Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Continues Institutional Reset, Pauses Budget Finalization Due to Coronavirus

FORT WORTH (BP) — Meeting via video conference Tuesday (April 7), the Board of Trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary approved structural changes including the elimination of the School of Preaching, which is being folded into the School of Theology. And while trustees postponed adoption of the fiscal year 2021 budget until mid-July, if necessary, the school acknowledged it has instituted budget cuts of about 25 percent, including faculty and staff layoffs.

The trustees also authorized the SWBTS administration to make distributions from the seminary’s unrestricted endowment. The decisions were part of the seminary’s response to the severe economic downturn related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re going to come through this,” SWBTS president Adam W. Greenway said in his report to the trustees. “We’re going to come through this stronger than ever before. We’re going to come through this in a way that I believe is only going to glorify God.”

Like some of its peer institutions, SWBTS has been forced by the pandemic to make rapid adjustments — including the closure of campus and moving all classes online for the spring and summer terms — as well as significant longer-term changes. In his report to trustees, Greenway told trustees they were called to make “difficult decisions,” but that they would allow the seminary “to not merely survive but to thrive moving forward.”

Trustees voted to rescind, effective immediately, a motion adopted by the Board of Trustees in 2015 to establish the School of Preaching as a separate school of the seminary. All areas of responsibility assigned to the School of Preaching — including faculty, curricula, degrees, centers and programs — have been reassigned to the School of Theology.

“The ability to rightly understand the biblical text and to faithfully interpret the Scriptures as the written Word of God lies at the core of the mission of the School of Theology, and it is incumbent upon us to keep these disciplines inextricably linked in the training of pastors and preaching,” Greenway said after the meeting. “Administratively separating the academic disciplines of hermeneutics and homiletics by graduate school structure does not best serve our students nor accurately reflect our institutional commitments. This structural change in no way impacts current preaching students, as they will continue to receive the best homiletical instruction with all the same curricular and degree offerings that exist currently.

“We remain fully devoted to the task of training text-driven preachers for the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention and look forward to the discipline of preaching resuming its natural place of prominence back within its original and longtime academic home at Southwestern Seminary, the School of Theology.”

Greenway said David L. Allen, who has served as dean of the School of Preaching, will continue in his faculty role as distinguished professor of preaching and as director of the Southwestern Center for Text-Driven Preaching, overseeing the seminary’s Preaching Source online resources, as well as conferencing and events related to preaching and preachers.

Other cuts were not detailed during the trustees’ meeting. But in a statement Monday (April 6), SWBTS said it was discontinuing its archaeology program “as part of campus-wide budgetary reductions necessitated by the financial challenges associated with COVID-19,” and described the move as “unavoidable.”

“As part of our institutional reset, we will no longer offer degrees in archaeology because they are incongruent with our mission to maximize resources in the training of pastors and other ministers of the Gospel for the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention,” the school said in the statement.

In recommending adoption of the fiscal year 2021 budget be postponed until “on or before July 15, 2020,” John Rayburn, chairman of the business administration committee, noted the budget is normally adopted during the trustees’ spring meeting. He said postponement was necessary because “the coming months are hard to predict” amid the pandemic.

“We’ve decided we need a little more time to watch what happens with this and all that’s going on in our world today before we can really come up with a realistic, informed budget,” Rayburn said.

SWBTS’ fiscal year 2020 budget is $34,815,439. In a statement released Wednesday (April 8) to Baptist Press, the school said it would achieve “budgetary reductions of approximately 25 percent campus-wide through a combination of faculty and staff position deletions, furloughs, and discontinuation of certain academic programs. These actions realign expenditures with reduced revenue projections while undergirding mission-critical academic programs and continuing the institution’s renewal begun last year.”

Trustees also authorized the seminary’s administration to “execute special endowment distributions as needed on or before Dec. 31, 2021, up to the total amount of the unrestricted portion of the seminary’s endowment,” which was last reported as $13,310,454.

“This is to give our administration the flexibility to deal with whatever comes up that they need to deal with,” Rayburn said, “because, again, we don’t know what all of the ramifications and effects of this COVID-19 are going to be.”

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Source: Baptist Press