Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has been issued a warning by one of its primary accrediting agencies, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
The Southern Baptist Convention school remains fully accredited while SACS investigates concerns about the school’s governance and finances, according to a June 23 statement from SACS. Whether any similar action will be taken by the Association of Theological Schools is not known.
The SACS board of trustees determined Southwestern “failed to demonstrate compliance with” Core Requirement 4.1, Core Requirement 13.1 and Standard 13.3. Those standards include expectations that an institution:
- Has a governing board “of at least five members that (a) is the legal body with specific authority over the institution; (b) exercises fiduciary oversight of the institution; (c) ensures that both the presiding officer of the board and a majority of other voting members of the board are free of any contractual, employment, personal or familial financial interest in the institution; (d) is not controlled by a minority of board members or by organizations or institutions separate from it; and (e) is not presided over by the chief executive officer of the institution.”
- Has “sound financial resources and a demonstrated, stable financial base to support the mission of the institution and the scope of its programs and services.”
- Manages “its financial resources in a responsible manner.”
The SACS statement said a “warning” notice “follows a determination of significant non-compliance with the Core Requirements or Standards of the Principles of Accreditation, the accreditation standards” or “failure to make timely and significant progress toward correcting the deficiencies that led to the findings of non-compliance” or “failure to comply with” policies and procedures.
The June 2023 warning starts a clock ticking against a two-year window available to resolve concerns.
The June 2023 warning starts a clock ticking against a two-year window available to resolve concerns. However, more drastic action could be taken as soon as next year, if Southwestern fails to respond appropriately to needed changes. Failure to rapidly return to compliance with SACS standards could result in revocation of accreditation.
Accreditation allows students to transfer course credits between other institutions and gives a seal of approval to degrees issued by those institutions.
Although the SACS notice is dated June 23, it was not made public until nearly a week later, on June 29. No mention of this impending challenge was made by President David Dockery in his June 15 report to the SBC annual meeting.
Despite the significant challenges the seminary faces — as acknowledged by trustee actions and by the resignation of President Adam Greenway last fall — Dockery gave a glowing report at the SBC meeting.
Seminary administrators and trustees “pledge to you to continue the best of Southwestern Seminary’s Baptist and evangelical heritage, sharing the foundational convictions regarding Scripture and the gospel initiated by our founder, B.H. Carroll, and carried forward by dozens and dozens over the past 115 years — doing so with an unapologetic commitment to the truthfulness, authority and sufficiency of Scripture with an unflinching conviction regarding the faith once for all delivered to the Saints and our shared Baptist distinctives,” Dockery said.
Trustees recently acknowledged the seminary ran a cumulative deficit of $140 million over two decades. They also accused Greenway of poor financial oversight, continuing a pattern of excessive spending begun by his predecessor, Paige Patterson.
After SACS released news of Southwestern’s status, Dockery issued a statement in response, noting the seminary had been accredited by SACS since 1969 and “is fully committed to take all necessary steps to address concerns related to the July 31, 2022, financial audit and financial decisions that led to it.”
Dockery added: “The current administration and board of trustees, with support from the faculty and staff, will continue to work diligently to aggressively reduce institutional spending in the current budget year as well as in the forthcoming 2023-24 budget year, which includes significant reduction in personnel costs, while prioritizing the educational mission of the seminary.”
That 2022 financial audit shows the seminary ended the year with a $15 million loss in net assets from the prior year and ran an $8.7 million deficit in cash operating expenses for the year.
BNG previously reported that in the same academic year enrollment had dropped to the lowest level since World War II.
Behind the numbers: How Southwestern Seminary’s enrollment came to be the lowest it has been since World War II | Analysis by Mark Wingfield