(Editor’s note: This is one of two related stories. See Amid alleged confessional concerns, SBU to evaluate ‘faith and learning’.)
BOLIVAR – A Southwest Baptist University trustee committee has taken under advisement the appeal of a tenured professor, Clint Bass, who disputes a notice of immediate dismissal that was issued by the administration last year for alleged violations of the SBU Faculty Handbook and the “ethical and professional canons of the teaching profession.”
Bass, a tenured associate professor of theology in Southwest Baptist University’s Redford College of Theology and Ministry, received the Notice of Dismissal letter, Nov. 28, from SBU President Eric Turner. According to the letter, which has since been made public in an online petition supporting Bass, the “grounds for dismissal” included:
- “violation of the rights and freedoms of fellow faculty members by collecting evidence and ascribing views to them often without personal interaction”;
- “failure to observe the ethical and professional canons of the teaching profession by use of non-credible information to formulate accusations against fellow faculty members”;
- and “failure to follow Matthew 18 in addressing your concerns with your colleagues directly.” Matthew 18:15-20 discusses a process for church discipline when a believer sins against another believer. In the letter, Turner notes that he and Bass disagree about the application of this passage to the situation at hand.
The letter states that, after a “systematic inquiry” by SBU Provost Lee Skinkle, the administration determined that Bass had made “accusations” and “allegations” against colleagues in the Redford School, and that the allegations were “routinely denied” and were “determined as unfounded.” Skinkle also wrote Bass on Nov. 28, stating that he had recommended that the president terminate Bass immediately. The letters do not identify any of the particular statements made by Bass. (Read more about some of these “allegations” in the companion story on page 1.)
In a written statement to The Pathway, the university said that Bass was dismissed “for conduct in violation of the Faculty Handbook and Expectations.” The statement adds, “The idea that the employee would be dismissed for expressing allegations as to his belief of theological positions of certain fellow faculty is absolutely false.”
The online petition, which garnered more than 1,300 signatures by press time, calls upon SBU’s trustees and administration to “reinstate” and “exonerate” Bass. It claims that he was dismissed without an adequate investigation regarding his expression of doctrinal concerns about some views of some faculty members in SBU’s Redford College in comparison with the Baptist Faith and Message, 2000. As evidence of this claim, it says that the university never contacted alumni and pastors who wrote testimonies “that corroborate Dr. Bass’s claims.”
The petition describes Bass as being “genuinely aligned with the doctrine of the Missouri Baptist Convention” and as embracing “with enthusiasm the Baptist Faith & Message (BFM) 2000.”
“When Dr. Bass informed SBU’s administration of his concerns about the doctrinal instability of the college of theology and ministry,” the petition reads, “they demanded under threat of dismissal, that he surrender his personal diary of notes supporting his concerns. Upon providing such documentation, those accused either denied or repositioned, and as a result, administration fired Dr. Bass.”
On Dec. 13, Bass submitted a letter to the university, appealing his dismissal. As a result, the Educational Policies and Personnel Committee of SBU’s Board of Trustees scheduled an appeal hearing on Dec. 21, at which Bass and the committee met for over five hours. According to the SBU faculty handbook, the appeal postpones the effective date of dismissal, until after a decision is announced by the trustee committee. Hence, Bass is still employed by the university and remains on the payroll unless the trustee committee affirms the administration’s decision.
In a statement written shortly after the hearing, Bass claimed that he did not receive the “fair appeal hearing” he had been promised: “We were to meet at 9 a.m. Each side was to speak for thirty minutes, uninterrupted, with five minutes of rebuttal. I never received that hearing today. The witnesses that had shown up with me were never allowed to enter the room,” he wrote.
“Instead,” he added, “the Committee demanded I agree to keep the appeal process secret. When I asked for time to consult with legal counsel, I was denied. After I refused, the Committee asked me questions until nearly 2 p.m., directed by the University’s lawyer. A focus was my communications with other Missouri Baptists, and whether those communications were immoral. …
“After it became clear I would not receive the promised hearing, I told the committee that I would not answer further questions without an agreement for a fair process and attorney. I was ready to participate in the process promised to me. I am grieved for SBU that the Administration did not honor those promises.”
Among those whom Dr. Bass had invited to speak were Dr. Jeremy Muniz, pastor of Ridgecrest Baptist Church, Springfield; Jon Nelson, pastor of Soma Community Church, Jefferson City; and Joe Costephens, pastor of First Baptist Church, Ferguson. The witnesses waited on campus in another area but were not permitted to enter the hearing room or to present testimony. Muniz and Nelson are the current president and first vice president, respectively, of the Missouri Baptist Convention, and Costephens serves on the MBC’s Executive Board. Each was attending in his personal capacity and was not there to speak officially for the MBC or Executive Board.
The Educational Policies and Personnel Committee for SBU’s Board of Trustees is chaired by Rebecca Randles, an attorney in the Kansas City area and a member of Pleasant Valley Baptist Church, Liberty. University attorney Jay Kirksey, Bolivar, was also present at the meeting. Bass says he asked for time to permit his attorney to be present, but the request for additional time was denied.
SBU made no comment regarding Bass’s description of the hearing, except to point to a Dec. 21st news release that provided general information about the hearing.
Bass also reported that, during his hearing, “University staff published a post accusing me of dishonesty.” Indeed, in a comment time-stamped at 9:01 a.m., Dec. 21, on the Facebook account of Rodney Reeves, Redford College Dean, an entry by Reeves stated: “We are now able to respond to the charges leveled by Dr. Clint Bass against the Redford Faculty.” (The post initially stated that the SBU administration had given permission, but it was later deleted.) Then, before answering some of the statements attributed to him Reeves asserted that Bass “violated the ninth commandment, ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness.’” He then lists four statements he says Dr. Bass has made about him, and after each statement says, “That is a lie.”
In its written statement to The Pathway, the university affirmed that it authorized faculty members to speak publicly to Bass’s allegations on the day of the hearing: “Documents and information as to alleged theological positions of certain SBU faculty were anonymously uploaded on social media and disseminated to the public,” the statement reads. “In light of their rights to respond, SBU consented to the requests of faculty that they be allowed to respond. SBU requested that faculty not respond to the allegations until the day of the appeal hearing so as to limit public statements before the hearing.”
SBU President Eric Turner made the following comments in a written statement to The Pathway:
“Southwest Baptist University has directly and indirectly touched hundreds of thousands of lives by equipping students through a Biblically based liberal arts education. Since 1878, SBU has been guided by Biblically based core values. SBU and Missouri Baptist’s values have aligned since the start of the Missouri Baptist Convention in 1925.
“I express thanks for the overwhelming support and the wisdom of Missouri Baptists to understand this is a personnel matter involving violation of SBU’s Faculty Handbook and Expectations. I am saddened by the extent of misinformation and inaccurate gossip to the harm of all involved. Personnel actions such as this are always taken very seriously, and following process and procedure is essential.
“I pray that, as brothers and sisters, we will find unity as we move forward to strengthen SBU’s mission, the foundation of which is Christ.”
At press time, the Educational Policies and Personnel Committee of SBU’s Board of Trustees had not announced its decision, although the university told The Pathway, in a written statement, that the committee “will issue its findings when they are complete.” Additionally, Bass told The Pathway that, as of Jan. 7, he had not received any updates from the university regarding the appeals process.