HSU president addresses BGCT Executive Board

Michael Evans, president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Mansfield, leads in prayer as directors of the BGCT Executive Board lay hands on Hardin-Simmons University President Eric Bruntmyer. (BGCT Photo)

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DALLAS—Hardin-Simmons University trustees made the hard decision to close Logsdon Seminary and direct endowment earnings back to undergraduate programs in the Logsdon School of Theology because the university could not “keep two financially weak programs going,” President Eric Bruntmyer told Texas Baptist leaders.

The trustee vote came after the HSU administration spent four years carefully examining all university programs to determine their financial sustainability, Bruntmyer told the Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board on Feb. 17.

The same day Bruntmyer addressed Texas Baptists’ board, the dean of Logsdon School of Theology and its seminary released a statement saying the trustee decision to close the seminary “seems incompatible with the mission and heritage of the university.”

When Bruntmyer arrived as president at HSU in June 2016, he said the university lacked good measurement tools to assess the financial health of individual programs. The administration developed “margin by major” metric assessments, he explained.

“We looked at each and every single program on campus to find out if they were healthy and sustainable. … You have to make money to pay the bills. Faculty and staff don’t work for free,” he said.

Through that analysis, it became clear Logsdon Seminary and the Logsdon School of Theology were among the university’s most low-performing programs, he reported.

The trustee board’s Logsdon Seminary Committee and Finance and Audit Committee discussed the matter twice in overlapping meetings, and then the university’s administration talked with faculty and staff at the seminary and Logsdon School of Theology to explore ways to improve their financial condition, he said.

Trustees considered three tough questions

Bruntmyer said he asked the board of trustees last October to consider three pointed questions:

  • Are Logsdon School of Theology and/or Logsdon Seminary financially sustainable programs?
  • Will it be possible for Logsdon School of Theology and/or Logsdon Seminary to become financially sustainable programs?
  • Are the Logsdon School of Theology and Seminary programs essential to the mission of the university?

“We had some really good frank discussions about what we were doing and how we could do it differently,” he said.

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In response to the suggestion of raising tuition, if tuition costs were raised to a level that would make the program sustainable, it would be so expensive no students would choose to study at the seminary, he noted.

About 300 students would be needed to make the programs financially viable, Bruntmyer said. He told the Executive Board 40 to 45 undergraduates are pursuing majors in the Logsdon School of Theology, and the program has experienced a steady decline in recent years.

About 90 students are enrolled in seminary graduate classes at its two campuses in San Antonio and Abilene, but those numbers do not represent full-time equivalency, he said. The number of graduate students grew at the seminary’s San Antonio campus but declined at the main campus in Abilene, he added.

‘Had to decide to do one or the other’

Bruntmyer told the Executive Board he talked to the Logsdon dean about the possibility of pursuing a waiver from the Association of Theological Schools accrediting agency to offer fully online programs.

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

The seminary made the internal decision to offer “face-to-face” residential theological education, he said.

Bruntmyer traced the financial history of Logsdon Seminary, pointing to its inability to achieve financial sustainability.

“The seminary was never properly funded,” he said.

He displayed a series of detailed charts to the BGCT Executive Board with specific financial information. The Baptist Standard requested but did not receive copies of the slides that were projected in the board meeting.

“That information was meant specifically for that audience, and reflects a great deal of proprietary information about HSU’s current and historical financial situation. Consequently, we will not be providing any of those presentation materials to members of the media or outside audiences,” Jacob Brandt, director of university marketing at HSU, wrote in an email.

Over the years, endowment income increasingly was shifted from the Logsdon School of Theology to cover seminary deficits, he reported.

“Net profit was not enough to cover both, and the board had to decide to do one or the other,”  the seminary or the undergraduate Logsdon School of Theology, he said.

In the last academic year, combined losses from the Logsdon School of Theology and Logsdon Seminary totaled $1.26 million. In 2018, Logsdon Seminary relied on $1.5 million in endowment to cover expenses, transferred from the School of Theology,

‘Purely a financial reason’

After considerable discussion and debate, the board voted to begin the process of closing Logsdon Seminary, providing a “teach-out” program for current students and providing full-time seminary faculty a one-year contract.

