Scholars, Baptist Leaders Discuss Future Of Baptist Higher Education
More than 300 scholars, university presidents and Baptist leaders from across the country gathered on the Baylor University campus April 18-19 for two days of candid, thought-provoking discussion on the "The Future of Baptist Higher Education."
Conference participants - representing college and universities from Wake Forest to California Baptist and a cross-section of denominations - addressed the role of Baptists in higher education within a Christian culture that questions the relevance of denominations.
"Over the past few decades, church-related schools have found it hard to resist the onslaught of secularization, and this powerful fact has prompted a loss of serious Christian identity," said Baylor Provost Emeritus Donald D. Schmeltekopf, who planned the national conference.
"Secularization has been so powerful that these once-Christian institutions now speak of themselves only as having a religious heritage, the substance of which is reflected in vague language about values in their institutional mission statements," he said.
Religiously affiliated colleges and universities, including Baptist institutions, face a host of present challenges, including denominational accountability, financial resources, quality programs, student enrollment, faculty recruitment and retention, as well as the apparent diminishing support of much of the Baptist constituency itself.
Perhaps, Schmeltekopf said, the most serious challenge is one of purpose: Exactly what is distinctive about Baptist colleges and universities that makes them both worthy of support and integral to the Christian faith itself?
The Baylor conference on "The Future of Baptist Higher Education" included major papers from such well-known and respected scholars as Martin Marty, The Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago; William Hull, Provost Emeritus at Samford University; David P. Gushee, Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University; and Bill J. Leonard, dean and professor of church history in the Divinity School at Wake Forest.
At least 16 university presidents participated in the conference, and prominent religious leaders included Albert Reyes, president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas; Denton Lotz, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance; Bob R. Agee, executive director, Association of Southern Baptist Colleges and Schools; and Daniel Vestal, Coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
The conference included eight academic sessions:
+ The Purpose of Baptist Higher Education
Speakers: Hull and Gushee
Respondents: Bettye R. Coward, President, Blue Mountain College; and W. Craig Turner, President, Hardin-Simmons University
Presider: Andrew Westmoreland, President, Ouachita Baptist University
+ Baptist Higher Education in the Context of Theological and Ecclesiastical Conflict
Speakers: Leonard; and George K. Brushaber, President, Bethel University
Respondents: D. Leslie Hollon, Pastor, St. Matthews Baptist Church, Ky., and Dwight Moody, Dean of the Chapel, Georgetown College
Presider: Michael Carter, President, Campbellsville University
+ Is Christian Higher Education a Justifiable Mission of Baptist Churches and Baptist Bodies?
Speakers: Albert Reyes, President, Baptist University of the Americas, and President, Baptist General Convention of Texas; and James Denison, Pastor, Park Cities Baptist Church, Texas
Respondents: Bob R. Agee, executive director, Association of Southern Baptist Colleges and Schools; and James S. Netherton, President, Carson-Newman College
Presider: Deborah Norris, Vice President for Planning and Assessment and Graduate Dean, Mississippi College
+ To Whom Are Baptist Colleges and Universities Accountable? Two Views
Speakers: R. Kirby Godsey, President, Mercer University; and Daniel Vestal, Coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
Respondents: R. Alton Lacey, President, Missouri Baptist College; and William D. Underwood, Professor of Law, Baylor University
Presider: Ronald Ellis, President, California Baptist University
+ Christian Higher Education and the International Community: How Should We Proceed After 9/11?
Denton Lotz, General Secretary, Baptist World Alliance
+ Who Will Be Our Students and Faculty Members in a Post-Denominational, Multicultural, and Materialistic Age?
Speakers: Richard Franklin, Vice President and Dean of Students, Samford University; and Larry Lyon, Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School, Baylor University
Respondents: Carla D. Sanderson, Provost, Union University; and Bennie Ward, Distinguished Professor and Chair, Physics, Baylor University
Presider: Deborah Blue, Dean of Arts and Sciences, Oklahoma Baptist University
+ How Will Baptist Colleges and Universities Obtain the Resources to Survive and Thrive? Three Views
Speakers: Jerry Cain, President, Judson College, Ill.; Jerry Bawcom, President, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor; and Richard C. Scott, Vice President for University Development, Baylor University
Presider: Pat Taylor, President, Southwest Baptist University
+ Baptist Higher Education: A Secular or Religious Future?
Respondents: Elouise Renich Frasier, Vice President/Dean and Professor of Systematic Theology, Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Curtis Freeman, Research Professor of Theology and Director of the Baptist House of Studies, Duke University; and Francis M. Lazarus, President, University of Dallas
Presider: William H. Crouch, Jr., President, Georgetown College
+ Young Scholars in the Baptist Academy: Back to the Future
Panel: Roger Ward, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Georgetown College; Scott Moore, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Baylor University; Elizabeth Newman, Professor of Theology and Ethics, Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond; Michael Lindsay, Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology, Princeton University
Presider: Douglas Henry, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Director, Institute for Faith and Learning, Baylor University
Schmeltekopf said today's students come to universities with a strong career orientation and, unlike students of the past, have not adequately considered the perennial issues of life faced by older generations.
"In 50 years, we could be dinosaurs if we don't face the serious issues now," Schmeltekopf said. "Traditionally, the academic enterprise has not focused merely on preparing to earn money in a career, so what should it be today? If we're going to be a real alternative to state universities we need to reclaim our legacy as serious academic and religious institutions."
More information about the conference is available at "The Future of Baptist Higher Education" or by contacting Schmeltekopf at (254) 710-7691.