Campbellsville University wants to choose its own trustees and admit non-Baptists to its board, a move that might jeopardize the school's funding from the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
The Kentucky Baptist Convention, or KBC, contributes about $1 million a year to Campbellsville's $57 million budget.
Campbellsville's Board of Trustees is expected to meet Tuesday and consider changes to its bylaws and articles of incorporation that would "create a self-perpetuating board and welcome non-Baptist trustees," according to a letter the convention sent to its Mission Board members Friday.
The convention said its attorney thinks that "these bylaws are clearly inconsistent with the covenant agreement that governs the relationship" between the convention and university.
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In announcing the disagreement, Kentucky Baptist Convention executive director Paul Chitwood said he hoped "Campbellsville leaders will decide to honor the covenant agreement and maintain its long-standing relationship with the KBC."
In a response to the Kentucky Baptist Convention's letter Friday, Campbellsville's board chairman, Joseph Owens, issued a statement of his own, saying the university was "disappointed" that convention leadership had issued a statement about the school's plans. He said university and convention leadership had "experienced a significant deterioration in our ongoing relations" over the past few weeks.
"We are saddened by the decision of the current KBC leadership to move away from the traditional relationship that we have enjoyed with past KBC executive directors," wrote Owens, who pastors Lexington's Shiloh Baptist Church. "Campbellsville University has not changed."
Owens said 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."
Chip Hutcheson, Kentucky Baptist Convention president, said in a statement Monday night that "Kentucky Baptists haven't moved away from Campbellsville, and we hope they won't move away from us."
"Dr. Owens has expressed disappointment that we shared the news, but when the university's attorney came to share it with us he made no mention of Campbellsville wanting to keep it from the churches. In light of that we felt an obligation to share it," Hutcheson said. "As for his request for dialogue, we would welcome dialogue with the university's leadership not just their lawyer."
John Chowning, Campbellsville University's vice president for church and external relations, declined to comment on the situation.
Campbellsville, which has about 3,600 students, developed a plan in 2009 called Vision 2025 that includes goals such as increasing the university's endowment; growing the campus in size, enrollment and 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.
This is not the first time conflict has arisen between the convention and a school over a board.
In 2005, Georgetown College asked to sever its covenant agreement with the Kentucky Baptist Convention so it could elect its own trustees, in hopes of improving fundraising.
The Kentucky Baptist Convention previously had elected Georgetown's trustees and provided about $1.4 million in annual support.
After the covenant agreement was severed, a new partnership agreement was formed between Georgetown and the convention. However, messengers at the convention's annual meeting last year decided to formally end that partnership effective this November, saying the convention wanted to focus on "institutions that are in covenant agreement" with it.
The parting in that instance has been a relatively smooth one, although separations between Baptist schools and state Baptist conventions in other states sometimes have ended in lawsuits.
Campbellsville's attorney told convention officers that the university would like to "forge a partnership agreement similar to the one forged with Georgetown."
Kentucky Baptist Convention officers plan to meet Thursday to discuss the issue.
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.