By now, many of us have become familiar with the latest drama involving Southwest Baptist University and the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC). In case you missed it, on February 4 news broke that the SBU Board of Trustees (controlled by the MBC) had denied tenure to three Behavioral Sciences professors after tenure had been approved at all earlier levels.
What has been especially shocking is that, to date, the Board of Trustees has yet to give an explanation regarding the decision to either the public or even to the affected professors. This has led some to speculate that the MBC plans to drastically alter or even axe certain programs as has been done at other Southern Baptist institutions. Remaining staff are also concerned about their futures, especially those who will be up for tenure in coming years.
Although many of us who neither study nor work at SBU may just dismiss this all as meaningless politics, the damage being done by the Board of Trustees to these academic programs will end up hurting the broader Bolivar and Polk County communities. There are two important reasons why ordinary Polk County residents should care.
First, the SBU Behavioral Sciences division has not only benefited students, but our local communities. Right now, there are about a dozen social work students serving as interns at agencies throughout the county. These interns have served at places like First Baptist Church, Community Outreach Ministries, Children’s Division, Bolivar Schools, CMH, and more. These interns are developing resources, aiding staff, and providing services to clients in our county.
Furthermore, as these students graduate, some stick around in Polk County and continue to serve with local employers as counselors, clinicians, and social workers, providing us with an educated, passionate workforce. Gutting the programs that generate these interns and employees will only hurt the overall health of our community.
Second, the questionable actions of the trustees is casting a shade over the university as a whole. Right now, the The Higher Learning Commission is investigating an accreditation complaint against SBU related to unethical practices and actions among the trustees and MBC. Whether this investigation impacts SBU’s accreditation remains to be seen, but the constant attacks on staff and programs will certainly not encourage growth at the university and may even discourage new students from coming. For the rest of us, this is bad news as SBU is one of the largest employers in the county and its students are a massive driver of local economic activity. The county’s well-being is tied to SBU’s well-being.
So what can we do? Even if you are not a student, staff member, or alumni of SBU, there is a degree to which you are a stakeholder. The decisions made by the Trustees do impact your local community for better or for worse. If you have benefitted from an SBU intern, write the trustees to inform them how valuable that academic program has been to you. If you know one of the affected staff members, defend them and demand answers. If you attend a Southern Baptist church, contact the MBC to express your frustration on how they are representing you. If you have none of those connections, find someone who does and ask them how you can help. This is our community and we have an obligation to care for it.
— Micah Titterington, 2010 SBU alumni and Bolivar resident