Campbellsville University will forgo nearly $1 million a year in funding from the Kentucky Baptist Convention in order to get more flexibility over appointments and academic freedom, the school's board of trustees announced Wednesday.
The trustees have proposed bylaws that would define a new "partners in ministry" relationship between the two groups and that would allow the school to choose its own trustees. The convention's funding — about $977,000 a year out of a $57 million annual budget — would be phased out over the next four years.
"We remain committed to the churches of the KBC," wrote Joseph Owens, chairman of the board of trustees, and university President Michael Carter in a joint open letter dated July 16. "CU remains committed to maintaining a Christ-centered mission of Christian higher education ... CU will maintain a Board of Trustees that is 100 percent Baptist."
Campbellsville officials said there would be no further comment on the matter.
Baptist Convention President Chip Hutcheson said he was "terribly saddened" by the trustees' decision.
"The statement released by Campbellsville brings to mind the husband who wants to divorce his wife but still offers to live with her," Hutcheson said in a statement. "The university has taken steps to remove itself from a covenant relationship yet still wants to claim it is 'committed' to the family. Nevertheless, we have requested dialogue with the university but have yet to hear from them."
Convention funding to Campbellsville has already been reduced from a high of more than $1.5 million a few years ago to the projected $977,000 for the year ahead.
Earlier this week, Campbellsville officials said they wanted to be able to appoint non-Baptists to the board of trustees, but Wednesday's statement reversed that proposal.
Earlier this week, Owens told the Herald-Leader that the Baptist convention's leadership was trying to "exercise undue control and influence in the ongoing operations of Campbellsville University."
He asked for a dialogue, saying the university wanted "a new partnership and relationship — one that would retain our proven commitment to Kentucky Baptists while protecting academic freedom and institutional integrity."
Hutcheson denied the charge of undue influence.
"The KBC has no influence or control over the university except that of approving trustees the university selects," he said. "Kentucky Baptists have always been a diverse people with a 'big tent' mentality. That hasn't changed. We had hoped Campbellsville would remain united in covenant with our family."
The state convention is part of the larger Southern Baptist Convention denomination.
Campbellsville, which has about 3,600 students in Taylor County, developed a plan in 2009 called Vision 2025, with goals including increasing the university's endowment; expanding the size of the campus and the number of students; expanding its academic offerings; and enlarging its regional footprint.
The document also affirmed that the university planned on "remaining a strongly Christ-centered institution and maintaining (the university's) Baptist identity while being open to people of differing backgrounds and experiences," according to a news release issued in 2009.
In 2005, Georgetown College in Scott County split from the Kentucky Baptist Convention in hopes of improving fundraising.
In addition to Campbellsville University, the convention provides funding to University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Oneida Baptist Institute in Clay County and Clear Creek Baptist Bible College in Pineville.
Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford.