Former deans and provost criticize plan to close Logsdon

(HSU Photo)


ABILENE—Two former deans of the Logsdon School of Theology and Logsdon Seminary and a former chief academic officer at Hardin-Simmons University took the administration and trustees to task for approving a plan to close the seminary and scale back the remaining undergraduate religion program.

Both Vernon Davis, dean from 1998 to 2003, and Don Williford, dean from 2011 to 2017, insisted the trustee actions appear contrary to the original intent of the donors who established Logsdon School of Theology and Logsdon Seminary.

Current leaders of the university have “been derelict in their stewardship of the resources provided to sustain the School of Theology” and have “betrayed the trust” of donors, Davis said.

Williford asserted the plan to relocate the Logsdon School of Theology under the Cynthia Ann Parker College of Liberal Arts represents a reversal of actions taken by a previous administration and board that “could be interpreted as an inappropriate use of the Logsdon Endowment and borders on a violation of official trust.”

Ron Smith, former executive vice president and provost at HSU, asserted recent actions “may just be the first step in a series of moves that will sacrifice the integrity of the university on the altar of expediency, or perhaps as more recent news seems to indicate, the altar of moral, spiritual and intellectual malfeasance.”

The Baptist Standard attempted to contact HSU President Eric Bruntmyer for a response and for answers to several additional questions.

A Feb. 20 email from Jacob Brandt, director for university marketing at HSU, stated: “We have received your questions. At this time, we are not doing any additional responses. However, HSU plans to send out some additional information this week.”

Williford, who served 23 years on the Logsdon School of Theology faculty, released a Feb. 17 letter to the HSU trustees and administration in which he disputed some assertions Bruntmyer made to alumni and others.

Established ‘to train young ministers’

The 14-page letter detailed the historical development of the Logsdon School of Theology and the desire of the original donors to fund a program to train ministers.

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Logsdon Seminary chapel (Photo by John Whitten)

Williford described how Coreen Logsdon made a $3 million gift in 1982 to HSU in honor of her late husband Charles to build the Logsdon School of Theology facility and Logsdon Chapel. A $50,000 per year gift from the Logsdon family also provided for graduate assistants for the Logsdon faculty, he noted. A final gift from the Logsdon estate established the Charles W. and Koreen Logsdon Endowment Fund.

Net income from the endowment fund “was intended to help train young ministers,” Williford insisted.

“The closing of Logsdon Seminary and moving of Logsdon School of Theology under the College of Liberal Arts with only a BA or BBS degree in but one disciplinary focus strike at the heart of the central task of preparing young ministers,” he wrote.

“Although the university administrations have interpreted this statement, ‘to train young ministers’ in different ways—to use the Logsdon Endowment funds for student scholarships, in support of the salaries and benefits of Logsdon faculty, or support of other costs directly tied to Logsdon programs—the funds were always dedicated to that essential effort.”

Williford refutes president’s assertions

Williford asserted Bruntmyer’s public announcement “indicated an inaccurate separation between the Logsdon School of Theology and Logsdon Seminary.” The Logsdon School of Theology has served as the “parent structure” under which all non-seminary religion programs and the seminary degree programs resided, with the same dean serving over both.

“The Logsdon Endowment Funds were, from the outset and continuing to the present time, devoted to the ‘parent’ Logsdon School of Theology,” Williford stated.

“Therefore, the claim that Logsdon School of Theology funds were ‘being redirected’ to Logsdon Seminary is patently untrue. The Logsdon Endowment Funds have from the outset belonged to the parent Logsdon School of Theology under which Logsdon Seminary and the non-seminary Logsdon School of Theology programs were housed.

“Likewise, the claim that Logsdon Seminary ‘lacked appropriate funding from the very beginning’ is not true. Hardin-Simmons was not using funds designated only for the Logsdon School of Theology as denoting the non-seminary programs to cover $600,000 of the annual cost of funding the seminary. Both Logsdon Seminary and the non-seminary (Logsdon School of Theology) were and are entitled to share the Logsdon Endowment Funds. Since the Logsdon Endowment was provided ‘to help train young ministers,’ consideration of allotment of the endowment funds should be based on the number of students enrolled in non-seminary programs compared to the number of students enrolled in the seminary programs.”

Second dean corroborates donor intent

When the Baptist Standard contacted Davis, the second dean of the Logsdon School of Theology, he corroborated Williford’s account, based on his conversations with Coreen Logsdon and her second husband, Lee Hemphill, as well as conversations with former HSU President Jesse Fletcher and with H.K. Neely, the first dean of the Logsdon School of Theology.

“I have grieved and been deeply troubled by the decision of the university leadership to close Logsdon School of Theology and Seminary,” Davis said. “It was my privilege to work to bring to birth the program of graduate studies in ministry preparation. Building a faculty of gifted scholars who were committed to providing excellence in education for ministry was the highlight of my own ministry.