“I will tell you, as I said in the (Feb. 12) letter, there were theological discussions,” Bruntmyer said to the BGCT Executive Board. “I will also tell you I stood up and said: ‘If we want to have a theological discussion, let’s bring all the theologians in the room and let’s have a big discussion about this. But at the end of the day, I still have to deal with a financial deficit. Whatever you decide on, I still have to deal with a financial deficit, and this will not matter one bit what we argue about.’ So, when I say it was purely a financial reason, it was.”

As he mentioned in his Feb. 12 public statement, Bruntmyer raised the possibility of “a freestanding seminary in San Antonio,” but he added alumni who expressed an interest said they did not have sufficient funds to create a sustainable seminary there.

“And unfortunately in 2004, we didn’t have that kind of money, either,” he said.

In response to questions, concerns and allegations raised on social media that Texas Baptists were responsible for Logsdon’s closing, Bruntmyer noted most of the emails, calls and texts he had received acknowledged the board of trustees did what had to be done.

“You really can’t get out and wage a war that supports the closing of a seminary. No one can get behind that. No one can get excited about closing a seminary,” he said. “One of the things I told the board was this: ‘I did not want to be the president who stood before you and had to close the seminary. I wanted it to grow. I want it to exist. It simply can’t happen.”

Hardage ‘not involved in those discussions’

BGCT Executive Director David Hardage also addressed the rumors that had circulated—specifically those who accused him of using his influence to convince HSU trustees to close Logsdon Seminary.

When Bruntmyer called him on Feb. 7 to tell him about the board’s action, Hardage said he was taken by surprise, but he understood how difficult it must have been.

“I was not, Texas Baptists were not, involved in those discussions and that decision,” he said, adding that the convention elects board members to study, deliberate and vote on matters affecting the institutions.

“Somebody has accused me of trying to influence board members,” Hardage said.

Disputing that notion, he told the Executive Board  he “couldn’t name for you a single member of the Hardin-Simmons board tonight” without prompting.

“We have committees who name those boards. We trust them to do their work,” he said.

Schools related to the BGCT receive funding for students receiving ministerial scholarships based on enrollment, he noted.

Looking at the larger issue of theological education and the challenges seminaries face, Hardage noted, “Online education is taking its toll on residential theological education.”

He also pointed out an increasing number of Texas Baptist universities and other institutions offer a variety of master’s degrees, and many pastor search committees do not look exclusively at ministers who hold a Master of Divinity degree.

Hardage also challenged churches to be more intentional about calling out students to be open to God’s call to full-time vocational Christian ministry.

Dean Bob Ellis: ‘It breaks my heart’

Earlier in the day, Bob Ellis, dean of the Logsdon School of Theology and Logsdon Seminary, released a statement expressing his sorrow that HSU “will be closing the seminary and letting the faculty go, as well as marginalizing Logsdon’s undergraduate program and releasing one of their faculty.”

“It appears that Logsdon will be left with three full-time faculty after the next year,” he said.

Ellis praised the vision that guided Logsdon since its creation.

“At Logsdon we are rooted in the kind of theological education that is distinctively Baptist, growing out of our commitments to the priesthood of believers, religious liberty and freedom of conscience. We are a school deeply committed to preparing servant leaders for the church with an academically challenging theological education centered on Christ, committed to the authority of Scripture, and guided by the Holy Spirit,” he said. “Our goal is to prepare ministers who are characterized by humility, compassion, courage, and creativity, as they carry the Gospel of grace into a broken world.”

The news that the seminary is closing “breaks my heart,” Ellis said, adding that his service at Logsdon “has been the greatest privilege of my ministry career.”

‘Disappointed in my university’

“I’m deeply grateful to my alma mater, HSU, for giving me this opportunity. But now, I am deeply disappointed in my university for closing the seminary. It breaks my heart, and it will deprive Texas churches of a uniquely gifted resource for preparing ministers,” he said.

“A natural question is why the seminary was closed. Conversations leading up to the trustee meeting in which the closure vote occurred certainly involved finances, theology and Baptist politics. These factors deserve careful examination with the help of various persons who have insights into the process.”

Ellis acknowledged the financial challenges HSU faces and the “difficult choices” that must be made.

“But the choice to close the seminary, when other things could have been done, seems incompatible with the mission and heritage of the university and the dreams of the very generous donors whose significant endowments undergird Logsdon,” he said.

“Logsdon Seminary is a gift to the university, the faculty, the students and the church. And now the gift is being lost.”

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