William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., at odds with the Missouri Baptist Convention over homosexuality, is prepared to end its 154-year relationship with it, according to school president David L. Sallee. "It's a fact. We're moving on, and psychologically we have been doing that for several months," Sallee said Wednesday. Sallee did not downplay the significance of ending a relationship that has been in place since the college's founding in 1849. "It is a very important moment in the life of the institution," he said of the break.
The Baptist convention has been upset with the roughly 1,500-student liberal arts college's handling of homosexuality on campus as well as over a production there of The Vagina Monologues, a play about women's sexuality and issues. Monte Shinkle, president of the Missouri Baptist Convention, said leaders were particularly irked that college officials seemed to ignore their concerns. "They gave us no say so whatsoever--in exchange for a million dollars," said Shinkle, pastor of Concord Baptist Church in Jefferson City. The college traditionally received between $850,000 and $1 million, about 3% of the annual budget, from the convention, which holds its annual meeting next week in St. Louis. A $16.5 million budget expected to be approved on Tuesday includes no funding for William Jewell. Although the Baptist money is not separated from other college revenues, Sallee said the school generally considers the convention's funding a contribution to the financial aid granted to students affiliated with Missouri Baptists. Sallee reiterated that William Jewell administrators could not tolerate the convention's intrusion into campus affairs.
The rift has not come as a surprise to college officials. Since conservatives assumed leadership of the convention four or five years ago, Sallee said, college leaders have anticipated a parting. With that in mind, he said, William Jewell has cut 35 faculty and staff positions over the past three years while focusing on ways to improve revenue through steps such as recruiting more students. Sallee said there is a certain sadness about the potential cutting of ties between the college and the convention. "On the other hand, the beliefs and practices of the fundamentalist leadership of the convention are so far removed from what most of us believe and practice that the sadness is very much overcome by the feeling that this is the right thing to do," he said.
Shinkle said that though the leadership of the convention is more conservative now than in recent years, the requests its leaders made of William Jewell were not that onerous, including asking the college to take a stand against sexual immorality of any kind. Instead, he said, William Jewell ignored the convention's questions and concerns. "They treated the convention with a great deal of disrespect," the Baptist leader said.