In military circles the term “friendly fire” is used when comrades in arms get caught in an unintentional crossfire and end up getting wounded or even killed by shots intended for the enemy, but the bullets are from one of their own. Many casualties in war come from “friendly fire”. These casualties are sometimes proven to be incidental, but other times it is proven to be intentional. Either way, whether incidental or intentional, there is a wound inflicted and death is possible. In the times it is proven to be incidental the soldier is given refresher training on how to avoid future incidents. When it is proven to be intentional the soldier is reprimanded and charged with the crime.
This brings me to the latest incident at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I was preparing to enroll in the D. Min. program there, but have placed everything on hold until I can see where this issue is headed. The chairman of the board of trustees appears to have seriously violated his responsibilities. If the news reports are correct (three sources report the same thing here here and here) then Mr. Gene Downing has seriously violated his position. From Baptist Press please note this report and Mr. Downing’s quote.
Downing said Roberts had not followed directives from trustees on March 19 and July 9 which stipulated that he “let [Hodge] do his job. He [Roberts] didn’t.” Downing said he asked Hodge for a confidential review for the trustee executive committee of various facets of the seminary’s operations, such as its strategic plan and a “game plan” for how funds would be used from a recent sale of a parcel of MBTS property.
Allow me to just elaborate on this one quote. First, Mr. Downing freely discusses “personnel” issues he has with Dr. Phil Roberts in the press. Mr. Downing states that the trustees issued directives to Dr. Roberts and they have not been followed-up by the President. THESE ARE PERSONNEL ISSUES!!! These issues are to be spoken about before the board of trustees and only there in Executive Session. Any discussion of personnel issues outside of the trustee meetings I believe you will find are a violation of trusteeship.
Second, Mr. Downing instructed Mr. Hodge to put together a “confidential review”, it seems, of Mr. Hodge’s opinion pertaining to the strategic plan implemented by Dr. Roberts and also a “game plan” about how the funds from a recent sale of land should be used. Once again Mr. Downing has violated his role as a trustee. As trustees there is only one employee they direct–the president. No one at any of our seminaries works for the trustees. There are reports issued by employees to trustees, but the trustees employ only one person. Also, Mr. Downing requested Mr. Hodge to keep this report confidential from the President.
Another SERIOUS violation of his role as a trustee and even his role as chairman of the board: The board of trustees cannot micro-manage. Dr. Roberts must have freedom to lead. If employees of the seminary are not happy with the direction or items are not to their liking there is a grievance process to be followed. Any trustee meeting with employees of the seminary is in serious violation of his/her trusteeship. That is the purpose of the grievance process. Once an employee violates that process and goes to a trustee, it is the trustees’ responsibility to direct that employee to the grievance process.
Allow me to produce some facts that are clearly seen. First, Mr. Hodge has been an employee at the seminary for 5 months. Second, because of his banking expertise he was hired as VP of Business Services. Mr. Hodge certainly has the credentials to fulfill the “bean counting” duties that were assigned to him. However, I question his desire to see the seminary succeed. Mr. Hodge is a contributor to a political action committee (PAC). What one does on their own time is their business. However, I ask: Why would David Hodge contribute to a banking PAC under his previous employers position? Here Mr. Hodge is listed as of 8/31/07 as a contributor and he is listed as “David Hodge, Central Bank & Trust Co., Hutchinson.” Also, Mr. Hodge has not moved to the Kansas City area. What is his commitment to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary? He was asked by Mr. Downing to give direction to a plan that calls for second-guessing the president, when Mr. Hodge will not even relocate to the area. These facts give the perception that Mr. Hodge was only there to advance his status in some way. As a new employee of 5 months how does Mr. Downing develop such a cozy relationship with Mr. Hodge that he feels comfortable asking Mr. Hodge to violate a known employee/employer confidence? These two men are business savvy and both know these actions in the business world will send an organization into anarchy.
Here are the facts. Dr. Phil Roberts is a human being. As a human being he makes mistakes. Both Mr. Downing and Mr. Hodge have asserted that nothing has been done in any underhanded, devious way by Dr. Roberts. Mr. Hodge has stated, “there were no financial improprieties at the school and that Southern Baptists can have full confidence in the seminary.” This statement assures Dr. Roberts’ integrity in the financial dealings of the Seminary.
Also, the Seminary has increased in full-time equivalents (FTE’s) by 63% since 2001. The last president was released and it appears now the seminary is entertaining the idea of releasing another. Systemic? I do not know. If it is systemic then it lies in the Board of Trustees. But, what can be so terrible at MBTS that the chairman of the board of trustees calls for a confidential assessment? There is no evidence of mishandling of funds on the part of the president.
Dr. Roberts and MBTS, it seems, has been wounded and this wound was inflicted by friendly fire. The job before the trustees now should be to find out if this friendly fire was intentional or incidental. If it was incidental, simply the result of someone not understanding their role and thus over-stepping boundaries, then the trustees need to deal with it and make certain everyone knows the boundaries. If it is proven to be intentional, then the trustees should bring a recommendation to the SBC in Indianapolis that the individual trustees responsible be removed so that MBTS can return to fulfilling her vision.