BOLIVAR – Last week, the Educational Policies and Personnel Committee of Southwest Baptist University’s board of trustees affirmed the administration’s decision to dismiss a tenured professor for alleged violations of the SBU Faculty Handbook and the “ethical and professional canons of the teaching profession.”
Meanwhile, in a special called meeting of SBU’s full board, Jan. 22, a majority of the trustees voted to censure and exclude one trustee from board meetings for alleged violation of trust. During the meeting, the board also affirmed its commitment to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
Committee affirms Bass’s dismissal
In response to an inquiry from The Pathway, SBU released the following statement, Jan. 23:
“The Educational Policies and Personnel Committee of the Southwest Baptist University Board of Trustees, nominated and elected by the Missouri Baptist Convention, made a unanimous decision to uphold the Notice of Dismissal that was given to faculty member Dr. Clint Bass on Nov. 28. The Committee heard the appeal arguments on Dec. 21.
“The dismissal is based upon conduct that was in violation of the Faculty Handbook. Employee dismissals always are carefully considered and conducted in accordance with University policies and procedures.”
Prior to his dismissal, Bass served as a tenured associate professor of theology in SBU’s Redford College of Theology and Ministry. As reported in the Jan. 8th edition of The Pathway, Bass’s dismissal came after he raised concerns about various doctrinal beliefs of some of his colleagues in the Redford College, which he alleged were in conflict with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. (To read the previous coverage of this situation at SBU, click here and here.)
In a Jan. 18th text message, Bass told The Pathway of the Educational Policies and Personnel Committee’s decision. As Bass explained in a subsequent interview, he learned this news from a letter sent to him, Jan. 18, by SBU President Eric Turner. Enclosed in the letter was a final paycheck – a lump sum “reflecting the balance of [Bass’s] contract,” which ends this summer. Also enclosed was a letter, addressed to Turner, from Educational Policies and Personnel Committee chair Rebecca Randles, an attorney in the Kansas City area and a member of Pleasant Valley Baptist Church, Liberty.
In the letter, Randles told Turner that the committee made a “unanimous decision” to uphold Bass’s dismissal, after “reviewing all documents submitted by Dr. Bass, the investigation report by [SBU provost] Dr. [Lee] Skinkle, the letters of support and other materials submitted by third-parties, as well as the five hours of testimonies from the hearing.”
“We have found his behavior departs from the standards and expectations of an SBU faculty member, and that his violation of those expectations was sufficiently egregious to warrant immediate dismissal,” the letter continued. “We wish Dr. Bass well, but we cannot recommend reinstatement. We have prepared a summary of the evidence upon which we have relied, sent under separate cover.”
According to Bass, the committee’s “summary of evidence” was not enclosed in Turner’s letter.
On Jan. 24, Bass sent the following written statement to The Pathway, regarding his Dec. 21st appeal hearing with the trustee committee and their subsequent decision to affirm his dismissal:
“As there is nothing impossible with our God, I had high hopes going into the ‘hearing,’” Bass wrote. “I had prayed earnestly that the subcommittee would consider the evidence with seriousness. It soon became clear that they had not digested the audio recording or the numerous testimonies from pastors, doctoral students, and those on the mission field who corroborated my claims.”
Bass said the committee, with help from SBU counsel, asked him if he agreed it was unethical to “spy” for the Missouri Baptist Convention. At that point, ‘I knew that the ‘hearing’ would come to nothing, Bass said. Bass said the committee also responded negatively when he declined to promise to keep the hearing proceedings secret.
In response to Bass’s allegation that the committee suggested he was a “spy” for the MBC, Randles told The Pathway that the committee “received no information that the MBC as an organization engaged Dr. Bass to spy.” It was not clear whether this response denied asking Bass about spying for the MBC in any sense, or only denied asking him about being engaged by the MBC as an organization to spy.
“We do not believe the MBC could possibly condone such a blatant disregard for the rights of all involved and the proper procedures for determining and handling personnel, policy and doctrinal issues,” she added.
SBU trustees affirm BFM 2000
During a special called board meeting, Jan. 22, SBU trustees met in executive session, where they voted to affirm their “longstanding commitment to traditional Baptist theology, including the Baptist Faith and Message 2000,” according to a Jan. 24th SBU press release.
“We want to reassure Missouri Baptists that our board stands for the same core Biblical values that we all believe and share,” said vice-chair Ryan Palmer. “We are all committed Missouri Baptists.”
This affirmation follows “a previous affirmation of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 that has been made by all faculty of the Courts Redford College of Theology and Ministry,” according to the press release.
Additionally, the board formally accepted commissioning of an external peer assessment committee, to be led by chairperson David Dockery, president of Trinity International University. As reported in the Jan. 8th edition of The Pathway, the committee will foster “dialogue regarding faith and learning,” including “deeper conversations and evaluations regarding orthodoxy” within the university. The peer assessment committee had previously been approved by the trustee board’s Executive Committee.
SBU board censures, excludes trustee
After their Jan. 22 meeting, SBU’s trustee board also announced its decision to censure and exclude one trustee.
The censured and excluded trustee is Kyle Lee, who serves as an elder alongside Clint Bass at Southern Hills Baptist Church, Bolivar. Lee was elected to serve as a trustee during the 2018 MBC annual meeting. His current term expires in 2023, and he is eligible for re-election.
After their meeting, SBU trustee chairman Mark Rains released the following statement:
“The Board of Trustees of Southwest Baptist University stands firm in Biblically based truth and grace. In keeping with these immutable values, the Board took the difficult step of censuring and excluding one of our trustees during a special board meeting on Jan. 22. The Board acted as part of our ongoing obligation to hold our members accountable to act in the best interest of the University and Missouri Baptists.
“Serving on the Board of Trustees is a serious responsibility, and trustees cannot have divided loyalties. The SBU Board of Trustees Conflict of Interest Policy states, ‘Any member who has a conflict of interest, actual or perceived, shall be disqualified from service as a trustee.’ We felt our trust had been violated by the board member’s actions.
“Though sad, our decision was consistent with our duties and responsibilities to both the University and Missouri Baptists. We are all committed to Southwest Baptist University being a Christ-centered, caring academic community and continue to move forward in fulfilling our Biblically informed mission.”
Rains later told The Pathway that the censure and exclusion “means” that this trustee “will not receive documents or communication or be included in any function of the board.” He added that the “censure and exclusion is for an indefinite period at this point.”
“Censuring and exclusion of a duly elected trustee from any MBC entity board is very serious matter and warrants careful review by Missouri Baptist Convention leaders in discussion with SBU leaders,” said John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention.” There are numerous issues that will be addressed in future conversations, including the exclusive legal right of the Convention to both elect and remove trustees. We need to understand SBU’s views as to whether there is a process to restore a censured trustee to full service. The trustee relationship to the Convention is a sacred trust in the Baptist world. Any unsettling of that relationship inhibits the mission, we (MBC) have asked the trustees to do. MBC leaders are giving this matter the urgent attention it deserves.”
In response to The Pathway’s request for a written statement, Lee said, “To my knowledge I have not been removed from the Board of Trustees, and I intend to continue to honor the Missouri Baptists who elected me by serving faithfully on the SBU Board of Trustees.”