Friday, January 23, 2009

Doing The Right Thing

The financial crisis is spreading to every segment of our society. Theological education is not immune. The six Southern Baptist Seminaries are all taking severe blows to their finances. The recent free fall and continual drop of the stock market is taking its toll on the endowment funds upon which the seminaries heavily depend. Baptist Press has run stories recently, reporting on actions that are being taken in several of the seminaries. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX is cutting nearly three million dollars from their budget. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY has cut 35 full and part time positions. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is also facing a budget adjustment of nearly one million dollars. This crisis is especially tough for the NOBTS family which is still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of NOBTS for the past three years, I have come to know many of the people on that beautiful campus. My friends in the seminary family include many administrators, faculty, staff, and a good number of the students. Naturally this crisis hits home when it is your friends and loved ones involved. I feared that NOBTS would also have to cut positions, or lay off faculty or staff members. However, the actions taken by the seminary leadership, while difficult to bear, are a testimony to the able leadership of seminary President Dr. Chuck Kelley.

A hiring freeze was put in place. Faculty members were asked to temporarily take on a larger work load. Travel and spending costs are being severely restricted, and energy saving policies are being instituted in all campus facilities. Some students who work on campus will be losing medical benefits. Every member of the faculty, staff, and administration (except those who are losing insurance coverage) are also facing pay cuts. This, of course, is the toughest pill to swallow. The cuts are to be temporary, but they will obviously impact every family and individual working on campus.

This is where I appreciate so deeply the compassion of our seminary leadership. All employees will be facing a 5% reduction in pay. Senior Administrators will see their pay reduced by 7%, and in an action that shows great empathy for the sacrifice others are making, Dr. Kelley's salary will be reduced by 10%. Now, Dr. Kelley's salary is the highest of any on campus, and rightly so, but 10% is 10% however you cut it. While each employee will feel the brunt of the temporary pay cuts, I pray that the example of the Senior Administrators and President Kelley will be a signal to each person affected, that the leadership cares about each of them.

Hopefully this austerity budget will bring NOBTS through the current crisis, without any loss of positions, or further cuts. Dr. Kelley has communicated to us that the loss of investment income is only part of the financial problem. Cooperative Program giving is down about four percent across the Southern Baptist Convention, and CP giving is a big part of the Seminary's financing. Furthermore, private giving to the Seminary is also down this year. All three of these factors are forming a perfect financial storm for each of our seminaries.

There are some things all of us can do to help. First, pray. Pray for every entity of the SBC, including the Seminaries and the International and North American Mission Boards. Secondly, keep giving to your local church, so the local church's Cooperative Program giving may continue - or increase. Also, private gifts to the Seminaries are always welcomed and deeply appreciated.

NOBTS is blessed to have a wonderful faculty and staff, and a leadership team that is committed to doing the right thing. Vice President for Business Affairs, Mr. Clay Corvin, is a world class number cruncher, and Dr. Chuck Kelley is a loving shepherd and servant leader who cares deeply for students, faculty and staff. They are trusting fully in God, and they ask each of us to pray fervently for the entire Seminary Family. The same God who brought NOBTS through the worst natural disaster in U.S. history is able to bring them through this financial storm as well.

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