Southwest Baptist University placed on ‘accredited probation’

Published: Nov. 9, 2021 at 10:16 PM CST
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BOLIVAR, Mo. (KY3) - Southwest Baptist University announced that it has been put on probation by its accrediting body.

Southwest Baptist University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, which conducted a review of governance conflicts between SBU and the Missouri Baptist Convention. The conflicts stretch back a few years.

”It’s not about academics,” said SBU President Dr. Richard Melson. “The student degrees are fine, our grades are fine. Everything related to our academics is fine. The student doesn’t need to be concerned, and our alumni don’t need to be concerned.”

Melson said SBU’s probation status is a result of that investigation into governance matters. He said the university still remains fully accredited during this probation period, which will last a little under two years.

“They are concerned about our governing documents and our relationship, our historic relationship with the Missouri Baptist Convention,” Melson said. “To make sure that we do that in the right, proper process, they have given us an extended time over the next 18 months to show and demonstrate that we are continuing on that pathway.”

During that time frame, the commission will review if the university and its board of trustees have addressed the issues.

Melson said HLC has 18 different standards SBU needs to address, and he said three of those have been identified as items for the university to address going forward.

“The majority of that’s actually already been taken care of,” Melson said. “So HLC came, they had a visit this past year with us. They came back in the summer. Our boards have taken the right steps and actions with our faculty and faculty senate to make sure that we address those concerns. All HLC wants us to do now is just show a pattern of sustained evidence that we’re continuing on that same path.”

Melson said he feels confident the university is on the right path, but after protests on campus in February, some alumni hope this probation will be a wake-up call.

”I’m hopeful that they’re paying attention now,” said alum Brian Kaylor. “In the past, MBC and SBU leaders have dismissed some of the concerns that some of us had raised about the potential of losing accreditation. I’m hoping that now that they’re on probation, they recognize these are serious issues and that they have to pay attention and make improvements.”

Kaylor said he cares about the university and its future.

“I’m concerned about my Alma Mater, making sure that there is academic freedom, and that there’s quality education,” he said. “Southwest Baptist was such a transformative moment for myself, my life, my ministry, and I would hate to see that fall apart for future generations.”

Some of the concerns many alumni had involved professors and faculty. In February, alumni and student protesters said some had been wrongly terminated. Kaylor said several professors had taken early retirement because they did not agree with the direction the university was going or had been denied tenure and indirectly terminated.

“The HLC has basically confirmed that there were professors who were wrongly denied tenure or promotion,” Kaylor said. “And while the trustees have said they’ve changed the process to prevent that from happening in the future, they’ve done nothing to make amends with those professors who were wrongly fired and dismissed from the school.”

Kaylor said that is one of his biggest concerns.

“The HLC letter lays out some clear things that the trustees have to pay attention to in order to make sure they do not lose accreditation, which would be a death knell to the school,” he said. “But I also hope that in addition to that, they will go above and beyond that. And they would go back and make amends to professors who were wrongly dismissed, who were wrongly targeted. That’s the Christian thing to do.”

Melson said he acknowledges the issues of the past, but said he feels confident this is a chance for SBU to improve.

“As we think about where we are as an institution, where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re headed, this is really kind of a windshield opportunity for us to look forward about where we’re going,” he said. “Yes, there are some things that happened in the past, and the decision by HLC is mostly related to what took place over the past year. Some of those things were disruptive on the campus and affected individuals. And I’m sensitive to all of those things. We’re also at the place where we’ve already addressed those issues.”

Some alumni are concerned SBU could still lose its accreditation. Melson said SBU has already taken action to address HLC’s concerns. He also said HLC has acknowledged the progress the university has made.

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