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Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond Announces Layoffs

Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond will eliminate four of its 13 full-time faculty positions in a downsizing plan to be presented to trustees April 28. President Ron Crawford said the school is not yet ready to announce which professors are losing their jobs.

Crawford told EthicsDaily.com he is in dialogue with four faculty members offering severance packages that exceed a full year’s salary and benefits. Crawford said the plan also calls for reducing the number of full-time support-staff positions and replacing them with students who will work part time.

In a prepared statement sent out in an e-mail update, Crawford attributed the downsizing to “two unanticipated financial challenges” related to a capital campaign completed last year. He described them as “significant debt” and “a payroll that overreaches annual revenues.”

In a separate e-mail to EthicsDaily.com, Crawford said the seminary’s total debt is $6 million. Endowment is valued at $6.5 million, and buildings and land are worth $8 million.

Crawford projected a $450,000 deficit in this year’s $3.6 million budget. A budget being developed for next year shows a deficit of $173,000, but Crawford said that doesn’t include a recent pledge from a donor offering up to $500,000 to match a gift from a church that has not previously contributed to BTSR or any increased giving from the 66 churches that contribute regularly.

Crawford said in his statement the future of BTSR is “very bright,” but “the short term is worrisome.” He appealed to supporters to pray for, give to and encourage their churches to support the school, remember it in wills or estate documents and help the seminary move forward through moral support.

BTSR opened in 1991 with 32 students. Today enrollment is more than 300. Crawford said the faculty downsizing will affect BTSR students less than a similar cut might at another seminary, because BTSR is part of the Richmond Theological Consortium. BTSR students can take classes at Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education, which are located just across the street, or at the nearby School of Theology at Virginia Union University at no additional cost.

BTSR formed in response to shifts at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, the first of six Southern Baptist Convention seminaries to fall under fundamentalist control during a decade-long denominational power struggle sometimes called the “conservative resurgence.”

It was one of the earliest “theological education partners” of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a moderate group that has included BTSR in its budget every year since forming in 1990 out of the moderate-fundamentalist controversy. Today CBF provides partial financial support for 15 seminaries, theology schools or Baptist studies programs enrolling a combined total of more than 2,000 ministerial students.

According to its Web site, the seminary purchased two buildings in 2000–Virginia Hall, which houses the BTSR chapel, classroom space and a student lounge area–and Kraemer Hall, which provides apartment living for students. More recently, the seminary acquired the Lamont Building to provide more space for single students. Two of the three buildings are being renovated.

BTSR isn’t the only CBF partner school recently facing financial challenges. Central Baptist Theological Seminary laid off four faculty members in 2005. The following year Central downsized from a 16-acre campus in Kansas City to a 10-acre site in Shawnee Mission, Kan., a move designed to save $400,000 a year.

Central Seminary’s board lifted its declaration of financial exigency in November 2007. “Our ‘rightsizing’ of the faculty/staff configuration has made our future much more sustainable,” President Molly Marshall said in an e-mail to EthicsDaily.com.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.