After alumni and students created a petition calling for Southwest Baptist University’s board of trustees to reverse recent decisions regarding faculty tenure and employment, the university announced the board reversed some of its previous decisions.
According to an SBU news release, the board of trustees met Tuesday, Feb. 16, in a called meeting “to reconsider matters related to promotion and tenure for eligible faculty members and to discuss the presidential search.”
The board shared a statement in response to “the concerns expressed by students, faculty, and alumni,” the release stated.
“We, as the SBU Board of Trustees, care deeply about the concerns of students, faculty, staff, administration, and every Missouri Baptist who faithfully supports the mission of SBU,” the release stated.
In accordance with the normal promotion and tenure process for faculty at SBU, the university’s Educational Policies and Personnel Committee reviewed the promotions of four faculty members and the tenure of eight faculty members and made recommendations to the full board on Tuesday, Jan. 12, according to the release.
“During two meetings, Jan. 12 and Feb. 16, the committee interviewed several tenure candidates, deliberated on all candidates, and recommended the majority of faculty for promotion or tenure,” the release said.
With recommendations from SBU’s interim president Brad Johnson and provost Lee Skinkle, the full board ultimately awarded tenure to six faculty and promotions to three faculty, according to the release.
The release does not provide names for the faculty members involved.
“We are thankful for all of the work of the faculty and administration that went into this process,” the release stated. “We are also grateful for the students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees and friends who care deeply for Southwest Baptist University. The board understands the weight of these decisions and wants to clarify that every employee is a valued person, and even those with whom there may be disagreement, we hold in high esteem.”
According to the release, the board’s executive committee plans to invite a faculty senate delegation to meet and discuss faculty concerns and “work toward a sincere spirit of unity.”
“We know in Christ that this is both a worthy goal and an attainable one,” the release stated. “Let us all commit to pray for the success of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the valuable Kingdom work of Southwest Baptist University.”
After word of tenure and promotion denials circulated the university, students created a petition called “Tenure Renewal Reconsideration” on Change.org. The petition, signed by 1,427 people as of Wednesday, Feb. 17, lists professors Bill DuVall, Debbie Walker and Dwayne Walker, among others not named, as being affected by the board’s tenure and promotion decisions.
According to SBU’s website, DuVall is an associate professor of psychology. Debbie Walker is listed as an associate professor of psychology and coordinator of the university’s counseling services, while Dwayne Walker is listed as an associate professor of social work and the social work program director.
The controversy surrounding the tenure and promotion process comes as the Higher Learning Commission, which determines SBU’s accreditation status, is set to perform a focused visit at the university on Monday, May 3, per the commission’s website.
The commission’s website said the organization “accepted the staff recommendation that a focused visit be scheduled to occur no later than June 1, 2021, to review the impact of recent changes in corporate governance” in December.
The Higher Learning Commission defines a focused visit as “a team visit that occurs between comprehensive evaluations to examine specific aspects of an institution as a form of special monitoring,” the website states.
In a statement provided to the BH-FP on Thursday, Feb. 18, the university said the commission received “a complaint letter alleging governance concerns at SBU” in August 2020.
“HLC requested a response from SBU, and SBU complied within the required timeframe,” SBU’s statement said. “After reviewing the institutional response, HLC has requested additional information through a focused visit.”
The statement said there will be three peer reviews on the visiting team.
“Due to COVID-19, one team member will conduct the visit in person, while the other two members will participate virtually,” per the statement.
The university said when an Open Pathway school is assigned a focused visit, the institution is moved to the Standard Pathway in accordance with Higher Learning Commission policy. SBU has been informed of this change.
“Standard Pathway institutions have some type of required interim monitoring — such as a focused visit,” the statement said.
The university’s administration is working with its board of trustees to prepare for the visit, according to the statement.
“When SBU’s founders, J.R. Maupin and Abner Ingman, faced adversity while establishing a Baptist college in southwest Missouri more than 140 years ago, they declared, ‘By the grace of God, we will succeed,’” Johnson said in the statement. “God’s grace is more than sufficient to carry us now, as well. We look forward to being a valuable part of the Bolivar community for many years to come.”
As of press time, SBU has maintained its full accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission. The university’s most recent reaffirmation of accreditation was in the 2015-16 academic year, according to the website.
In January 2020, an assurance review following an interim report request revealed the university met the Higher Learning Commission’s standards for the rigor of academic offerings.
The university’s next comprehensive evaluation for accreditation is set for the 2025-26 academic year.
SBU’s statement said the upcoming focused visit “is an opportunity for SBU to demonstrate continued compliance.”
Johnson named interim president
In the Tuesday, Feb. 16, meeting, the board also voted to elect then-acting president Johnson as the university’s interim president, per the release.
“We are thankful for his faithful service in the acting president's role and look forward to his continued leadership as interim president,” the release stated.
Johnson was named acting president following the resignation of former president Eric Turner in November.
“Dr. Johnson is highly qualified and greatly respected by the faculty and staff,” Eddie Bumpers, SBU Board of Trustees chair, said in a news release. “I believe that the stability he brings to the role is of utmost importance. The trustees have confidence that Dr. Johnson is the man for the hour.”
Johnson has served as SBU’s vice president of university advancement since August 2012, overseeing fundraising, alumni engagement and the conference center, the release states. He is a Certified Fund Raising Executive who previously supervised institutional advancement, enrollment, student life, academic support services, athletics and financial aid at his previous places of employment, including Howard Payne University, Hardin-Simmons University and McMurry University.
“I am humbled by the trust the board has placed in me and am pleased to continue to serve our bright students, talented faculty and dedicated staff, along with our many alumni and friends, as we work together to accomplish the vital and global mission of Southwest Baptist University,” Johnson said in the release.
The release said the university has formed a presidential search committee. The Rev. David Brown, alumnus, trustee and lead pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Lebanon, is the committee chair.
The release said the committee will seek input in the hiring process from faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members later this semester.
“Dr. Johnson’s new role as interim president will not preclude him from being a candidate,” Bumpers said. “We welcome all candidates, both internal and external, in our nationwide search.”
The university’s board of trustees is excited “about the future course set before SBU,” per a news release.
“We believe that the university is poised to be a leader in higher education with a Biblical worldview,” the release stated. “SBU is committed to providing every student who passes through her doors an exceptional education. In addition, SBU has the great privilege and honor to prepare every student for a life committed to the Kingdom of God and boldly proclaiming the truth of God's word.”