“To see the dismantling of the vision of the Logsdons and those who have given their lives to bring it to reality is painful. To think of the loss to Hardin-Simmons and the cause of Baptists in Texas and far beyond is shocking.

“In my opinion, the current leadership of the university has been derelict in their stewardship of the resources provided to sustain the school of theology and has betrayed the trust of the Logsdons and countless people who have given themselves to bring their dream to fruition.”

Former provost critiques ‘margin by major’

Likewise, Smith referred to Williford’s letter as a “thorough, factually accurate and carefully considered assessment of the principal issues raised by the recent actions” of the university’s president and board of trustees.

Smith questioned “the extent to which the claimed ‘financial crisis’ may be the result of mismanagement by the current administration, along with an attempt by the administration and certain trustees to justify the shifting of funds away from the Logsdon endowment to meet other needs rather than honor the intent of the donor.”

Eric Bruntmyer, president of Hardin-Simmons University, addressed the Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board. (Photo / Ken Camp)

“In my former role as executive vice president and provost of the university, and later during two terms as president of the faculty, I could confidently declare that the integrity of the university was not for sale, not to anybody and not for any price. But now it appears that I may no longer be able to make such a statement,” he said.

Smith took issue with the “margin by major” Bruntmyer told the Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board his administration used to assess the financial sustainability of university programs.

That approach can be useful in operations where both costs and the product prices are variable, Smith said. However, it is “entirely unsuited” to a university setting where across-the-board tuition is fixed for all majors, but the cost of instruction varies widely from one discipline to another, he asserted.

Furthermore, if all nonprofitable majors were eliminated, a school could lose its university status, he noted. So, most universities recognize their “profit centers”—including majors that generate revenue—enable them to continue to operate “cost centers” that don’t generate a profit but are “essential to the enterprise” of the university, he said.

“Given the distinctive history and purpose of this university, and the endowment resources available, it seems clear to me that both the Logsdon School of Theology and Logsdon Seminary more than satisfy the criteria for status as an essential component and must be allowed to continue,” Smith said.

‘Inconceivable’ that seminary could create financial crisis

Williford blamed Logsdon Seminary’s declining enrollment in part on the university administration’s decision to eliminate the seminary’s director of recruitment and student services position and partly on the closing of off-campus sites in Lubbock, Dallas-Fort Worth, Corpus Christi and McAllen.

He also noted several university administrations prohibited deans of the Logsdon School of Theology from initiating development efforts on behalf of the seminary, saying it could conflict with university development efforts.

Pointing out Logsdon Seminary already had reduced the size of its faculty through retirements and required cutbacks, Williford insisted the seminary should require “far less financial support than it did five to 10 years ago.”

He also pointed to “several significant endowments which were and should continue to be available to the seminary and non-seminary programs alike” in the Logsdon School of Theology.

“Considering the faculty reductions, which have primarily impacted Logsdon Seminary and endowment incomes which rightfully provide funding to both seminary and non-seminary programs, along with income from tuition income generated by both entities, it seems inconceivable that Logsdon Seminary should be creating such a financial crisis for Hardin-Simmons University,” Williford wrote.

He also questioned whether an “extremely generic” Christian Studies major could adequately replace existing undergraduate degree programs in Biblical Studies, Ministry, Theological Studies and Worship Ministry.

‘Theological/political reasons’ cited

Williford also asserted there is “strong evidence to indicate that theological/political reasons played a much larger part in the decision” than Bruntmyer indicated.

He insisted Bruntmyer accused the Logsdon faculty of being “liberal” and addressed that in a meeting of the entire HSU faculty and in other settings. Williford also asserted Bruntmyer mentioned a meeting he and several trustees attended with BGCT Executive Director David Hardage and three West Texas pastors, whom Williford mentioned by name.

Bruntmyer did not respond to requests to confirm or deny the meeting. Two of the three pastors declined comment, and the other never replied to email inquiries.

Hardage acknowledged some Texas Baptist church leaders had voiced concerns about certain theological positions held by some on the Logsdon faculty, but closing the seminary was not the expressed desire of anyone in any conversation he heard.

“For several years, numerous church leaders from all over the state began expressing concerns about some theological positions at Logsdon, and those concerns were shared with leaders of both the seminary and the university privately and in small group settings. Certainly, others from Texas and beyond did not share those concerns,” Hardage said.

“However, as I understand it, a full theological discussion regarding Logsdon was not a part of the HSU board of trustees decision to close the seminary. Apparently, the stark, negative financial realities facing the seminary negated the need for such a discussion.

“Personally, I was never a part of any conversation with anyone who wanted Logsdon to close and was surprised when I heard the news. I continue to pray for all those whose lives and families have been impacted by the decision to close the seminary. I also continue to pray for and believe in university leadership and hope for a very bright future for HSU.”

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