Five days after naming O.S. Hawkins interim president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, trustees announced a new plan: Hawkins will serve as senior advisor and ambassador at large, and David Dockery will serve as interim president.
News of this change came late in the day Tuesday, Sept. 27, after the seminary’s board of trustees met in executive session via video conference.
Hawkins did not mince words in explaining why he now believes this is necessary due to the fragile nature of the school that once was the largest theological seminary in the world: “It is no secret that the seminary has serious financial challenges and going forward we will be giving oversight to aggressively manage costs and implementing best business practices with the intent to move our school to a more solid financial footing. I will be visible on campus and will seek to provide visionary and Christ-hearted, servant leadership to all the seminary family. Our deep desire and prayer is to be able to position this school we all dearly love to be in a better place for the tenth president in our long and illustrious history to succeed by every good and godly measurement.”
“It is no secret that the seminary has serious financial challenges.”
At the February trustee meeting, then-President Adam Greenway, who resigned abruptly last Thursday evening, said: “It is my joy to report to the board of trustees that the state of Southwestern Seminary is strong, and it is growing stronger every day by God’s grace.”
That turned out not to be true. Although not publicly confirmed by seminary officials, the seminary is reported to be running a deficit of somewhere between $6 and $12 million this year against a roughly $40 million annual budget. Seminary officials have not refuted multiple media reports of there being a deficit, although insider accounts indicate the amount is not yet known but is significantly less than the previously reported $12 million. By other reports, faculty are demoralized. And student enrollment has been on the decline.
A seminary news release said Hawkins and Dockery will provide “joint leadership” to the Fort Worth, Texas, school. The dual leadership plan was approved by the board without opposition, the release said.
While Hawkins brings fundraising and financial management experience to the partnership, Dockery brings academic administration experience.
Dockery, who will turn 70 next month, has enjoyed a storied and successful career in teaching and administration for more than 40 years. And in that journey, he has found himself at the intersection of some of the most significant challenges facing Baptist higher education.
He earned a master of divinity degree from Southwestern before earning another master’s degree from nearby Texas Christian University and then a doctorate from the University of Texas system.
Dockery first came to attention in the SBC when he took leave from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., in 1990 to edit the New American Commentary series published by Lifeway Christian Resources, the SBC’s publishing arm. He then returned to Southern Seminary in 1992 just in time to become a pivotal figure in the transition from Roy Honeycutt, a moderate, as president to Al Mohler, a conservative who was named his successor.
Under Mohler, Dockery was named vice president for academic administration. Although hailed by conservatives as a biblical inerrantist, Dockery’s calm and gracious demeanor made him a stabilizing presence at a seminary undergoing rapid and radical transformation.
Three years later, in 1996, Dockery was named president of Union University, a conservative Baptist school in West Tennessee. There, he led a 15-year transformation of a sleepy private liberal arts college into a recognized — yet still very conservative — player in higher education in the South. He doubled the school’s enrollment and raised $63 million in the Building a Future campaign.
After 15 years at Union, Dockery left in 2013 and soon was named president of Trinity International University/Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill., a post he held for only five years. In 2019, he was named theologian in residence at Southwestern, concurrently serving as president of the International Alliance for Christian Education. Southwestern currently lists his title there as distinguished professor of theology.
Dockery is a respected theologian who has written or contributed to more than 35 books.
Hiring both Hawkins and Dockery as a leadership team is a “more strategic option” than Hawkins serving alone, Hawkins said. This will allow them together to address the “combination of external and internal challenges facing the seminary.”
Hawkins explained: “My best efforts in piloting and positioning the seminary on its conservative course for the future are better served by giving attention to matters of general oversight, vision and direction, and also shoring up our various and valuable outside constituencies,” he said. “Therefore, I have asked the board to invite David Dockery to partner with me in leading Southwestern through these days of challenge and transition.”
Dockery will oversee the daily aspects of leading the faculty, staff and students.
As interim president, Dockery will oversee the daily aspects of leading the faculty, staff and students, the seminary news release said.
As senior advisor and ambassador-at-large, Hawkins will provide general oversight of the institution. He said he would focus on “donor relations, student recruitment, church and denominational relationships, and overall help to steer the seminary on a solid conservative course for the future.”
The seminary’s provost and vice president for academic administration, Benjamin Skaug, has been in that role only since February. He previously served as dean of Southwestern’s undergraduate component, Texas Baptist College.
Southwestern’s website currently lists 75 faculty members, of which 60 are white males. The faculty listing includes seven women.
Other seminary administrators include Edward Upton, vice president for institutional advancement; James Smith, associate vice president for communication; George Schroeder, associate vice president for institutional relations.
The position of vice president for institutional administration — which is the top financial management position — is currently vacant, after Clark Logan departed the Southwestern staff last year, having served about one year.
Just seven months ago, Michele G. Smith was named associate vice president for finance at Southwestern. She is a longtime member of Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth and previously served as vice president of business and finance at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University.
The chairman of Southwestern’s trustees is Danny Roberts, executive pastor of North Richland Hills Baptist Church in North Richland Hills, Texas, a Fort Worth suburb. Roberts also chaired the presidential search committee that brought Greenway to the top role less than four years ago. Vice chair of the board is Jonathan Richard, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Estancia, N.M. Board secretary is Jamie Green, a retired speech-language pathologist from Katy, Texas.
What happened at Southwestern and why does it matter? | Analysis by Mark Wingfield
Why O.S. Hawkins is right for the job | Opinion by Maina Mwaura