Sloan seeks change in leadership for Truett Seminary
___By Mark Wingfield
___ WACO--Students and faculty were stunned by a May 5 announcement that Bradley Creed will step down as dean of Truett Theological Seminary June 1 and return to the classroom full time.
___The change was instigated by Baylor University President Robert Sloan, who praised Creed for his contributions during Truett's founding years but said a dean with a different set of skills is needed for the next phase of the 6-year-old seminary's life.
___ Truett operates within the Baylor University structure, and Baylor's deans serve on
three-year contracts renewable at the pleasure of the president.
Sloan said he and Creed began conversations about the change more than a year ago, before the end of Creed's three-year contract.
___ Baylor University Provost Don Schmeltekopf met with Truett faculty to break the news Friday afternoon, May 5. Faculty members reportedly wept upon hearing the news.
___ Word spread to students later that night and over the weekend, as they prepared for final exams scheduled the week of May 8.
___ A group of about 10 third-year students called Sloan at his home on Saturday, May 6, to request a meeting. Sloan met with them that afternoon for about an hour.
___ Students and faculty alike said they do not fully understand the reasons behind the change in deans, even though both groups have asked repeated questions of university administration.
___ In an interview with the Baptist Standard, Sloan did not directly answer the question of why the change was made. He did, however, offer some insight.
___ "Truett is changing a lot," he said. "For the next period of the life of Truett, it's very good for us to have a change of leadership which involves a slightly different set of skills.
We've got to be increasingly involved with student recruiting. We've got to be increasingly involved in fundraising and in encouraging Baptists to support theological education in Texas."
___ Truett's growth from 92 students to 194 under Creed's leadership is only the beginning of further anticipated growth, Sloan said. "Truett is going to grow and grow rapidly. This brings larger and larger administrative demands.
___ "Brad was the outstanding leader for the initial years of Truett's life," Sloan added. "Now is a good and healthy time for there to be a transition."
___ Creed confirmed he and Sloan had been in conversation about the change for more than a year. Although he does not share the president's perspective that this is a good time for a change, he said, he determined to be cooperative in the transition.
___ The focus of conversations between Sloan and Creed "has not been on elaboration of reasons," Creed said. "The best way I've described it is that a new profile of leadership is needed for the next phase of development. We have talked about how to cooperate in letting this unfold."
___ Sloan was "emphatic about wanting me to stay on faculty," Creed said. "Those are my intentions right now."
___ Creed will take a brief sabbatical this summer and fall, in which he will prepare for a return to full-time teaching and work on Spanish-language study in Mexico. "With the sort of mission needs we have in Texas, I want to be proficient in Spanish," he said.
___ Sloan, who was Truett's founding dean and who hired Creed as one of the seminary's first faculty members in 1994, emphasized he and Creed remain friends.
___ The change in leadership should not be interpreted as a signal of any change in theological or political perspective at Truett or at Baylor, Sloan said.
___ "This is not about theological views. This change is not about political alignments in Baptist life," Sloan said. "Brad and I are in firm agreement about theological issues and Baptist principles. This is not about those kinds of things."
___ Nevertheless, as news of the leadership change spread across campus and across the state, speculation began about what possible unspoken motives might lie behind Sloan's decision. Some of Sloan's long-time critics among the university faculty saw the change as evidence of a "fundamentalist" agenda on the president's part. Others speculated the change was demanded by university donors. Yet others focused on what they called a lack of due process, a charge that has been at the heart of other intense battles between Sloan and some university faculty members in recent years.
___ Sloan said he understands that speculations about motives are natural when such a leadership change is announced. But he lamented that Baptist life over the last 20 years has created an environment in which suspicion rules the day.
___ "The fact is that nowadays, unfortunately, any time there's a transition in Baptist leadership, people have this very traumatic frame of reference against which to interpret events," he said. "They immediately ask questions about theology or Baptist politics.
