The trustees of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary overwhelmingly approved a procedure Tuesday for selecting new faculty members that could - if carried through - finally bring peace to the divided campus.
``If that is not a step toward reconciliation, I don't know what is,' the Rev. James DeLoach of Houston, the trustee chairman, said.The trustees and faculty have been divided since October 1987 when a fundamentalist majority on the trustee board changed school policy to gut the participation of professors in the selection of new faculty.
That sparked the resignations of former seminary president Randall Lolley and several top administrators, who oppose the board's goal to make the seminary more conservative.
Their resignations and the volatile atmosphere at Southeastern prompted investigations by the school's two accrediting agencies - the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Association of Theological Schools in the U.S. and Canada. After several visits to campus and much correspondence with the administration, the Southern Association has put the school on warning.
The document approved Tuesday is part of the seminary's response to the concerns of those agencies.
It was drafted by a committee of three trustees, three faculty members and seminary President Lewis Drummond. During three lengthy sessions, the two sides worked out their differences under the supervision of mediator Bob Cooley, president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass., who was recommended by ATS.
Drummond, who has been consistently upbeat throughout the ordeal over accreditation, was in similar form Tuesday.
``I think we're in good shape,' he said. ``I'm more optimistic about our situation with SACS and ATS than I've ever been.'
Faculty spokesman Tom Halbrooks, who was on the committee, said he thinks the new procedure will ensure the faculty's participation. The faculty, some of whom oppose the document, are expected to vote today on whether to endorse it.
``A lot of the faculty have concerns not only about the document, but with how it will be followed,' Halbrooks said.
Halbrooks said he represents a majority of the faculty who see the document as the best deal they will get under the circumstances. He hopes other professors will come around after the administration and trustees prove that they are serious about allowing faculty to participate in the selection process.
``This does define clearly the role of the faculty,' Halbrooks said. ``Working through a process is the primary means for building trust.'
Halbrooks, who in October had harsh criticism for the trustees, has softened as a result of his work with trustees on the committee.
``'Out of that hard dialogue, we have been able to work something out,' he said.