William Jewell grads call on Sallee, trustees to reverse course
By Bob Baysinger
August 26, 2003
KANSAS CITY – A group of William Jewell alumni have thrown their support behind the Missouri Baptist Convention’s (MBC) executive board’s decision to recommend eliminating the college from the convention’s 2004 budget.
"We, too, have withdrawn our financial support of the college until such time as Jewell takes actions to return herself to a status truly worthy of the description ‘distinctively Christian,’" says 1995 William Jewell graduate Heather Cobb in a letter to David Clippard, MBC executive director.
Other graduates signing Cobb’s letter included: Missy (Calandrino) Morelli, class of 1997; Amy (Miltenberger) Schmidt, 1997; Shawna (Watson) Jermstad, 1996; Adrianne Davis, 1996; Amy (Spurgeon) Wisdom, 1996; Joe Reed, 1996; Vonny (Anderson) Reed, 1996; Holly (Calandrino) Velleur, 1994; Kelly (Dorsey) Copeland, 1994; Mark Mangels, 1980; and Deborah Holland, 1988.
"I believe you will appreciate seeing that there are Missouri Baptists who support and thank you for the stand you have taken," Cobb said. "…alumni who signed this (letter) are members of other denominations, emphasizing the point that this is not simply ‘denominational politics.’
"This is a matter of Christian principles – a matter which has support from Christians across denominational lines," Cobb added.
Cobb said she is a Missouri Baptist.
"And I sincerely thank the Missouri Baptist Convention for taking a stand in requesting that Jewell evaluate her self-proclaimed status as ‘distinctively Christian.’ I earnestly pray that the school will consider the admonitions from her graduates and from the MBC and will chart a new course that makes her Christian in both word and deed."
In an earlier letter to David Sallee, William Jewell president, and the college’s board of trustees, Missy Morelli wrote:
"We’d like to ask you to reconsider, to take a stand for what is right, for what is biblical, to create a college that truly does ‘demonstrate a Christian philosophy for the whole of life,’ not just in word but in deed,"
William Jewell has come under fire the last year because of what many Missouri Baptists believe to be a growing tolerance toward homosexuality on the part of school administrators and trustees. Many remain upset as well over the school allowing a racy play called "The Vagina Monologues" to be held on campus.
Morelli said she chose the school because of its reputation for excellence in education and because it was a Christian college which stood for Biblical principles and encouraged an active Christian faith.
"Recently, I have become aware of things happening on the campus that don’t seem to line up with the Christian tradition of the college," Morelli writes.
"I am aware that the Missouri Baptist Convention is considering withdrawing funding from the college. While there may be other reasons, Jewell trustees have not clarified their position on homosexuality. Also, I’ve been appalled at the content of a play called "The Vagina Monologues" recently presented on the Jewell campus. The title and content of this presentation raises some questions about how it fits into the life, goals and mission of the college."
Morelli chastised Sallee and board members for not fulfilling the school’s mission statement of being: "An institution loyal to the ideals of Christ, demonstrating a Christian philosophy for the whole of life and expressing the Missouri Baptist heritage which is the foundation of the college."
"The recent activities on the campus, including a reluctance to take a biblical stand on the issue of homosexuality do not support this mission statement," Morelli said. "Either William Jewell is a Christian college, ‘loyal to the ideals of Christ, demonstrating a Christian philosophy for the whole of life,’ or it is not."
Morelli said she noticed while attending Jewell the school seemed anxious to promote itself as a politically correct school that would appeal to many.
"If the college would like to be as ‘open’ or ‘tolerant’ as a secular school, then perhaps that’s precisely what it should be," Morelli adds. "What bothers me and the graduates who have signed below is that throughout this debate Jewell has consistently say they will continue to open their door to all who seek and education in a distinctively Christian environment.
"However, if the leadership of the college is not continually ‘loyal to (all) the ideals of Christ,’ Jewell will not be a Christian environment," Morelli said.
Morelli said taking a stand based on Christian ethics and principles – stand which pervades all aspects of the school’s educational approach, programs, resources, faculty, staff and students – is what makes a Christian school.
"So far, we as alumni have not seen you honoring any such efforts to make William Jewell College live up to its mission statement. This is discouraging – and disappointing to us."
Morelli said she and others who signed the letter will earmark future contributions to the school specifically for students pursuing Christian studies or to a campus organization which promotes Christian activities and ideals.
"Although this issue (homosexuality) is pervading every part of our society and the pressure is great to be permissive and not take a stand against it," Morelli concluded, "it would be the wrong thing to do, not only for the college, but for the students as well.
"Please reconsider this issue, not because you could lose the Missouri Baptist Convention’s funding, but because taking a stand for Christian principles is always the right thing to do."
Sallee affirmed the college’s autonomous system of governance following a meeting of the board of trustees’ executive committee earlier this year and in response to public pronouncements by leaders of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) that were critical of William Jewell’s administration. Since its founding in 1849, William Jewell has been governed by an independent, self-perpetuating board of trustees.
Sallee noted: "We have always had a strong covenant relationship with Baptists and I feel certain that that will continue; however, we will not cede control of William Jewell to the Executive Board of the Missouri Baptist Convention."
Missouri Baptist leaders have been flooded with messages from Baptists upset over the college’s alleged acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle. Additional concerns about the college were raised over the administration approving a student production of "The Vagina Monologues."
The Missouri convention, under its covenant agreement with William Jewell, contributes about 3 percent of the college’s annual operating budget, Sallee said.
"The College’s responsibility is to provide a superior liberal arts education in a Christian environment, as described in our mission statement," he said.
"Decisions about how the College is managed are made by our Board of Trustees, by our faculty and administration, not by others. At this moment in the history of William Jewell College, it must be clearly and firmly stated that we will vigorously defend both the way we do our work and the systems of governance under which we operate," he said.
"One of the defining characteristics of William Jewell College is our commitment to create a distinctively Christian environment in which a free exchange of ideas can occur that respects the intersection of faith and learning, as well as the individuals who participate in that process. We will not change the basic tenets of our educational process or the way that Jewell has governed itself for the past 154 years," Sallee stated.