___ "I appeal to Baptist people to realize you can have transitions whereby people as Christian friends, brothers and sisters, come together and for the good of the Lord's work decide upon change," Sloan added. "We've simply got to get beyond this sad past whereby everything is interpreted with conspiratorial terms and with theological agendas."
___ Truett's younger students who were raised in Southern Baptist churches have known nothing but denominational conflict their entire lives. Several said in interviews it is difficult to put this heritage of political and theological feuding behind them when faced with an unexpected turn of events like has happened at Truett.
___ Several said their minds immediately raced to draw connections to the 1994 firing of Russell Dilday as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. Dilday later became a professor at Truett.
___ "I've grown up in this Baptist atmosphere of fear and suspicion," admitted Anne Burton, a third-year student from Amarillo. "I don't want to be like that, but my initial fear was that this is what happened to Dr. Dilday. I now know it's not that at all."
___ Burton and other Truett students quickly rallied around Creed to show support, holding a prayer vigil and other events designed to affirm Creed's leadership. Truett faculty also planned a celebration worship service and reception for Creed and his family.
___ Third-year students who met with Sloan expressed appreciation that he met with them
so quickly and cordially. But they continued to express dismay at their lack of understanding about why the change was necessary. They uniformly affirmed Creed, while questioning the process that led to his removal as dean.
|ROBERT SLOAN (l) and Brad Creed in processional at Truett Seminary campus.
___ "It wasn't like we got a whole lot of answers, but we got to express our concerns to him," said Rebekah Falk, from Winter Haven, Fla., of the meeting with Sloan.
___ "We all just love and respect Brad," added Chris Bryan, a third-year student from Houston.
___ Bryan came to Truett from the corporate world, where he was a vice president with Enron. That gives him a somewhat different perspective on the turn of events at Truett, he admitted.
___ "From my perspective having been in the corporate world and seeing people lose their jobs, I thought Dr. Sloan was very open with us, very sincere. I did not sense that there was anything arbitrary or capricious about this.
___ "That doesn't mean I think he was right," Bryan added. "But I have no basis for judging Robert Sloan."
___ Other students concurred with Bryan's mixed assessment. Though they think Sloan made the wrong decision, they believe Truett will go on, they said.
___ That's due in part to the way Creed has handled himself, Falk said. "Just because of the integrity of Dean Creed, I don't think he's going to do anything that would protest it. Even if the students do anything to protest, he's not going to try to get his job back. He's settled in his decision and taken his place. He's full of integrity, and he wouldn't want to do anything to cause problems."
___ Likewise, faculty were left reeling by the unexpected change in leadership.
___ "When we first heard it, it was a really crushing blow," said Ruth Ann Foster, assistant professor of Christian Scriptures. "From all our standpoints, the seminary is in better shape than it's ever been. We think Brad is at the center of that. He has been incredible to work for. He has such integrity and courage and good-will."
___ Though faculty members are in pain over the unwanted change in leadership, they have covenanted to work together to support the seminary, Foster said.
___ "We believe in Truett, and Brad still believes in Truett," she explained. "We're committed to God's vision for the seminary. That's been the mantra from day one. The students are our primary focus. We have no desire to move in any other direction."
___ Brent Beasley, pastor of First Baptist Church of Eagle Lake and president of the Truett Seminary Alumni Association, also affirmed Creed while expressing dismay with Sloan's decision.
___ "From my perspective, the seminary is in better shape than it has ever been," Beasley said. "Instead of having the projected 136 students, they have 240 and are expecting 70 to 90 more in the fall. The building is totally funded. The faculty has been seriously upgraded with the additions of Roger Olson and David Garland.
___ "In my opinion, Creed has led the seminary with integrity, courage, intelligence and spiritual depth," he said.
___ Sloan said Schmeltekopf will appoint a dean search committee out of the Truett faculty. It is not likely a new dean will be named by the start of the fall semester, but it might be possible to have someone in place before the end of the year, he said.
___ In the meantime, Randall O'Brien, professor of religion and executive assistant to Sloan, has been named acting dean at Truett.
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