Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary needs to get its act together in regard to the institution’s budget, president David Dockery told staff during an Aug. 9 annual meeting.
As the seminary enters a new academic year, leaders have to figure out how to face the financial crisis that has put the institution on a warning status with its accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
“We all know that the financial challenges at Southwestern are very real,” Dockery said during the meeting.
Details of the seminary’s spending spurred discord among current and former trustees. After former president Adam Greenway resigned in September 2022, the board of trustees formed a task force the following month to review expenditures of the institution and Greenway’s spending habits. Aaron Sligar, a former pastor at Living River Chapel, joined the review team in March.
Sligar and other task force members reported their findings during an April 2023 meeting. Sligar told Religion News Service that he got “volumes” of receipts for Greenway’s spending but was shut down when he asked for details on the expenditures of other leaders. Sligar told Religion News Service that subsequently he called for a forensic audit of the seminary, but his request was denied.
When Sligar and another trustee asked for a special meeting to address their concerns, which occurred May 30. After the meeting, Chairman Danny Roberts suggested that the Board of Trustees publish the “audited financials as one comprehensive report,” according to Roberts’ statement.
The seminary now faces a $140 million deficit, according to a summary of findings of the Southwestern Seminary Board of Trustees Task Force that was released June 7. The seminary’s accreditor, The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, placed the institution on a warning on June 23 for failing to demonstrate compliance with board governance, financial resources and financial responsibility.
Greenway’s spending was criticized by trustee members in a June 7 statement that also released the summary of findings. Sligar, who quit the board in June, told Religion News Service that Greenway didn’t deserve all the blame for the seminary’s current financial state. According to a June 2 statement, Sligar accused the seminary’s “executive committee of a lack of transparency and withholding information from trustees,” an accusation current trustees deny.
Jonathan Richard, pastor of a church in New Mexico and current chairman of the board of trustees for the seminary, published a statement on Aug. 7 where he accused Sligar of making “reckless and false claims about the board.”
“It is my opinion that Sligar’s actions as a trustee — and especially now as a former trustee — disqualify him from holding any position of leadership in Southern Baptist life,” Richard said in the Aug. 7 statement.
Sligar told the Report that he would not provide comment.
What’s next for the seminary?
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has two years to address the warning before its accreditor reviews the seminary’s financial status again in June.
“Much work was done this past year in trying to restructure and give some new direction to the budget,” Dockery said during the annual faculty and staff meeting Aug. 9.
Dockery stated that the seminary’s monthly payroll for the year decreased by abouty $1.5 million for July 2023, as the institution has 35 fewer full-time employees compared to the previous academic year. He also announced a sale of five acres of the Carroll Park Apartments property, formerly used for student housing. Dockery also said that there are plans on “closing on the remaining 15 acres in the coming months.”
What will happen in June 2024?
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges states in the warning it will have the following options for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:
- Remove the institution from warning without an additional report.
- Remove the institution from warning and request a fifth-year follow-up report
- Continue accreditation of the institution with the institution on warning, requesting a monitoring report with or without a special committee authorized.
- Continue accreditation and place the institution on probation, request a monitoring report and authorize a special committee.
- Remove the institution from membership for failure to comply with the principles of accreditation.
“A warning is not probation,” Dockery said during the annual meeting and added that a warning “is what it says it is: a warning to Southwestern, ‘Get your act together.’”
Marissa Greene is a Report for America corps member, covering faith for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter at @marissaygreene.
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