SWBTS readies for fall on-campus instruction

FORT WORTH As the first Southern Baptist seminary to announce plans to resume on-campus instruction in the fall in an April 29 message to the seminary community, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Adam Greenway reaffirmed those intentions in a June 26 message following an increase in Texas coronavirus cases.

As of late June, some details about the seminary’s reopening plans were not finalized, but Greenway said significant renovations to the residence halls and other campus improvements and a “deep clean of the entire campus” will be completed before the semester begins on Aug. 17.

“I want to assure you that we are doing as much as we can to make the reopening of campus this fall as safe as possible,” Greenway said.

In the case of on-campus classroom instruction, Greenway said, “[W]e are implementing various procedures by which social distancing can be observed while still receiving the highest quality educational experience in the classroom. In some cases this will include limiting the size of classes; in others this may include having a single course meet in multiple locations.”

Additionally, “expanded online course offerings” will be available, including “live online classes, where students will join a class taking place on campus through videoconferencing technology, as well as our new eight-week online course format,” launched in March.

Although a June 25 Tarrant County order requiring use of facemasks in businesses does not apply to the seminary, Greenway advised students and faculty that facemasks are recommended in common areas on campus and other settings where people are gathered together.

Reflecting on the disrupted spring semester, in April Greenway praised the seminary’s faculty and Campus Technology team for their shift to entirely online instruction necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I have never been prouder to be a Southwesterner as our incredible faculty and staff seamlessly made this transition in the span of a few weeks to best serve our students,” he said.

Students and faculty also praised the transition.

Master of divinity student Brit Redfield from Mansfield admitted that while she missed the “person-to-person” interaction of the classroom, she said the seminary and professors made the fully-online spring semester experience a positive one.

“The school was very quick to get everything up and running so that we could seamlessly transition into our completely online portion of the semester,” Redfield said.

L.R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism Matt Queen said that because the seminary has had a strong online and distance-learning presence for many years, the change to online-only in the spring brought minimal problems.

Though COVID prevented an in-person commencement ceremony, the seminary awarded 336 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in May, the first time in 112 years the institution was unable to hold in-person commencement. Scarborough College, the seminary’s undergraduate school, saw its largest-ever graduating class.

In a video charge to graduates, Greenway expressed disappointment in not being able to celebrate their achievement together.

“This class will be one that will be remembered in the annals of the history of our seminary forever because you experienced a kind of disruption in the end of your studies as a seminary or a college student unlike anything we’ve ever known,” Greenway said.

He assured the graduates on behalf of the administration and faculty that “your alma matter stands with you. … Know that you are, indeed, Southwesterners. We are in this together as we work to continue to be found faithful.”

Spring 2020 graduates will be given the opportunity to participate in a future commencement ceremony.

Although the pandemic also prevented an in-person preview for prospective students, the seminary hosted a series of online “virtual previews,” resulting in a 165 percent increase in participation over spring 2019. Additionally, the seminary has received 63 percent more applications than the 2019 and 2018 spring previews combined.

Early indications are hopeful for a stable fall enrollment, although data will not be available for several months. Meanwhile, summer course enrollment saw a 24-percent increase in total hours taken by students compared to 2019, according to seminary officials.

In his April message to the seminary community, Greenway expressed the belief that God is at work through the pandemic.

“I am prayerful that God is using the coronavirus pandemic in a way that will make us more faithful ministers of the gospel and that will see the advancement of the gospel across the world,” he said. “As Robert E. Naylor, our fifth president, frequently said, ‘The sun never sets on Southwestern.’ That truism remains undiminished in our time, and it is our prayerful ambition that because of the training they receive here, our students will continue to be a part of fulfilling the Great Commission across Texas, throughout the United States and around the world.” 

Southwestern Seminary
James A. Smith Sr.
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