Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Daring to Aspire to Mediocrity

Earlier I promised to make a motion in San Antonio regarding professorial salaries. Now I want to take a little time to explain why. It is my understanding (and my earnest hope) that we take good care of our missionaries. Indeed, in defense of the Cooperative Program I have heard people say that the dependable and comparatively generous support that we supply to our missionaries is the envy of scores of self-funding missionaries around the world who learn the discipline of fervent prayer while staring at the mailbox each month awaiting the hoped-for support checks from US churches and individuals. I cannot verify this concept first-hand, but let me genuinely say from the bottom of my heart that things ought to be that way. If we do not take good care of our missionaries, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. It is my understanding (and my earnest hope) that we take good care of our denominational executives in every nook and cranny of Southern Baptist life. Some try to stoke the unrighteous fires of envy and provoke us to jealousy over the generosity of Southern Baptists toward those who give so much to lead our entities, but I am not among them. I am not privy to all of the details of SBC executive compensation, but I support high salaries for our leaders. If we do not take good care of our executives, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. We do not take good care of our seminary professors, and for that, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. I am trying to rectify that situation. In doing so, I offer the following points, some to show why I have come to this conclusion, and others in rebuttal to anticipated objections:

  1. The vast host of our pastors are endebted in some way or another to a seminary professor. I'm guessing that something you use in a sermon, something you do in your church, some point of theology that is precious to you—somewhere in your ministry one can discern the impact of a professor in a seminary, if God favored you with the opportunity to go to seminary.
  2. All of the other categories mentioned above depend upon seminary professors. Our missions boards depend upon our seminaries for some of the credentials and qualifications for missionary service. Our executives are largely the product of our seminaries. The funding of seminaries was not a part of the original raison d'être of the SBC, but the convention came pretty quickly to realize how vital a seminary was to SBC missions endeavors.
  3. It is much more expensive to become qualified to be a seminary professor than to be anything else in Southern Baptist life. My expenses were greater because I pastored a church some distance away from the seminary (making my commute longer and making me take longer to finish), but I can account for $50,000 of expenses related to my doctorate. That's not counting the MDiv expenses, BA expenses, etc. Many of our future professors will get a degree for less, but I have given you a figure to take into consideration, anyway.
  4. Seminary professors are laboring in accountability to the Southern Baptist people. Some notice should be taken and reward should be given for a sector of employees who have admirably turned things around since 1979. I'm not saying that all is perfect at our seminaries, but the amount of progress is spectacular. Southern Baptists have nobly and ably wielded the stick, but it is time to locate that carrot.
  5. Yes, I am qualified to serve as a professor, have had opportunities to serve as a professor, and do currently teach adjunctively for SWBTS. No, that doesn't mean that I'm trying to feather my own bed. God has called me to be a pastor. I became aware of that calling when I was eleven. It was a dramatic and powerful experience of calling. It is going to take a pretty clear word from God to get me into anything else. Furthermore, the legacy of the pastor-theologian is a compelling one for me. I do not anticipate that I will ever be a faculty member at any of our seminaries. I see myself as just the person to lead this campaign. I am close enough to the situation to see the need, yet just far enough away to carry the need to the Southern Baptist people without appearing self-serving. Most of those who know about the problem feel that it would be inappropriate for them to say anything. I do not feel thusly constrained. By the way, my adjunct salary is quite modest, and I'm not at all certain that it would be affected by my motion.
  6. This problem cannot be laid at the feet of seminary administration or the boards of trustees. The problem is endemic to all of our seminaries. It has existed for a century. Thus, nothing specific to any one seminary, any one administration, or any board of trustees can tenably be alleged as the cause. I am convinced that they are doing the best they can with what they have.
  7. Special campaigns are not the answer. If you are raising money for a building, you can name every room, foyer, and alcove for a donor. I remember Dr. Hemphill saying about the Leadership Development Center at SWBTS, "If you see anything around here without a name on it, we'll be glad to talk with you about putting one there." People will give to put their names on structures. On the other hand, even if you endow a chair (raise money to pay a professor), you can only reasonably attach one name to that project. People just don't give for that sort of thing. Also, since this problem affects multiple seminaries, campaigns at individual seminaries will not address the problem effectively or equitably.
  8. Letting seminary professors supplement their income with interim pastorates is not the answer. Some of our professors are called to teach, not to preach. Nobody is more supportive than I am of a tight connection between seminary and church. But I am also supportive of those whom God has gifted for academia and called to teach. Either these denominational servants are at a serious pecuniary disadvantage, or some church in the vicinity of a seminary winds up with someone whom God intended to do other things besides preach. Neither scenario is a good solution.
CONCLUSION: Please do not misunderstand that I am not asking for much. I want our missionaries to be well compensated. I want our executives to be well compensated. With regard to our professors, I am merely asking that we dare to aspire to mediocrity. Can't we find some way to climb out of the cellar to meet the average professorial salaries from the latest survey of the Association of Theological Schools? Average. Mediocrity. I would like to think that someday we could dare to do more. But for now, average would be a significant improvement, and that's all I'm asking for.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

bart,

i'd be for cutting the salaries of the guys at the top positions, and getting the sbc entities to cut wasteful spending, and then us give that money to the seminary profs.

david....volfan007

Les Puryear said...

