In response to a 76% faculty vote of no confidence — the second of its kind — in President Eric Bruntmyer, the trustee chairman of Hardin-Simmons University has assured students all is well.
In an email addressed to “dear students” sent last week, board Chair Rick Strange said the board of trustees “has great confidence in President Bruntmyer and the direction of the university.”
He quoted a one-sentence statement “in support of President Bruntmyer” he said was from the full board: “The Hardin-Simmons University Board of Trustees has great confidence in President Bruntmyer and the direction of the university.”
Then he added this from himself: “I have worked closely with President Bruntmyer for the last several years and have observed first-hand the tremendous work he has done for Hardin-Simmons. His actions, which have all been supported by the board, along with difficult but necessary decisions made by the board during the last several years, have positioned HSU for a bright future.”
“His actions, which have all been supported by the board, along with difficult but necessary decisions made by the board during the last several years, have positioned HSU for a bright future.”
Some of those most controversial decisions include the sudden closing of Logdson Seminary — reportedly for financial reasons, although that explanation never was accepted by Logdson alumni and some faculty — as well as other financial issues, adoption of a controversial doctrinal statement focused heavily on sexuality and gender, a dispute over a partnership with another local university in a school of nursing, and overall declining enrollment.
On the enrollment question, data reported by Hardin-Simmons to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board shows a three-year decline of 559 students, or 24%, since fall 2019, compared to preliminary numbers for fall 2022.
Enrollment has been on a steady decline in that period, from 2,324 in 2019, to 2,132 in 2020, to 1,933 in 2021 and now 1,765.
Hardin-Simmons is one of only two universities affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas to report such enrollment declines in that period. Five others — Baylor University, Dallas Baptist University, East Texas Baptist University, Houston Christian University, and Howard Payne University — have held steady or grown. Only Wayland Baptist University, also based in West Texas, has reported a larger decline in enrollment, from 2,948 to 2,004, or 32%.
One of the other chief criticisms of Bruntmyer’s leadership — and the board’s direction — has been more rigid enforcement of the new doctrinal statement. Previously, faculty were asked to “affirm that I have read, understand, and agree with HSU’s Mission, Vision, and Statement of Faith.” But with adoption of the new statement of faith, faculty reportedly are now required to “affirm” and “abide by” the statement of faith.
The new statement of faith focuses on “two genetic sexes” and marriage as “a life-long, covenant relationship between one genetic male and one genetic female” as articles of faith yet is silent on many other issues Southern Baptists include in their statement of faith. It says nothing about the family, the end times, grace, evangelism, the sanctity of life, the ordinances of the church, religious liberty, stewardship or social justice — all topics included in the Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Faith and Message.
Few presidents survive such faculty actions, which most trustee boards take seriously.
The Oct. 26 no confidence vote has generated media attention locally and nationally, including headlines in higher education journals.
Such votes by faculty have no binding authority and may be ignored by trustees. However, few presidents survive such faculty actions, which most trustee boards take seriously.
Research published by the Journal of Research on the College President last year found that in 56% of cases where faculty voted no confidence in a leader, that person was gone within six months.
Trustee Chair Rick Strange is a 1982 Hardin-Simmons graduate and a 1985 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law. He previously worked for an oil and gas firm and in 2005 was appointed by then-Gov. Rick Perry as a judge on the Texas 11th District Court of Appeals, where he served through 2014. In 2010, he made an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Texas Supreme Court.
He serves as president of the Midland Country Club and as a Sunday school teacher and Finance Committee member at First Baptist Church of Midland.
The 36 members of the university’s board of trustees are required to be members of Baptist churches. All live in Texas, and eight of the 36 live in Abilene.