By Bob Allen
William Crouch, hailed as a visionary leader who steered Georgetown College through financial woes, established bonds with African-Americans and loosened ties with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, has announced plans to retire effective June 30.
“For 21 years Jan and I have served Georgetown College with all the energy and passion we had to give,” Crouch said in a letter to trustee chairman Earle Goode, chief of staff to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.
“We believed that we possessed a unique set of skills, which would enable this institution to progress to new heights, and are proud of what has been accomplished in these years and the challenges we have successfully faced,” Crouch said in the letter released on the 20th anniversary of his inauguration as president Oct. 3. “We only wish that all our hopes and dreams could have been realized.”
The son of longtime pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., and Alliance of Baptists founder Henry Crouch, Bill Crouch was 39 years old and working as vice president for development at Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn., when he was named 23rd president of Georgetown College in 1991.
He succeeded Morgan Patterson, a veteran educator who taught at three Southern Baptist Convention seminaries before taking the helm in 1984 of the historically Baptist liberal arts private college chartered in 1829.
In December 2004, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed Georgetown on 12-month probation due to financial concerns, but a year later cited significant progress and issued the school a clean bill of health.
Meanwhile, Crouch negotiated with leaders of the Kentucky Baptist Convention to avoid an acrimonious split like those experienced at other historically Southern Baptist colleges and universities that moved to self-perpetuating trustee boards to insulate themselves from denominational politics during a long-running feud over biblical inerrancy between moderates and conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Kentucky Baptists agreed that Georgetown’s trustee board could become self-perpetuating, with $1.3 million in KBC funding phased out over a four-year period. Under the agreement, as many as a fourth of the trustees could be from other denominations.
Georgetown and the KBC also agreed to continue to jointly fund a campus minister. Students still qualified for scholarships provided by the state convention and churches could designate contributions to the college through the state convention.
Rather than downplaying its Baptist identity like many formerly SBC-affiliated schools, Georgetown sought to broaden its base through strategic partnerships with other Baptist groups.
In 2005, the historically white college entered an agreement with four major African-American Baptist denominations to archive important African-American resources in conjunction with Georgetown’s Underground Railroad Research Institute.
In 2006, Crouch formed an alliance allowing a defunct historically black school in Dallas, Bishop College, to use the campus for alumni reunions and keep their archives there.
The Congressional Black Caucus honored Crouch in 2008 for providing minority scholarships and other programs to diversify Georgetown’s student body.
In 2010, the Georgetown College campus became home to the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky, one of 15 theology schools affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which relocated from Lexington Theological Seminary, a nearby institution affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
A study committee recently recommended that Kentucky Baptists withdraw from the convention’s ministry relationship with Georgetown, citing the college’s ties with the Atlanta-based CBF and other factors including removal of a requirement that 75 percent of the trustees be Kentucky Baptists.
The KBC administrative committee has approved the recommendation unanimously. It now faces vote by the convention’s full mission board, which decides whether to present it for final approval to messengers at the convention’s annual meeting Nov. 13, according to the Kentucky Baptist Convention newspaper Western Recorder.
Goode said Crouch agreed to remain president of Georgetown for the remainder of the 2012-13 year to provide a smooth transition for his successor.
“Acknowledging that we have entered a new era in higher education and desiring only the best for Georgetown College’s future, I believe it is time to usher in a new leader who can harness all those dynamics which will continue the forward journey of the institution,” Crouch said in his retirement letter.
Prior to his time at Carson-Newman, Crouch was on staff of Gardner-Webb College in Boiling Springs, N.C., and the Baptist Children’s Home of North Carolina. A graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, he also was pastor of two churches in North Carolina.
Crouch, who has five adult children and five grandchildren, said he and his wife “look forward to new opportunities in our lives and hope in the next months we can help pave the way for a new president and an exciting future for this beloved place.”