing seminary and devote only as much time to this as is required. Stop refreshing your browser.

We typically charge clients for this sort of counsel.  But today, we’re offering it for free.

One thought on “Damage control . . .

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