Executive Board hears reports from, responds to institutions

February 23rd, 2011 at 12:47 pm

DALLAS – In a busy day of updates and action regarding Texas Baptist institutions, the Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board affirmed its relationship with Baylor University and appointed a taskforce that will meet with Baylor officials to discuss the school’s vision for the future with the goal being a “harmonious relationship” between the two organizations.

The board also approved allowing the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor to significantly increase its debt as the school undertakes a series of major campus construction projects.

“I thought the board did a great job coming together to address difficult issues,” said Steve Vernon, BGCT associate executive director. “I thought they did so with thoughtfulness and integrity.”

The Executive Board appointed the Baylor taskforce after hearing from university regents and President Ken Starr about their rationale for recently voting to allow up to 25 percent of the board of regents to be non-Baptist Christians. Before the action, all Baylor regents were required to be Baptist.

“I thought that the Baylor response the board made said that we are disappointed in the action Baylor took, but we still feel a vital relationship with Baylor is important to Texas Baptists,” Vernon said. “The task force will help to address that relationship.”

Regents repeatedly affirmed the school’s commitment to Texas Baptist principles, noting it also voted to create a Baptist Studies Center for Research and increased scholarship opportunities for children of pastors and missionaries.

But the move to allow non-Baptist Christians on the board allows committed Christians who also are committed to Baylor’s mission to serve at the highest level of the institution, said Dary Stone, chairman of Baylor’s regents.

Roughly 31 percent of the 2010 freshman class is Baptist, and that figures drops about 2 percent each year, Stone noted. The overwhelming percentage of the school’s students remain Christian however, he said, and the board wanted to give their faith brethren the opportunity to be on the board.

The board of regents did approve “safeguards” to protect Baylor Christian commitment, the regents said. Only the Baptist regents will vote on issues regarding the religion department, George W. Truett Seminary and any possible future changes to the makeup of the board of regents. The BGCT will continue to elect 25 percent of the school’s board.

The BGCT approved allowing UMHB to increase its debt $40 million as it undertakes a campus “master plan” that includes $100 million in new construction. Among the projects are a new nursing building, student union building, on campus football stadium, art building, performing arts center, facilities center and band hall.

Executive Board leaders praised UMHB’s track record of conservative fiscal responsibility and passed six suggestions while approving the increased debt. If UMHB completes all the tasks, its debt ratio would increase from 26 percent to 64 percent. Still, the school is thinking conservatively in its plan to pay off the debt, using a revenue forecast based on flat student enrollment, though the student body has grown each year.

“I am excited about the Mary Hardin-Baylor master plan,” Vernon said. “Their history of sound fiscal strength gives us a lot of confidence in their trustees and their administration as they move forward with this bold plan.”

The Executive Board also was informed Valley Baptist Health System will be entering into a “joint venture” with Vanguard Health System. The move will pull the health system out of $190 million in debt, while allowing the system to continue its faith-based, non-profit mission.

The move does not change the health system’s relationship with Texas Baptists. The convention will continue electing two-thirds of 25 percent of the system’s governing body.

The Executive Board also extended its guarantee of a Baptist University of the Americas loan for several more months. The board also approved moving the Texas Baptist Historical Collection into the Baptist building, located at 333 N. Washington Ave. in Dallas.

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