Kentucky leaders negotiate plan to let Georgetown elect own trustees

GEORGETOWN, Ky. (ABP) -- Officials of Georgetown College and the Kentucky Baptist Convention are proposing a new working relationship that would allow the college to have a self-perpetuating board of trustees while maintaining historic ties between the two organizations.

The proposal, announced in a press conference on the Georgetown College campus Oct. 17, would eliminate direct convention funding of the college but insulate the trustee board from a conservative takeover -- a fear that has prompted many Baptist colleges in other states to sever ties with their conventions.

Last fall, Kentucky Baptists rejected a convention proposal to allow non-Baptists to hold up to one fourth of the trustee positions at the convention's four colleges -- Georgetown, Campbellsville University, Cumberland College and Clear Creek Bible College.

The new Georgetown plan is proposed by a 14-member joint workgroup formed in August to discuss the working relationship between the two entities. It still must be approved by the college's board of trustees and by messengers to the Kentucky Baptist Convention annual meeting Nov. 15-16 in Frankfort, Ky.

If approved, the new working relationship will replace the existing covenant between the KBC and the college approved in 1987. Under that agreement, and in previous agreements dating back to 1942, the KBC has had the right to elect Georgetown's trustees in return for providing financial support.

Georgetown currently receives approximately $1.3 million each year through Kentucky Baptist Cooperative Program funds, providing about 3 percent of the school's revenue. About 45 percent of Georgetown students are Baptists.

Under the new plan, the college's trustee board will become self-perpetuating, with KBC funding phased out over a four-year period. Rather than all trustees being Baptist, as much as a fourth of the trustees could be from other denominations.

The plan also provides for Georgetown and the KBC to continue jointly to fund a campus minister. Students also will continue to be eligible for scholarships provided by the state convention, and churches can designate contributions through the KBC for the college.

Affirming "an excellent Christian spirit" in negotiations between representatives of Georgetown and the KBC, former state convention president Charles Barnes announced the proposed ministry partnership Oct. 17.

Barnes, chairman of the KBC workgroup appointed to dialogue with Georgetown officials, acknowledged regret over Georgetown's decision to establish a self-perpetuating board. He added, however, that he takes "great delight in the fact that they want to have an ongoing relationship with the Kentucky Baptist Convention. ... I am sure the cause of Christ will be advanced in that decision."

Georgetown President Bill Crouch emphasized the school "will remain a Baptist college," adding that "being Baptist is a way of life, it's a way of making decisions, a way of looking at the world."

Noting that "some may erroneously view this announcement as a divorce between two very important institutions," Crouch added, "I view it as something different. I view it as a relationship of love and respect that is now redefined so the focus going forward will not be our differences but will allow each to pursue our special callings."

Convention president Hershael York, a conservative and professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he regrets the change but hopes the process of establishing a new relationship "will be a shining witness to the world as well as to other Baptist state conventions."

Noting that "in some states, similar discussions have degenerated into division, accusation and even lawsuits," York said, "We have tried to be Christ-like in our candor and agreeable even in our disagreements. We have chosen respect rather than rancor, to look to the future rather than to dwell on the past."

KBC Executive Director Bill Mackey said dialogue participants "demonstrated courageous Christian leadership and I'm grateful for that."

"I think the [convention] messengers will respond well to the recommendation," he added. "I think a part of the response will be based on the fact that broad-based leadership has been involved in this process."

Describing the proposal as "the absolutely best-case scenario," York said he is "personally appealing to Kentucky Baptists to pass this."

"It's an honest appraisal of our differences and yet a respectful treatment of that so we can move forward. ... We've come up with a process that is congenial and Christ-honoring and generous."

Janice Shelton, Georgetown's trustee chair, cited examples of other Baptist schools with self-perpetuating boards. "We do not see this as an extreme move," she said. "We strongly want to retain our Baptist heritage and relationship with the Kentucky Baptist Convention."

The Georgetown proposal follows an August request by the college's officials that the convention and Georgetown review their relationship. York appointed a seven-member workgroup that met with Georgetown representatives Sept. 29.

"Very early in the discussion, the Georgetown trustees informed the KBC workgroup that the Georgetown College trustees had decided to become a self-perpetuating board of trustees," the KBC workgroup states in a written report that will be presented Nov. 15 at the KBC annual meeting.

"The trustees and President Bill Crouch explained that some percentage of non-Baptist trustees would be necessary for Georgetown College to have the financial support needed to attain its long-range goals," the report states.

But Georgetown trustees and Crouch expressed Georgetown's desire to continue a good working relationship with the KBC, the report adds.

-- Brenda Smith of the KBC communications staff contributed to this story.