DALLAS—Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board directors joined together to lay hands on and pray for Hardin-Simmons University (HSU) President Eric Bruntmyer during the Monday evening session of the Feb. board meeting. President Michael Evans led the prayer over Bruntmyer, who in a letter released on the school’s website Feb. 7, announced the adoption of a new strategic direction by trustees that included plans to close Logsdon Seminary.
“Lord, we come together in the midst of tumultuous times. Hard decisions to make. Lives are at stake—livelihoods. Young people in need of direction and God we know that you see all of it. We know God that you hear it all. We know that you already know the weight, the burden of these decisions that are made,” Evans said.
“We stand with him, leaning and depending and trusting in you, knowing Lord that all of our help comes from you,” Evans prayed. “Make him to know that he came to his family … that we are praying for him, we are cheering for him and not only him but for the young men and women who look up to him and are looking for strength from him. So, Lord God, fill up his cup. Let it overflow.”
Bruntmyer reports on the decision to close Logsdon
Opening his remarks, Bruntmyer thanked the BGCT board for their work and investment in institutions like HSU.
“Thank you and your churches for what you do to support, not only the BGCT but also our institutions,” he said. “We appreciate what you do in your churches and what you provide for us to do in our classrooms.”
Bruntmyer provided an overview of the financial situation that led to the trustee action. Over a four year period, Bruntmyer gathered information on financial sustainability. More than one year ago, Bruntmyer alerted the HSU board to financial deficits both in the Logsdon School of Theology and Logsdon Seminary. Both programs were underperforming and relied heavily on endowment income to be sustainable. Bruntmyer had many conversations with the Logsdon Committee who oversaw the programs and discussed declining enrollment and increasing deficits.
Nine months ago, Bruntmyer brought three questions before the HSU board to prayerfully consider:
In recent years, the seminary relied on endowment funds to cover expenses, much of which was designated to cover the School of Theology but had been transferred for the seminary.
After a thorough review, the HSU board was faced with the decision to keep two “financially weak” programs going, or to close one of the two programs. At the Feb. 7 board meeting, after much deliberation and some dissent, the vote was made to close Logsdon Seminary, Bruntmyer reported.
HSU has committed to teach-out every student in the seminary until completion.
“We will teach-out to the very end. We take care of our students because they are our students,” Bruntmyer said.
“When I say it was purely a financial reason – it was,” Bruntmyer said. “The board was overwhelmingly in support to move money back and to take care of undergraduate education of our students.”
Hardage reflects on closure and challenges in theological education
Following Bruntmyer’s address, Hardage delivered transparent remarks to the board. He shared that he was informed of Logsdon’s closing by Bruntmyer on the evening of Feb. 7, following the board’s vote.
While he was surprised to hear of the closure, Hardage added, “I have such belief and confidence in who [President Bruntmyer] is and what he’s been trying to do for years.” Hardage expressed that he was sad, but also understood.
While the BGCT leadership was not a part of the board’s deliberative process, Hardage expressed his confidence in the HSU leadership and BGCT-elected trustees as they prayerfully made the decision.
“I was not, and Texas Baptists, we weren’t in those discussions, and we weren’t a part of that decision, but that’s why we elect board members,” he said.
In addressing the challenges HSU and others in theological education face, Hardage emphasized three main issues: the toll online education has taken on traditional theological residential campus education; many institutions offering shorter length master’s degrees that students find appealing because of time and money; and fewer students being called out to vocational ministry by their churches.
Hardage also addressed how Texas Baptists-affiliated institutions are funded.
“We fund [ministerial students] based on enrollment. It’s well over $7 million each year that goes to our educational institutions,” he said.
After taking into account an additional $4 million which funds Baptist Student Ministry, Hardage said, “it’s a sizable portion of our budget because we know the need and we know the mission field.”
Christina provides insight on funding to Theological Education Council
Earlier in the day, Associate Executive Director Craig Christina addressed the Theological Education Council (TEC) to provide information on how the BGCT has funded Logsdon. The TEC approves the funding formula for Ministerial Financial Assistance, which is then used to disperse funds among Texas Baptists-affiliated institutions. The formula has been in place since May 21, 2012.
“According to this formula, our two theological seminaries are reimbursed for semester hours taken by students in the previous year,” Christina said. “Under this formula, Logsdon Seminary will be paid in 2020 for semester hours taken by students in 2019, so no impact to the 2020 budget exists.”
He also noted that in 2019, the BGCT Cooperative Program funded Logsdon Seminary for semester hours taken in 2018 in the amount of $241,800. Adding designated gifts, the BGCT gave Logsdon Seminary in 2019 a total of $277,930.15.
“Texas Baptists are committed to providing quality education to our future ministry leaders and will continue to make theological education one of our highest priorities,” Christina said. “In the 2020 budget, Texas Baptists designated $7,146,421 for Christian education or 22% of our total budget; by far, the largest item in the budget. Equipping students with a Christian worldview is one of our highest priorities and greatest investments spiritually and materially.”
Closing Monday’s meeting, Hardage encouraged the board to pray for Bruntmyer and the entire university family. He noted that Ward Hayes, board chair, and Jason Atchley, second vice president, were both Logsdon Seminary graduates impacted by the ministry of the school.
“We need to pray for our leaders to continue the good work of providing good Christian education and they will,” he said. “Pray for him. Pray for HSU. I believe bright days are ahead.”