Fate of Southwestern profs unclear after trustee meeting
April 17 2003 by Mark Wingfield , Associated Baptist Press

Fate of Southwestern profs unclear after trustee meeting | Thursday, April 17, 2003

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Fate of Southwestern profs unclear after trustee meeting

By Mark Wingfield Associated Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas - The fate of two church history professors believed to be under fire from trustees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary remained unclear at the conclusion of the trustees' spring meeting April 8.

For weeks leading up to the trustee meeting, rumors swirled around the Fort Worth campus and beyond that Karen Bullock and Stephen Stookey, both associate professors of church history, were being forced off the faculty.

Both were due for tenure review, meaning the administration could recommend them to the trustee board for tenure approval. Both reportedly had been told prior to the board meeting that they would not be recommended to receive tenure and should seek other employment.

In many academic institutions, failure to receive tenure equates to an invitation to leave.

Word of the professors' plight has sparked intense concern among some students. To demonstrate their concern, a small group of students walked out of the April 8 chapel service while trustee Chairman Mike Dean spoke to students about the resignation of President Ken Hemphill.

"We love you, Dr. Bullock! We love you, Dr. Stookey!" the students shouted as they exited.

One of those protesters was Wendy Owens, a second-year master of arts in theology student who has studied with both Stookey and Bullock.

Owens said she and other students "find it hard to believe" that these two professors have been found unacceptable by seminary trustees or administrators.

"They are two teachers students really like and students can relate to really well," she said.

Owens, who earned an undergraduate degree in history at Wheaton College, said Bullock is "the best classroom teacher" she's ever experienced.

Both Bullock and Stookey, she said, presented scholarly and challenging material without appearing to deviate in any way from the theological parameters set by the seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention.

Both professors reportedly have signed the required affirmation of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message, unlike other professors who refused and were forced to leave.

"Dr. Bullock, when women students go in to talk to her, they get from her that women need to be submissive, need to be gentle," Owens said. "If (seminary officials) don't want her to be a role model, who do they want to be our role models? The only thing I can conclude is that they don't want (women) to have any role models because they don't want us in the School of Theology."

For now, whatever concerns seminary administrators or trustees have with the two professors remain publicly unidentified. Neither trustee chairman Dean nor Provost Craig Blaising would answer questions about the matter during interviews with the Texas Baptist Standard and other media outlets April 8.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, in its April 9 issue, reported on the alleged ouster of the two professors.

Contrary to what many on campus anticipated, Blaising indicated trustees had taken no action on the matter during their April 7-8 meeting in Fort Worth. Asked specifically about the two professors' status, he responded that was a matter of tenure review, a confidential matter that remained "in process."

Dean likewise declined to address a specific question about the professors.

The only reference to tenure review in the sessions of the trustee meeting open to the press was to an overall review of the tenure-granting process. The matter apparently had been discussed in closed-door committee sessions and was pushed through the plenary session on a "consent agenda" with an unidentified number of other "routine" items.

According to one business summary sheet provided to reporters, the trustees will finalize an overhaul of the tenure process at their fall meeting.

Whether this overhaul relates in any way to the status of Stookey and Bullock was not stated.

Dean did say, however, when pressed by a reporter, that if the seminary administration chooses not to recommend a professor for tenure, that decision would not have to come before trustees. Trustees would review a tenure case, he said, only if the administration recommends a professor be granted tenure.

Asked if it were his understanding that a faculty member bypassed for tenure would be expected to leave, he responded that was the commonly accepted practice at many educational institutions, including Southwestern.

Both Stookey and Bullock declined to comment on their employment status because, each said, they had not been told the final disposition of their cases.

However, multiple seminary sources confirmed that it is widely understood by faculty and staff that both Stookey and Bullock have been encouraged to resign and have been told they may teach at Southwestern only one more year if they don't resign.

"No one around here is happy about this," explained one seminary source, who asked not to be named, echoing off-the-record statements made by others as well.

By some accounts, Bullock incurred the wrath of some trustees with a chapel address she gave at Southwestern March 20, 2002. In that address, she drew from Romans 12 to discuss the Apostle Paul confronting "viruses in the church."

Those viruses that have attacked the church from the beginning, she said, are trying to be God rather than obeying God and trying to control people rather than loving people.

Although not specifically drawing a parallel between troubles in the ancient church at Rome with controversies in the Southern Baptist Convention, some in the audience made such connections.

She mentioned viruses in the church that cause people to desire to control others rather than serve them, "persons who became victims of a mindset that enforced compliance, used coercion and treated people as objects to support the agendas of a few in the name of God."

She called on Christians to "celebrate our diversity" rather than emphasizing differences.

Bullock concluded her address with a prayer that God would help Christians build bridges and embrace each other and that God would "heal us as individuals and as a denomination."

Stookey reportedly has come under scrutiny for two articles published in the Southwestern Journal of Theology in 1999. Both address historical problems with claims made by advocates of a "Christian America" ideology.

In the lengthy articles, Stookey used an analysis of historical records to demonstrate that some advocates of America being founded as an explicitly "Christian" nation misrepresent the positions, writings or statements of some of the founding fathers. For example, while one prominent speaker on the "Christian America" circuit proclaims that 52 of the 55 framers of the United States Constitution were orthodox Christians, the historical evidence suggests otherwise, Stookey wrote.

"In reality, the founders were a varied collection of orthodox Christians, nominal church attenders, Christian moralists, Deists and nonbelievers," Stookey reported.

Stookey's articles specifically challenge the historical accuracy of statements made by David Barton, one of the foremost advocates of a "Christian America" perspective.

Barton is a popular writer and speaker among many Southern Baptists who support Religious Right causes.

All this leaves students baffled, however, according to Owens.

"Most people cannot even comprehend what the issues might be," she said. "So there's lots of speculation. The truth is that both these professors are the kind that cannot be bought, bribed or threatened. Because they can't be controlled, they are threatening to some people."

If both Stookey and Bullock were to leave the seminary faculty, the church history department would be severely strained for faculty. Currently, the department has five full-time faculty - Stookey, Bullock, Leon McBeth, Paul Gritz and Jim Spivey. McBeth, a veteran teacher who has achieved the rank of distinguished professor, is retiring. That means Gritz and Spivey would be the two remaining professors in church history.

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4/17/2003 12:00:00 AM by Mark Wingfield , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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