Southwestern’s Board of Reference hears seminary updates, advances


Members of the recently formed Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Board of Reference heard updates about the Fort Worth-based institution from senior administrators during a Zoom conference call on March 21.

Jack Graham, chairman of the Board of Reference and two-time Southwestern alumnus, remarked on the “great spirit” on the campus. Graham, who also serves as senior pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, was on campus March 19 for the institution’s Founder’s Day, which included a special chapel service and the awarding of the B.H. Carroll Award and the L.R. Scarborough Award. Graham and his wife, Deborah, are the 2024 recipients of the latter.

“I believe God is at work at Southwestern in a very special way,” Graham said, adding the Southwestern students enrolled in the internship program at Prestonwood are “excited about the opportunity they have and the education they’re receiving” as well as the “spiritual atmosphere on campus, from the classroom to the hallways.”

“We have moved from crisis to challenge to a place of near stability,” said David S. Dockery, who has led the seminary as president since September 2022. “The challenges are still here, but we’re moving closer toward a level of stability. We have a long way to go to get toward what I would call institutional health.”

However, Dockery said, “stability creates a different kind of context for us. It means we can come to campus each day thinking less about how we deal with today’s crisis and thinking more about tomorrow’s opportunities.”

Dockery attributed the change to people who have “prayed and begged God to bring renewal to this place and to restore favor to the Southwestern campus and to bless the work of our hands.” He asked the members of the Board of Reference to continue to pray for Southwestern. He also commended the dedicated efforts of faculty, staff, and administrators across the campus.

Dockery provided an update about the sale of the Carroll Park property, a 20-acre piece of land previously used for student housing that was not contiguous with the seminary’s main campus. Dockery said the sale of the property has allowed the institution to “pay off” $6.1 million in short-term debt. He added another $3.4 million has been set aside in a quasi-endowment account, “which needs Board approval to be used” while another $3 million has been set aside in reserves.

“Though budget matters remain tight,” Dockery said, “the reality of having some cash reserves is a positive step forward, for which we’re very, very grateful.”

Beginning in the fall 2022, Dockery said, there were 210 full-time faculty and staff. Though these were “not easy decisions,” he explained, the seminary now employs 169 full-time faculty and staff, which has resulted in a reduction in payroll expenses of $4 million, down from $24.9 million, Dockery said, adding the decrease “has allowed us to try to live within our means.”

Dockery also noted an increase in student enrollment and credit hours taught, noting increases in recent years.

Dockery also noted the “two challenges” facing the institution, including the warning issued in June 2023 from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) related to “trustee responsibility” and the institution’s “fiduciary and fiscal responsibility,” in addition to various legal issues.

O.S. Hawkins, chancellor of Southwestern, said he was “encouraged” by a “continual uptick in enrollment and especially by the spirit on the campus.” Hawkins also said in the time he has been serving at the seminary his “most pleasant … observation” has been the institution’s faculty.

Hawkins, himself a two-time alumnus of Southwestern, said “if I were a young man again, I would love to come and sit at the feet of this faculty.” Hawkins also commended Dockery, noting “no one leads with more integrity and excellence” than the seminary’s president who has “respect not just inside among faculty and staff, but outside among all of our peers.”

Chandler Snyder, vice president for student services and enrollment, said the “last 18 months have created a level of stability that Southwestern hasn’t experienced for quite some time.”

Snyder explained over the last three semesters, Southwestern has seen a “stop of the negative downward trend” in enrollment and “has actually started to see an uptick in trend.” He said over the last three fall and spring semesters administration has seen an “increase by at least 500 credit hours each semester being taught to our students.”

He attributed the gains to “the incredible quality of our faculty” and the “partnership that we are working to build across the institution.” Snyder also reported an “increase of over 13 percent in new enrollment” at Southwestern Seminary and Texas Baptist College, the seminary’s undergraduate college, for the spring 2024 semester.

Snyder added that “retaining the students that we’ve recruited is vital to the health of our institution and by partnering with our amazing faculty and provost, particularly, we saw [an] increased retention rate from the fall semester to the spring semester.” He noted that the institution is “doubling down” on how students are served in on-campus and online learning platforms.

The “revamped” Student Life division was also highlighted as Snyder said the office is working “really intentionally toward creating a discipleship and disciple-making culture in service of churches.” He expounded that the desire is to “help create opportunities for our students to be equipped while they are learning in the classroom and to stretch those skills into their local churches.”

John Mann, assistant to the president for church and constituent relations, said he asks himself, “How can Southwestern Seminary better serve our churches?” He said the answer is a “two-way conversation” that allows him to “speak to our churches about the great things that are going on in Southwestern Seminary” while also bringing “back word from those churches” and providing the “conversations” to the institution’s senior leadership team.

Mann said he desires for the seminary to “serve in this capacity so that our churches can look at Southwestern Seminary and say that we are a tremendous resource as they are seeking to fulfill the Great Commission.”

Mann outlined a long-range, mid-range, and short-range strategy to help churches see Southwestern as a resource. Long-range, he said, would be to “regain and expand upon the legacy that we have had in pulpits and on the mission field and evangelistic opportunities.” Mann said Southwestern seeks to recapture and re-grasp “that legacy,” while simultaneously “not being bound or constricted by what that means but standing upon the shoulders of those who have gone before us.”

Mann’s mid-range plan included facilitating opportunities for graduates to have places to serve, while the short-range plan included connecting faculty with churches to preach, lead a theological study, or “help train and equip church members or staff members.” Mann added that through his short-range plan, he also desires to tell churches what is taking place at Southwestern.

Trey Moss, associate vice president for academic administration, shared about Southwestern’s online learning, which includes a full-term option that allows students to watch a course live via Zoom or watch the recording later and an “accelerated eight-week model, which has six entry points per year to get prospective students started on their seminary journey and training.”

Moss noted that the seminary is working to connect more intentionally with online students, including working with the Student Life Office to launch more online-specific mentorship groups beginning with the fall semester. He said his office is currently working on inculcating a “culture of collaboration across the institution in terms of our online learning” and working with other departments to “identify our online student demographics and then to recruit them.”

Dockery thanked those in the meeting for their commitments to and ambassadorship in behalf of the seminary. Graham concluded the meeting by asking the members of the Board of Reference to continue to pray and financially support Southwestern.