Belmont University’s Board of Trustees is unanimously committed to broadening and deepening the Christian mission of the university. We look forward to a newly defined relationship with Tennessee Baptists to fulfill our mission as a “student-centered Christian community providing an academically challenging education that enables men and women of diverse backgrounds to engage and transform the world with disciplined intelligence, compassion, courage and faith.” We invite you to consider the following information in response to questions you may have.
Did Belmont’s trustees have the unilateral legal authority to amend Belmont’s charter to change the method of trustee election without Convention approval?
Yes. Under state nonprofit law, Belmont’s charter, and the Convention’s own bylaws, the trustees of Belmont University are the final governing authority over Belmont University in all matters. From 1951 to 1974, the Convention had the right to approve amendments to Belmont’s charter affecting trustee election. In 1974, this provision was deleted from Belmont’s charter with the consent of the Convention. Belmont’s Board of Trustees has unilaterally amended the university’s charter four times since 1974.
Can the Convention remove Belmont’s trustees from office?
No. State law vests in Belmont’s board of trustees the sole authority to remove its trustees. Belmont charter provisions in effect prior to November 2005 provided for removal only upon approval of the university’s board of trustees followed by confirmation by the Convention. State law and Belmont’s own charter provisions, not the Convention’s bylaws, govern who may remove trustees.
What consequence is the 1951 document to the current and future relationship between the Convention and Belmont?
The 1951 document is a historical artifact the terms of which, to the extent they can be discerned, have been negated by the actions of the parties. The TBC Annuals reflect no action or reliance on the document by the Executive Board or the Convention. If it represented a contingent liability, this liability would have been reflected in the audited financial statements of the Convention and Belmont. There is no reference to such liability in any of Belmont’s audits which have always been performed by auditors selected and paid by the Convention.
When did Belmont learn of the existence of the 1951 document?
On the evening of Thursday, November 10, 2005 the Convention’s attorney alerted Belmont’s counsel of the possible existence of such a document. Belmont was unaware of the existence of the document. Belmont personnel located the previously unknown document the following day (Friday, November 11) with other carbon copy onion skin papers in a storage safe on campus. Belmont notified the Convention officials that it had found a copy of the document the next business day (Monday, November 14) after Belmont learned that the Convention’s search for the document had been unsuccessful.
Does the Tennessee Baptist Convention own Belmont University?
No. The Convention does not now nor has it ever owned Belmont’s campus. Any claim of any other kind of ownership interest was abandoned in 1997, when the Convention voted to amend previous statements, including the statement describing its relationship with Belmont, to delete the words “owned and operated” and substitute in their place the word “affiliated.” In 2000, the Convention amended its bylaws to specifically state:
The relationship between the Convention and the affiliated boards and institutions is grounded in mutual trust for the purpose of common ministry. The affiliated institutions are autonomous nonprofit corporations, neither owned nor operated by the Convention. Governance of the institutions is vested in their respective boards of trustees or directors in all matters (emphasis added).
Has Belmont severed its relationship with the Convention?
No. At no time has Belmont’s board of trustees entertained a motion to sever the university’s relationship with the Convention.
Per a request in 2004 from a committee of the Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, Belmont’s Board of Trustees drafted a new covenant of affiliation between the Convention and the university, which included several important provisions: TBC funds contributed to Belmont would be used for Baptist student scholarships from Tennessee; Belmont trustees would elect their own successors; and 40% of the board of Belmont would be made up of active members of churches affiliated with other Christian denominations. This covenant was unanimously approved by Belmont’s board, and was approved by the Education Committee of the TBC Executive Board. It was rejected by the Executive Board by a vote of 44 to 29 in September, 2005.
Following this vote, a new Resolution on Relationship was jointly drafted by Convention and Belmont leaders on October 7, 2005. It was unanimously approved by the Education Committee of the Executive Board at its meeting in late October and sent to the Convention messengers for action. Among the elements of this resolution are: acknowledgment by the Convention of the intent of Belmont’s trustees to elect their own successors; Baptists will comprise at least 60% of the board of trustees with up to 40% of the seats made up of active members of churches affiliated with other Christian denominations; acknowledgement by Belmont of the years of support provided to the university by the Convention; Belmont will establish an endowed scholarship fund for students from Tennessee Baptist churches at the university; establishment of three positions on Belmont’s board for the executive director-treasurer of the Convention, the chair of the Executive Board, and the chair of its Education Committee; and implementation of joint educational and mission service programs.
At the conclusion of the Tennessee Baptist Convention in Clarksville, messengers tabled a decision on the Resolution on Relationship and the Executive Board outlined a series of possible next steps. At its March 28, 2006 meeting, the Executive Board’s Belmont Study Committee initiated one of those steps, recommending that the Executive Board convene a special session of the Tennessee Baptist Convention on May 9, 2006.
What has Belmont done with the funds donated to it by the Convention?
All funds donated to the university by the Convention over the past 54 years have supported the university’s mission to provide Christian higher education to our students. Over these years 16,483 students have graduated from Belmont and distinguished themselves in their personal and professional lives. The university is proud of these graduates and is grateful for support from Tennessee Baptists who have helped Belmont positively transform so many lives.
Does Belmont continue to receive Cooperative Program funds?
No. In October, 2005 Convention leaders informed Belmont that if the university proceeded with plans to include Christians who are not Baptist on its board, that Belmont would receive no Cooperative Programs funds. By agreement in the Resolution on Relationship, the Convention leaders acknowledged Belmont’s plans to elect other Christians to its board and Belmont acknowledged the Convention leader’s plans not to fund Belmont if this occurred. Though the Convention deferred action on the Resolution on Relationship, the Convention voted to re-allocate $2,300,000 previously budgeted for Belmont for the current fiscal year.