An overview of what the Convention could do and why the school split from the Convention

On Jan. 21, 2003, William Jewell College’s Student Senate discussed whether or not to vote on an amendment to the Student Bill of Rights. This amendment would add sexual orientation to the anti-discrimination clause of the Student Bill of Rights.

 According to reports from the Jan. 24, 2003 issue of “The Hilltop Monitor,” this vote was so controversial that it garnered the attention of local print and television media.

In the weeks following, the Senate held the vote and passed the amendment. Then, in order to formalize their decision, a referendum was held among the student body. For a referendum to pass, at least 50 percent of the voters must vote in favor of the amendment. It passed, and sexual orientation was added onto the Student Bill of Rights. After this decision, the College’s relationship with the Missouri Baptist Convention weakened. And it was in November 2003 that the Convention chose to split with the College.

Even though William Jewell is no longer affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention, the College’s history with the Baptists dates back to when it was first founded.

“Jewell was founded by Missouri Baptists in 1849. During that period of time, Missouri Baptists established 12 to 15 colleges around the state, many of which did not survive for very long. We were founded by Missouri Baptists, but we were established through an act of the Missouri Legislature, meaning that the legislature wrote a specific law establishing William Jewell, as opposed to us just being established under the other laws of the state which is [common for most institutions],” Dr. David Sallee, president of William Jewell College, said.

With the backing of the Missouri Legislature, William Jewell gained certain privileges. One being that the school is not required to pay real estate tax on any property it owns, and is that Jewell has the right to autonomous governance.

“They [the Missouri Legislature] allowed for a self-perpetuating board of trustees, which is very important. Self-perpetuating means the board elects its own members, as opposed to an outside group electing the members. So most Baptist colleges, their members are elected by a state convention, but that was not true for the founding of the college,” Sallee said.

Although Jewell was legally allowed to elect its own trustees, there were still restrictions in place if the College wanted to remain affiliated with the Baptist Convention.

“As that relationship evolved over the decades, it ultimately became a covenant relationship, meaning that the College agreed to certain things and the Convention agreed to certain things. And under the covenant the Convention would provide funding to the College, which at the end was between $800,000 and a $1 million a year in unrestricted giving. The College would guarantee the [college’s] president would be Baptist, that half the trustees would be Baptist, a third of the trustees would be Baptist pastors and that half of the faculty would be Baptist,” Sallee said.

The Baptist Convention put pressure on the College to intervene in Student Senate’s decision about the Student Bill of Rights. In February 2003, the trustees of the College met to discuss their relationship with the Convention and ultimately decided to “wait it out” and see what action the Convention would take. As Sallee said, the College “didn’t intend” to cut ties with the Baptists. But when William Jewell did not intervene with Student Senate’s decision, the Convention formally cut ties with the College in November 2003. Since then, William Jewell has expanded certain policies that otherwise would not have been compatible with the Convention, especially in terms of student life.

The College and its students are still feeling the effects of this split from the Convention, even outside of student life policies. During the College’s affiliation with the Baptists, it received around $1 million a year, so cumulatively the College has lost near $11 million. Without the backing of the Convention, William Jewell lost the steady stream of Baptist students, and as a result the College’s enrollment has consistently remained lower than when it was still affiliated.

“Most Baptist colleges feel the influence of the Convention in their student life policies. So the Conventions tend to be most concerned about student behavior rather than curriculum, for example. Since the end of our relationship with the Convention, we have changed the alcohol policy to allow students who are of a legal age to have alcohol in their rooms. We’ve gone to co-ed housing in the independent housing. We have established a gay and lesbian support group. We, in general, have become less parental when it comes to student life,” Sallee said.