Monday, October 8, 2012

Georgetown College (KY) President to Retire

Over the weekend, Associated Baptist Press reported that Georgetown College President Bill Crouch is retiring after 21 years.  Among Dr. Crouch's many accomplishments at Georgetown are the fact that he never wavered in standing strong for academic freedom and he avoided a painful, fruitless war with the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

We've blogged extensively about Stetson, Furman, William Jewell, Louisiana College, Shorter, Truett-McConnell, Brewton-Parker, Yellowstone, among other evangelical colleges.  But we haven't talked about Georgetown at Save OBU, and it's a shame.  In fact, Georgetown has a lot more in common with OBU than some of the schools we ordinarily consider peers due to geographic proximity.  Like OBU, Georgetown has exemplified the best of the moderate Baptist liberal arts tradition even as it existed in the shadow of a large SBC seminary that has become avowedly fundamentalist since the early 1990s.  Also, Georgetown's path to independence, sustainability, and a bright future as a legitimate institution of Baptist higher education is one we would do well to follow.  Like many evangelical colleges, Georgetown has maintained excellence while upholding its Christian identity even as OBU has fallen in the national rankings.

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

For decades, the state convention trusted and proudly supported the college, a beacon of intellectually honest and academically rigorous Christian higher education.  The nearby SBC seminary served as a natural pipeline for religion faculty and administrators.  Though many state churches were fundamentalist, moderates had a place at the table when it came to college, state convention, and SBC life.  After the Fundamentalist Takeover of the SBC, the college kept on excelling even as the nearby seminary and the state convention moved sharply in the direction of fundamentalism and authoritarianism.  The tenuous partnership continued until the state convention began demanding changes at the college that its faculty, students, and alumni could not in good conscience abide.

Yeah, I've heard that one before.  We've all lived it.  The people at Georgetown lived it, too.  But they fought back in ways we've been yet unwilling to do.

Wisely, Georgetown and the KBC negotiated an exit strategy.  Georgetown would be allowed to elect its own trustees, and the KBC would phase out its annual subsidy to the college.  Rather than downplay its Baptist heritage, Georgetown has continued in its tradition of unashamedly Baptist Christian higher education.  For the KBC's part, it has been able to allocate funds to a variety of critical mission and ministry priorities rather than add a drop in the bucket to an institution that raises almost all its money on its own.  Students who want a fundamentalist Bible college experience can attend any of the KBC's five colleges, including Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of Louisville's Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Students flock to Georgetown if they want a serious, rigorous Christian liberal arts education with professors who are free to teach and do not seek to indoctrinate their students.  For a while, the KBC listed Georgetown as a "ministry partner," but today's Baptists don't like to be affiliated with anything they can't control, so even that relationship is about to end, though neither entity really cares anymore.  Both realize they are infinitely better off without the other, just as OBU and the BGCO will immediately realize once they, mercifully, finally sever ties.

If it weren't for the very unfortunate fact that the BGCO literally owns OBU's buildings and grounds, the path of Georgetown's exit from KBC control would be the most ideal path for us to follow.  President Whitlock would cement his place in OBU history as one of our greatest presidents and would have the unending gratitude of generations of faculty, students, and alumni.

Instead, we will continue our awkward little dance with the BGCO, which next month will elect another slate of 8 Anthony Jordan-approved trustees.  Eventually, more professors will be fired, more fundamentalists will be hired, and the quality of our academic programs will gradually erode.  This is not just speculation.  It's exactly what will happen if nothing changes, just as it happened to literally dozens of other state convention-controlled colleges.  Maybe if we boost enrollment, build athletic teams, and add master's programs, few people will notice.  Instead of fully funding ministry, missions, and evangelism, the BGCO will chip in a pittance toward our annual budget, in exchange for controlling the trustee board, dominating presidential selection, and the presumption of control of the institution's direction, mission, and ethos.

Georgetown offers a path forward for us, and Dr. William Crouch deserves credit for leading the college toward a future not only of prosperity and excellence, but also integrity and the very best of the Baptist tradition.  We wish him and his wife, Jan, all the best in their retirement.

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