SWBTS Board of Visitors hears progress report from interim president

Editor’s note: This report is posted while the board continues to meet. We will post more complete coverage as we have it

FORT WORTH, Texas—Last May, most students, faculty, staff and donors could not imagine Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) without Paige Patterson as president. By June 13, only the most optimistic of his supporters still thought he had a chance at regaining the emeritus status they felt he deserved.

July came and went with no word of a separation agreement to spell out the benefits afforded to the 15-year SWBTS leader who spent most of the month hospitalized, battling a rare kidney problem. Prominent donors, led by Houstonian Gary Loveless, demanded answers from the trustee board as to why Patterson had been forced into retirement in the wee hours of May 23, only to be dismissed by the executive committee a week later and told of that decision while traveling in Germany.

By August, four trustees each independently confirmed to the TEXAN that Patterson was still receiving all of his salary and benefits in spite of a stalemate over how he and SWBTS would separate. By September, classes had resumed, anxieties were said to have calmed, and a fresh face opened chapel each Tuesday and Thursday.

Meanwhile, the executive committee continued meeting regularly with interim president Jeffrey Bingham to guide the transition to new leadership. Board of Trustees chairman Kevin Ueckert named a search committee to be approved at the full board meeting held on campus, Oct. 16-17. That group began holding prayer meetings and townhall sessions with faculty, staff and students in the weeks prior to the gathering of the full board.

On Sunday, Oct. 14—just days before trustees returned and nearly five months after Patterson had agreed under pressure to retire and finish out his service as president emeritus while living on campus in the Baptist Heritage Center—donors and other seminary supporters gathered for their semi-annual Board of Visitors (BOV) meeting in the student center. A few dozen administrators and staff members worshipped alongside about 40 BOV participants, all who had braved an unseasonably stormy night. Most of the BOV members who spoke with the TEXAN said they expected to hear answers that would satisfy their lingering questions about Patterson’s fate, who turns 76 this week. Bingham gave a message from Mark, describing the “pain-crushing” worry and concern early believers had about the future. He likened it to similar concerns surrounding the school’s future and offered a picture of how Southwestern Seminary was moving forward, noting the 650 new students on campus from 25 different countries, speaking 13 different languages.

Bingham praised God that “in a year of bumps and bruises” the seminary experienced a higher fall enrollment this year than 2017. Students have told him they sense a new spirit on campus, he said, noting this sentiment was echoed by chapel speakers. Aware that many of the night’s visitors were hoping to find a reason to continue supporting the school, Bingham paid tribute to the faculty, staff and students who had proven themselves to be the “well-oiled institution” that was moving forward.

By Monday morning, additional BOV members arrived for a five-hour, whirlwind meeting. BOV chairman Jimmy Draper joined Bingham and interim academic dean George Klein in panel discussions with SWBTS deans and faculty. Updates were offered on projects like the Global Theological Initiatives and deans pitched ideas for funding special events or programs that could not continue at previous levels without additional financial giving. Some longtime contributors left the meeting early, telling the TEXAN they weren’t sure whether they would come back next spring to the next BOV meeting, while others found silver linings in the higher enrollment and promises of continued conversation about the past, present and future of Southwestern Seminary in a post-Patterson era.

Additional reporting found at swbts.edu

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