This Kentucky college is the latest to split from Kentucky Baptist Convention

The University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg.
The University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg.

The University of the Cumberlands is splitting from the Kentucky Baptist Convention, the last Southern Baptist-affiliated general education school in Kentucky to give up financial support for more autonomy on campus.

A major issue for the Williamsburg school is that under the current covenant between the two bodies, the convention picks all trustees on the school’s governing board.

The Kentucky Baptist Convention is the statewide arm of the national Southern Baptist Convention.

“Cumberlands has many distinguished alumni and friends who could provide expertise and resources for the University,” Dr. Larry L. Cockrum, president of University of the Cumberlands, said in a news release. “At present, the university is unable to include some of these outstanding alumni on our Board of Trustees because they are Methodist, Presbyterian, or members of other Christian denominations.”

In turn, the convention’s administrative committee met in August and decided “it wasn’t in the best interest to maintain a formal agreement with UC if the KBC had no voice in the selection of its trustees.”

The split could be expensive. The school has agreed to provide $1 million to the convention’s “church planting efforts” as a show of “appreciation and goodwill.” Cumberlands will also return nearly $350,000 in cooperative program funds received from Kentucky Baptist churches.

“University of the Cumberlands is grateful to the KBC for our many years of shared ministry and for the generous support of Kentucky Baptists,” said Cockrum. “Cumberlands remains committed to fulfilling its mission as a Baptist institution encouraging intellectual and spiritual growth, leadership, and service through educational programs enriched with Christian values.”

KBC officials declined to discuss the matter in detail.

Autonomy for both governance and scholarship has been an issue at other KBC-affiliated schools through the years.

In 2015, Campbellsville University ended nearly $1 million a year in funding from the Kentucky Baptist Convention in order to get more flexibility over appointments and academic freedom, although officials said they remained committed to the state’s Baptist churches.

In 2005, Georgetown College also left the convention. The New York Times featured the Georgetown split in a 2006 report on the departure of many Baptist colleges from their state Southern Baptist conventions. The last straw, the paper reported, was when the Kentucky Baptist Convention asked the school to hire a religion professor who taught the Bible as literal fact.

“From my point of view, it was about academic freedom,’’ then-president William Crouch Jr. told the Times in 2006. “I sat for 25 years and watched my denomination become much more narrow and, in terms of education, much more interested in indoctrination.’’

When Georgetown ran into financial difficulties a few year’s later, the convention’s news website, Kentucky Today, attributed it to the split.

Cumberlands is trying to avoid that fate with a continued expansion of online classes and a 60 percent tuition cut aimed at attracting more students.

Clear Creek Baptist Bible College in Pineville still has a covenant with the state convention.