Bart,

Let me say that I agree with you about seminary professors. I am indebted to Dr. Fasol, Dr. Bullock, Dr. Stookey, Dr. Johnson, Dr. Klempnauer, Dr. Leafblad, Dr. Ellis, Dr. Briscoe, Dr. McDow, Dr. Anderson, and others who were at SWBTS when I was a student. Most, if not all of these men and women, are no longer at SWBTS, so my alma mater is no longer the institution that I attended. That really has nothing to do with anything other than my nostalgia showing.

In previous blogs, you have made a spirited defense for the autonomy of trustees on SBC boards and agencies in doctrinal matters. I cannot help but wonder why you trust them with doctrinal matters but your trust in their ability to recognize adequate financial compensation for their professors is not as enthusiastic.

Just wondering.

Les

Bart Barber said...

Les,

Many of the names you list are people who have impacted me positively as well. Today there is another cadre of dedicated professors at SWBTS and elsewhere making the same kind of positive contribution to current students.

With regard to your second paragraph, I thought we had already barked over this bone. :-)

What you are inferring, I am not implying. I trust the trustees completely; however, if you give a man $5 and then chastise him for not buying a $30 meal, you argue disingenuously. The trustees are not the problem. My motion does not address the action or decisions of the trustees, but of the convention and the way we provide for the trustees to do their work.

Asked and answered.

And answered again. :-)

Bart Barber said...

Les,

I do thank you for helping me to recall another objection that needed to be dealt with in the text. I have amended my OP to reflect our discussion. Thanks.

Tim Rogers said...

Brother Bart,

While I am in agreement with you, I find myself in question of something else. You are correct, when you say Prof.s are called to Prof, and should be free to do so without encumbering themselves with Interim or Full-time Pastorates. However, the fact remains that many of our Prof.s have pastorates outside of their duties at seminary. I grew up outside of Wake Forest. I can remember, under another administration, in another time, Prof's serving in Interim positions permanently. This was done because SEBTS had a policy that Prof. could not Pastor. Thank God Dr. Akin changed that policy. I do not agree with it, but it reveals integrity.

I say all of this to ask a question. Would your motion entail some way of addressing individual income received from; books, articles, news agencies, and other sources that Prof's receive while employed at an SBC Seminary?

Blessings,
Tim

Anonymous said...

Here are the averages for ATS administrators, etc. Faculty are at the bottom of the page.

http://www.ats.edu/Resources/FactBook/2006/2005-06%20Annual%20Data%20Tables.pdf

Now, compare that to what the seminary faculties receive in each category.

Anonymous said...

Since you are obviously informed on this, how about some figures as to where SBC profs are in comparison to the ATS?

What exactly is the average salary, including housing allowances, of SBC seminary profs that is evidence that we are not taking good care of them?

To be candid, I'm not sure this is a motion I would support, nor would I conclude that current salary levels are an indication of mediocrity of personnel. I rather think that market forces work amongst we Southern Baptists, pastors or denominational employees (excepting certain agency heads where the genuine scrutiny should be directed) in the same manner as in secular occupations.

Just honest questions.

Willam Thornton

Todd Pylant said...

Bart,
I would support your motion. You are right, the laborer of worthy of his/her (sorry, another debate) hire. Our convention desperately needs the best and brightest theological minds to train pastors. We cannot afford to staff our seminaries with those who could not get positions at the "better posts."
It would help to know the current average salary of SBC seminary profs in comparison to the market average. The link refered to earlier at the ATS website gives the average professor salary to be around $74K (if I am reading that right). How can one find out what the average SBC seminary professor is paid? I would think the average Southern Baptist would be ashamed if that number were somewhere around $50K!

Bart Barber said...

Tim,

I am not opposed to the seminaries setting regulations limiting the amount of "moonlighting" a full-time professor can perform. I do not think it is wise to curtail professorial presence in the churches (which serves a PR function for the seminary, after all), but I do not think it is unfair, employment wise, to impose such regulations. My motion will not address this kind of regulation, however. And indeed, I would be in violation of the very thing Les has mentioned if it did.

