Criswell College trustees ratify separation from church

DALLAS?The church that birthed W.A. Criswell’s vision of a school where ministers and lay leaders could study the Bible has relinquished control of the Dallas-based college, pending FCC and IRS approval of a new ownership agreement. The long and complex process of legally separating Criswell College from its founder, First Baptist Church of Dallas, was finalized Feb. 2 as the college’s trustees ratified legal documents endorsed by both entities.

Since its inception in 1970 as Criswell Bible Institute, transition to the Criswell Center for Biblical Studies and eventual identification as Criswell College, the school has been under the control of First Baptist through the election of trustees by members of the Dallas church. The bylaws stipulated at least 12 of the 21-member trustee board were to be drawn from among FBC members.

At various times the priorities of the school and the church led to differences, prompting changes in key leadership positions at the college. Criswell served as chancellor well beyond his tenure as pastor, remaining in the position until his death in 2002 at the age of 92. Subsequently, that title was bestowed on the pastor of the church.

Early in his administration, former college president Jerry Johnson discussed pursuit of the school’s independence, but failed to gain sufficient support from the church toward that end. Despite enrollment gains and a turnaround in the school’s financial condition, Johnson resigned in August 2008, citing philosophical differences with FBC pastor and school chancellor Robert Jeffress, and the trustee board.

College Interim President Lamar E. Cooper Sr. has guided the school for the past 17 months, navigating the difficult deliberations of the board and church leadership in seeking an amicable separation.

Cooper’s role was lauded last fall when he received the H. Paul Pressler Award for Distinguished Service at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention annual meeting in Lubbock. Pressler said Cooper had led the school “to reach an agreement satisfactory to all ? bringing to fruition an amicable and complete separation of Criswell College from First Baptist Church and established it as an independent institution of the SBTC which will lead its students in being great leaders of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Following the Feb. 2 meeting, which he attended, SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards told the TEXAN, “While the SBTC does not wish to own or control the Criswell College, the convention is excited about the new governance that allows more opportunities for the school’s growth and impact for the Great Commission.”

Noting that Criswell College is an SBTC partner “joined at the heart for the furtherance of the gospel,” Richards added, “A great door has been opened wider for Criswell College and the SBTC to reach Texas and touch the world.”

Terms of separation were approved by members of the church and the school’s trustees last summer, paving the way for a transition team to draft a Separation and Contribution Agreement. Church representatives signed final documents Jan. 30 before the called trustee meeting on Feb. 2. That morning the transition team voted unanimously to approve the separation agreement and the full board ratified the action in a noon meeting.

“Although it took longer than we expected to finalize the definitive separation agreement, we have ended up with an excellent document that thoroughly and clearly sets forth the terms of the separation,” stated Michael Deahl, trustee board chairman.

The joint action calls for the college to become an independent institution with a self-perpetuating board of trustees. Following the separation, the college will continue to be affiliated with the SBTC and the W.A. Criswell Foundation, with these entities nominating a significant portion of the college’s trustees, Deahl explained.

Each of the two entities will recommend eight trustees, while five at-large members will be named by the college. The new board of trustees, which includes some current members whose terms have not expired from the old board, will be responsible for ratifying new members.

One of the key components of the separation arrangement is a change in the status of radio stations currently owned and operated by the college, including KCBI-FM in Dallas, KCRN-AM and KCRN-FM in San Angelo, and KSYE-FM in Frederick, Okla. When the separation is completed, the ownership and operation of the radio stations will be transferred from the college to First Media Inc., a newly-formed corporation having the College and First Baptist Church as its sole members. FBC will exercise control over First Media, Inc. through the election of its trustees.

The separation will become official following expected FCC approval of the transfer of the ownership of the radio stations to First Media Inc. and IRS approval of tax-exempt status for First Media Inc. Deahl estimated those decisions would be made within 90 to 120 days.

Under the new plan, the church will continue operating the radio ministry, utilizing income generated from program support and donors, Cooper explained in a letter to alumni. He anticipates continued promotion of t

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