DALLAS?After months of negotiations, the trustees of Criswell College in Dallas took a first step on June 5 toward separating the school from its founding body, First Baptist Church of Dallas.
The unanimous vote sends the separation proposal, the terms of which were undisclosed and discussed by trustees in executive session, to the church for final approval. A change in ownership of the school and its radio station, KCBI-FM, would also require approval from the Federal Communications Commission and the school’s accrediting agency.
Trustee Chairman Michael Deahl, a Dallas attorney and a First Baptist member, said the proposed separation agreement would go to the church’s deacon body for a vote during a regularly scheduled meeting on June 16, then likely on to the church for a final vote near the end of June.
“I am pleased at the unanimous vote of our trustees in approving the basic terms for our change in governance,” said Criswell Interim President Lamar Cooper. “This governance change must also be approved by First Baptist Church of Dallas, and I am optimistic they will endorse it as well. This change will allow our administration to take the college to another level of success. I also am pleased that we have been able to accomplish this amicably, and trust that the college and church will continue to serve our Lord in a spirit of cooperation.”
Stating he strongly favors a separation, First Baptist Pastor Robert Jeffress said the separation agreement, though tentative, “allows for both the college and the church to pursue their unique ministry callings without unnecessary entanglements,” according to a report in the Dallas Morning News.
Deahl appointed a six-member transition committee to report back by Aug. 31 with proposed bylaw changes if the church approves the separation this summer. The team includes trustees Curtis Baker, chairman, Jack Brady, Jack Pogue, Paul Pressler, SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards, and Cooper. Deahl will serve ex-officio on the transition committee at the behest of Baker. The trustees would then vote on the recommendations in their next scheduled meeting on Sept. 25.
A five-member ad hoc committee of the Criswell College trustees began studying the school’s relationship with the church late last year following disagreement among trustees over the school’s governance and the ownership of KCBI-FM.
Beginning in December, church and school leaders began negotiating the terms of a proposed separation.
The church launched the college in 1969 when founding chancellor W.A. Criswell announced his vision for an institution that would provide biblical training for Sunday School teachers, other laymen and pastors who had not completed college-level ministerial training. The first classes were held in 1970. Today, nearly 400 students attend undergraduate and master’s-level courses.
On May 22 of last year, the board resolved “not to take any action to separate the College and KCBI from the Church at this time,” while not prohibiting designated representatives from further discussions.
Last summer about 40 alumni gathered prior to a trustee meeting and discussed their concern for the school’s future after Jerry Johnson resigned as the school’s president, citing philosophical differences with the chancellor and the trustee board.
An alumni association resolution encouraged the board to promote and advance the school’s independence, describing their support of the trustees as contingent on having “at the forefront the best interests of the Criswell College.”
The notion of the SBTC having a more prominent role was introduced by the state convention’s executive board last Aug. 12 with the passage of a resolution expressing a desire to be part of the solution to ongoing discussion about the school’s future. Criswell College is the only four-year college affiliated with the SBTC. Criswell received $312,977 in the 2008 budget, the largest line item in the SBTC’s allocations to facilitating ministries in Texas. The convention has a non-budgeted ministry partnership with Houston Baptist University.
“Today was an important first step in Criswell College’s future ministry,” said Richards, the SBTC executive director. “I’m grateful that we were able to take this step in a way that was mutually agreeable to all parties. I look forward to continued ministry alongside this great and significant educational institution.”