Seminaries move heaven and earth to find interim pastorates for their faculty, knowing that many of them cannot survive without such supplemental income. I predict, if seminary remuneration were higher, some decrease in the phenomenon you have described.

Ultimately, we ought to be concerned with paying a fair wage for professorial work rendered, not working hard to make sure somebody doesn't make "too much money" (whatever that is). If a professor preaches on Sunday, that is extra work. If the seminary believes that such labor is taking away from faculty effectiveness in the classroom, then the seminaries ought to curtail it (which they will only be able to do if faculty earns a decent salary). If it does not diminish faculty performance, but does increase the public presence of the seminary and redound to the seminary's benefit, then why, exactly, ought anyone to begrudge the professor an honorarium?

Bart Barber said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for the link. Allow me, if you don't mind, to make it into an actual link:

ATS Factbook.

Bart Barber said...

William and Todd,

One reason that we need a committee is to have a group with access to the exact figures. As you can tell from the ACS data table, the figures vary from category to category. They also vary from seminary to seminary. The only reason I know something about salaries is because of informal research.

Todd, you have pointed out that the starting salary in the ATS tables is around $74K. You stated that we would be ashamed to see a number around $50K. I have strong reason to believe that the number is in that neighborhood, but slightly lower than $50K. I have known long-term, very distinguished faculty who have maxed out at salaries in the $50K range. The ATS average for a full professor is $90K (look at table 3.6).

Bart Barber said...

William,

Always feel free to ask honest questions. I, too, am a strong believer in the free market. Here's a question for you: What happens in the free market when your salaries are far less than average?

Also, do the seminaries get the benefits of free market economics if they will be constrained by the limits of free market economics? Are we in favor of our seminaries raising tuition to a sufficient level actually to cover the costs of seminary education? Or, are we still committed to the idea that the Cooperative Program ought to subsidize seminary education because of the vital need that churches and agencies have for seminary-trained personnel?

I still believe in the latter, and since we have chosen something other than a free-market system for our seminaries, we have a responsibility not to tie the burden of that choice upon the backs of the professors.

Todd Pylant said...

Bart,
If in fact the best scholars in SBC seminaries are maxing out at $50K or less, that needs to made known. That kind of information will provide great influence in getting your motion/recommendation passed, in my opinion.

Bart Barber said...

I remind our readers that Praisegod Barebones allows anonymous posting. I invite our readers who are seminary professors to give us anonymous information about their remuneration. Please do not name the seminary for which you teach. If you wish, you can tell us whether you are Associate, Assistant, or Full Professor. You can depend upon your anonymity in posting. I do not have any sort of software running on my site to track the origin of posters.

Bart Barber said...

But do make sure to click "Anonymous" under "Choose and identity" if you wish to post anonymously.

Anonymous said...

Bart,

You asked, "What happens in the free market when your salaries are far less than average?"

If you mean 'your' as an individual decision, then you make your free market decision to leave that below average compensated position or to stay.

If you mean all profs in SBC seminaries as a group, then the market has operated so as to arrive at that figure, funding streams notwithstanding. Each individual has chosen to accept that level of pay.

Are there adequately qualified and experienced individuals willing to accept SBC seminary positions at current compensation levels? If not, then whatever funding sources are present will be forced to yield more money for the positions.

That professors are unduly 'burdened' by compensation levels is something that might be shown, but not by a comparison to all ATS schools. Just my opinion.
That we are getting mediocrity might be shown as well, but not by that measure either.

Have salaries declined in real terms?

Is the SBC losing the top tier folks to non-SBC seminaries?

I'm not being difficult but your motion only addresses the single issue of getting to an ATS wide median figure. I'm not sure that is the measure.

As is generally the case, when folks don't know what the pay levels are, they generally guess high. I'd like to see them myself.

William

Anonymous said...

bart,

if the pay is less than $50,000 per year, then we need to raise them today. that's way too little for such an important job. i dont know how much seminary prof's make, but i always figured it was around 70 to 80 grand per year...which would be good enough. but, 50 grand is way too little, especially when you compare it to what some of the sbc entity leaders are making.

david....volfan007

Les Puryear said...

Bart,

If your motion is to study the salaries and make an appropriate motion to the convention in 2008, you can count on my support.

Maybe the salaries are in line with other seminaries, maybe not. If not, then I agree that adjustments need to be made. If they are in line with other seminaries, then keep them where they are. We're probably not going to do the study here, so let the study take place with the authorization of the convention.

BTW, sorry if I duplicated myself on my first question. Your answer this time was more clear than the first one. :)

Regards,

Les

Bart Barber said...

William,

You do accurately point out that the seminaries are able to hire faculty at the current salaries. Perhaps I ought to amend my motion to have us study cutting missionary salaries in half. After all, both missionaries and seminary professors serve under a sense of calling, and they would probably do so for less money.

