Southeastern Baptist Seminary Accused of Accreditation Violations
The Southern Assn. of Colleges and Schools has declared Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary deficient in three of the four categories used to accredit schools and says it is facing “institutional ineffectiveness” in the fourth area.
The 25-page report of the regional accrediting agency said intrusion by the fundamentalist-dominated board of trustees into academic affairs of the Southern Baptist seminary at Wake Forest, N.C., violated accreditation standards in areas of academic freedom, faculty selection, and organization and administration.
“Certainly it would appear that the board of trustees has exceeded its policy-making functions and is presently engaged in the administration of academic policy and appointments,” the report said.
In addition, the report last month said, the effectiveness of the institution is “low” following “open and public conflict between the faculty and the trustees . . . the prolonged impasse over the appointment of a new dean” and delays in appointing faculty for the 1989 spring term.
The report, based on a visit by a Southern Assn. study team in September, also cited an enrollment decline that “has serious implications for financial stability” at the school.
The president, dean and six other administrators of the school resigned in October, 1987, to protest efforts by the new board of trustees, dominated for the first time by fundamentalists, to ensure the teaching of biblical inerrancy on campus.
With few exceptions, students and faculty sided with the departing president and joined in peaceful protests both on campus and at church gatherings within the constituency of the seminary, against the trustees’ policies.
“The seminary is not functioning effectively as a scholarly community at present; nor is it functioning in conformity with the criteria” of academic freedom, the Southern Assn. report said.
Among 10 specific violations cited were investigation of the theological convictions of faculty “without due notification and faculty participation,” intrusion of the board of trustees “into traditional areas of faculty prerogative through the expanded role of (the board’s) committee on instruction” and interrogation by trustees of prospective faculty “concerning their views of biblical inerrancy.”
Also cited were surprise visits by the trustees to classrooms without professors’ consent and “denial of married student housing to a divorced minority female student with one child on the grounds that hers does not constitute a legitimate family.”
Under the category of faculty selection, the report said the requirement of belief in biblical inerrancy, imposed last fall as a condition of all new faculty hired, “was adopted without consultation with the administration or faculty of the school.” It charged that the board failed to follow procedures for amending the bylaws in enacting the biblical-inerrancy requirement.
“It appears that the seminary’s traditional understandings of faculty eligibility have been informally and arbitrarily changed,” the report said.
In addition, the report said, faculty participation in appointments has been “redefined as consultative,” with the trustees taking over the faculty’s previous role of recommending candidates.
“It would be difficult to overestimate the effects of these actions on the faculty,” the report continued. “Their sense is that they have been effectively removed from the process and that their ability to exercise their responsibility has been seriously curtailed.”
The report also criticized the move by the trustees to give responsibility for selecting part-time faculty to the new president and trustee instruction committee.
“The arbitrary nature” of that move “overturns established procedure and has created immense confusion in efforts to maintain an orderly curriculum,” the report said. It added that the new policy “essentially removes faculty from participation in such appointments and further curtails their ability to fulfill their academic responsibility.”
While noting that religious schools have a right to employ instructors with theologically compatible views, the report said the new trustees have moved “without regard for due process, institutional traditions and principles of academic freedom” in building a faculty of biblical inerrantists.
“Apparently, the board of trustees considers changes in the makeup of the Southern Baptist Convention a mandate to change the character of the seminary,” the report stated. “It has sought to bring this about by rather arbitrarily infringing upon the established traditions of the institution and ignoring its integrity.”
The report said the charter granted the school by the state of North Carolina “makes demands upon the board too.”
The board was faulted for its failure “to keep itself free from undue pressure from political, religious and other external bodies” and for failing to protect the administration from external pressures.
It added that the school violates Southern Assn. policy by failing to give faculty a “meaningful role” in “shared governance” of the school.
The report said faculty members “have an obligation to seek a solution” to the serious problems facing the school by seeking ways to “be in conversation with the board and its leadership. . . . They, too, must be reminded to avoid airing grievances in public.”
The Rev. Robert D. Crowley, pastor of Montrose Baptist Church in Rockville, Md., who is chairman of the board of trustees, said the board’s committee on instruction is responding to the Southern Assn. report.