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October 23, 2000

BOT considering 60 percent goal

By Jan Gleason & Elaine Justice

Related closely to Methodism by history, charter, and tradition, Emory has nurtured that relationship over the years in many ways. Last July, in a continuation of a custom that goes back to the University’s founding in 1915, University administrators, faculty, and students reported on the state of the University to the Southeastern Jurisdictional (SEJ) Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Held every four years at Lake Junaluska, N.C., the SEJ Conference brings together delegates from nine states to elect bishops and decide church policy. The conference also provides an opportunity for the University to celebrate with Methodist laity and clergy Emory’s accomplishments since the previous meeting, and to inform the church of ways in which the University’s work complements that of the church.

A direct descendant of the former Methodist Episcopal Church, South, which founded the University in 1914-15, the SEJ has a charter relationship to the University. Emory’s 1915 charter, revised subsequent to the Methodist church Unions of 1939 and 1968, grants the SEJ authority to ratify the Emory board’s election of new trustees, remove trustees for cause, and approve changes in the charter. According to Gary Hauk, secretary of the University, the conference has always looked favorably on new trustees elected by the board and has never sought to remove a trustee.

Given the different missions of the church and the University, tensions sometimes have arisen within the bodies’ overlapping constituencies. When conservative elements of Southern Methodism, for instance, complained loudly about “Modernist” teachings in the theology school in the 1920s, Bishop (and also University Chancellor) Warren Candler stood by the faculty. Candler and his son-in-law, Professor Andrew Sledd, incurred suspicion and enmity from around the South by writing essays condemning the practice of lynching. The Methodist layman who chaired Emory’s board in 1965 and the Methodist clergyman who was then dean of the theology school stood firmly behind the academic freedom of Emory College Professor Thomas J. J. Altizer during the “God Is Dead” controversy.

At the SEJ conference this past July, resolutions hostile to Emory had been proposed by a small number of delegates. Among those were resolutions which called for the dismissal of Susan Henry-Crowe as dean of the chapel, the repeal of insurance benefits to same-sex partners, and the prohibition of the use of United Methodist property on campus by non-Christian groups for worship services. To help move the conversation in a more positive direction, the leadership of Emory’s board of trustees offered a covenant, pending approval by the full board, to foster healthy communication among all boards and committees involved in the election and confirmation of trustees for Emory. The covenant was intended to inform the conference delegates of current practices of the University’s Board of Trustees in relating to the church. The covenant was approved by the conference as a guiding document on July 12 and is now the subject of consideration by the University’s Board of Trustees.

Seeking to honor the principles implicit in Emory’s charter, the covenant reflects current practices of the University: (1) maintaining healthy communication between the SEJ and Emory; (2) having United Methodist trustees on the board’s Committee on Governance, Trusteeship, and Nominations; (3) providing information to the SEJ Conference on those elected as Emory trustees, and affirming their support of the historic relationship between the University and the church; and (4) encouraging United Methodist trustees to review with the whole board issues facing the church that are important to Emory. The cove-nant’s new proposal, to work toward a board whose membership is 60 percent United Methodist, is now under discussion by Emory trustees.

“Emory’s long and healthy relationship with the United Methodist Church has required frequent dialogue about the respective needs and aspirations of the church and the University,” said Gary Hauk, University secretary. “This relationship has been marked by a respect for academic freedom and openness.”

“The University’s Board of Trustees has historically been made up of a majority of trustees who were United Methodists,” said Trustee Ben F. Johnson III. “At present, half are United Methodists. The covenant proposal regarding the 60 percent goal is a reflection of the SEJ’s desire to insure continuing dialogue with Emory through its Board of Trustees. Both Emory and the Methodist leadership on the Board are committed to increasing the dialogue and are studying ways to achieve our common goals in that regard. While we understand the need for a continuing dialogue with the Church, we also understand the need for Emory to have the strongest possible Board, and we are all committed to working together to achieve both ends.”

“I felt very supported by the covenant that was offered by the trustee leadership,” said Dean of the Chapel Susan Henry-Crowe. “It’s my sense that this proposed covenant does not signal any changes in Emory’s policies or practices or our ecumenical approach to religious life on campus. If we did have a board that was 60 percent United Methodist, that doesn’t mean they would vote as a monolithic block.

While there are broad and diverse opinions within the church and among its lay leaders on many issues that’s consistent with the Methodist tradition of free-thinking, which the Methodist Church has upheld at Emory since its founding.”


Back to Emory Report Oct. 23, 2000