Editorial: For Logsdon and HSU, the most important question is ‘why’

Photo by Julie Sorrels

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Many of us have spent hours and even days since 8:43 p.m. on Feb. 7 trying to come to grips with the Hardin-Simmons University board of trustees’ decision to close Logsdon Seminary and the emailed announcement of that decision sent by President Eric Bruntmyer and addressed to the HSU Family.

For many, the immediate response was shock. For others, the response was something like temporary blindness. They didn’t see what the announcement said until they read it a second time.

In the 12 days—Wow. It’s been 12 days—since the announcement, I have yet to come across anyone happy about the closure of Logsdon. I have encountered plenty of people who are sad, and deeply so. I have encountered plenty of people who are angry, and profoundly so. I have been approached by people who are mystified and others who haven’t heard yet, who want to know what’s going on with Hardin-Simmons.

When something or someone so important suddenly is gone …

There is the numbness. There is the obliviousness to the passing of time. There are the tears that seem ready at any moment but never actually fall. There is the incredulity that the whole world doesn’t know what has happened.

And yes, there is the anger, the doubting, the endless questions.

Questions we have asked

Has anyone written down all the questions people are asking about the closure of Logsdon Seminary? A few lists have been published elsewhere, but has anyone kept a running tally of all the questions? They just seem to keep coming.

The Baptist Standard has a few sets of questions of our own, and we’ve been asking them. Like everyone else asking questions, we’ve wanted answers faster than we’ve received them.

Explaining why their response was delayed, Bruntmyer wrote in an email to the HSU Family on Feb. 14: “During this week, we have been working hard to communicate the specific actions that must be taken to implement the Board’s decisions, making sure that we are complying with all applicable legal and accreditation standards, and to provide individual notification to those on campus most directly affected. We are now able to release additional information about the Board’s decisions.”

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Undoubtedly, implementing the board’s decision has been and will be complicated.

Like so many others, the answers provided on Feb. 14 haven’t stopped our questions. Some of what we have been asking since Feb. 8 includes:

• What is the financial position of Hardin-Simmons now? This question has a partial answer in the letter emailed on Feb. 14.

• How much of an impact has decreased BGCT Cooperative Program support had on the cuts HSU has made in the last two years?

• What kind of cost savings are anticipated for the university when Logsdon Seminary is closed?

• How does this decision affect currently employed seminary faculty? This question was addressed in letters emailed to the HSU Family on Feb. 8 and Feb. 12.

• How does this affect the undergraduate programs in the Logsdon School of Theology? This question also has been addressed in letters emailed after the initial announcement. A more thorough understanding began to take shape as personnel were notified their positions were reduced or eliminated.

• Was the decision entirely based on finances? In his letter to the HSU Family on Feb. 12, under the heading “Decisions of the Board of Trustees,” Bruntmyer stated, “While theological issues did come up in our discussions, this was solely a financial decision.” This sentence, with no further explanation, fed the speculation of many that Logsdon’s demise really was more than a financial decision. It seems understandable people are questioning the stated reason.

• We have asked about the rumors involving West Texas pastors, who now have been named in a rebuttal by former Logsdon dean Don Williford. To date, we have no firsthand corroboration of these specific rumors.

• What will happen to any endowments specifically related to Logsdon? Bruntmyer gave an answer to the BGCT Executive Board during its meeting on Feb. 17, saying funds would be directed back from Logsdon Seminary to the Logsdon School of Theology. More questions are being asked related to endowments.

• Under “The Way Forward” plan, what is the criteria for determining whether existing departments or programs should be continued? An answer to this question came during Bruntmyer’s address to the BGCT Executive Board on Feb. 17. Presumably—and this is my presumption—HSU will use a “margin by major” metric similar or identical to what was used to determine Logsdon seminary was “among the university’s most low performing programs.”

• Was BGCT executive leadership notified of the HSU trustee decision in advance? David Hardage, executive director of the BGCT, answered this on Feb. 17 at the Executive Board meeting. He said he was taken by surprise and was not involved, nor were Texas Baptists, in HSU board discussions or its decision.

In addition to questions asked by the Baptist Standard, alumni have asked what will happen to the Logsdon facility. Other alumni have asked about athletic programs at HSU, how they are measured and if they enable the university to “make money to pay the bills.”

Closing a seminary is a major decision. It’s understandable that hard and direct questions would be asked about such a thing. To be told the decision was solely financial leaves many feeling as though their questions are being swept under the rug.

What asking questions isn’t accomplishing

In the midst of high emotion, every question seems fraught with peril. There are questions some would rather not be asked. Isn’t this true for all of us? Even if the answer is benign, questions reveal a point of pain. Even a benign answer must get close to that pain.

Asking questions may get us to some important answers—and we hope they do—but the questions aren’t lessening the pain. They aren’t ameliorating the sorrow or quenching the anger. Not yet.

Even so, we are driven to ask. Because every question is an attempt to express what we want to know most. In response to the sudden loss of something we cherish, the question that matters most to us is: “Why?”

Why did it have to come to this? What really happened that led to this outcome? Was there no other option? If this was the least painful choice, what were the other options?

No one I’ve come across since Feb. 7 is happy about the closure of Logsdon. They all are asking questions. And those questions are revealing some point of pain we need to acknowledge and address.

Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at eric.black@baptiststandard.com or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author.

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