Here's my point: Free market capitalism presumes—depends upon—the idea that each person in the system will act according to his own financial benefit. Biblical texts about ministerial calling, however, presume—depend upon—the idea that each person in the system will forego his own economic benefit and act for the well being of Christ's churches without regard to personal remuneration. The biblical command to God's people in response to such a giving of spiritual resources is generosity, not economy.

As I have said, our funding of seminaries is not a free-market system. SWBTS professors in 1929 served for two years with no pay at all. But they kept working faithfully. The free market can't explain that.

It can only take advantage of it.

I'm Mr. Free Market with everything except ministerial (including seminary professors and missionaries) compensation.

Bart Barber said...

Les,

I do continually struggle with writing in such a way as to be clear. Your most recent description of my motion nicely describes precisely what I am trying to do. I'm grateful for your support.

Bart Barber said...

William,

I think the ATS figures are good ones simply because they are the only good measure available for this kind of study. I am open to consideration of other benchmarks that you might suggest.

Also, I agree that it would be nice to see all of the data. But, as Les has noted, the committee could tackle that task nicely for us all.

Bowden McElroy said...

"Take care of your people first" is a simple axiom that is often ignored. I'll never understand why; institutions do so at their own peril.

Anonymous said...

Bart,

You have raised an important issue and I appreciate your concerns about the pay of profs. Baptist profs may need a raise, but not merely because the median for all ATS schools is higher than ours.

Perhaps I am not very good at making my point or asking questions. I merely point out that the level of pay for SBC profs is where it is because there are those (presumably of adequate education, training, and experience, since you haven't made an assertion that such is lacking) who will accept the jobs at this pay level. While all of our folks are wonderfully kind, highly committed and sacrifice as we all do for the Lord, they are nonetheless completely free to make market decisions, the motivations for such not being an issue.

If you are aware enough of median ATS pay, then you must be aware, today, of similar SBC seminary pay. What is it? If I am to vote on a motion, I'd like an idea of where we are going with this, i.e., some facts and figures - not all facts and figures. What is the figure to which the SBC ought to aspire? How far below are we now?

Free markets certainly operate amongst us odd baptists, whatever our motions and resolutions. Employers and employees make free decisions - whatever the motivation, whatever the process. Believe it would be erroneous to suggest otherwise. Pastor pay would be subject to the same principles and forces.



Grace and peace,
William

Anonymous said...

Bro. Barber,

To the very best of my admittedly limited knowledge, no professor at my seminary makes more than the mid 50K range unless he also has additional administrative duties. That's for a full professor. If my somewhat educated guess is correct, assistant professors begin somewhere in the mid 30K range, regardless of age or previous experience. I cannot speak to how uniform this is among my sister seminaries; I suspect the numbers are more similar than different, with the possible exception of one.

I hope that helps.

An SBC prof.

Anonymous said...

The free market principle is great, but where can I find this in the Bible as a principle for treating our ministers? I must need to go back to seminary, for I just cannot find that principle in Scripture?

Anonymous said...

I am a former SBC missionary. I found my salary to be very high. Anything above what is absolutely NEEDED is an absolute waste of precious money that could be used to bring more people overseas and to reach more people with the gospel. Do you not think that our Lord would be more glorified if we spent millions of dollars on feeding hungry children (physically and spiritually) than on beautiful new chapel buildings, high salaries for leadership, professors...anyone...??

Bart Barber said...

William,

Then I am pleased to conclude that we are in substantial agreement, since my motion will not change any salaries, but will authorize precisely the kind of study for which you are calling.

Bart Barber said...

SBC Prof,

Thank you for your sacrificial ministry, and thank you for enlightening us with first-hand information.

CB Scott said...

Bart,

Your statements relating to professors is correct in some cases. Some professors need to learn money management. Some need to learn to live within their means.

At the same time the SBC really does have a problem with waste of CP dollars in various administrations. Those problems need to be addressed as well. The problems are real and growing.

cb

Anonymous said...

Bart, are you hurting your opportunities for professorship by raging against the machine in such manner? If I had a vote, I'd give you tenured professorship immediately. Your brilliance is needed at an SBC seminary. That was recognized at Baylor as you were among the elite group of "University Scholar" degrees where you got to customize your degree track to include whatever you wanted You shouldn't be counting BA costs in your list; didn't you get a free ride? Oh, Dr. Bart was the envy of everyone, even in his gangly college days! Take care.

Strider said...

Bart, I was not going to jump in but there were enough confusing comments,including that last one that I couldn't figure out if they were sarcastic or not, but anyway here is what I think:
One, you are right we do not pay professors enough.
Two, freemarket works against us here. We will always find talanted, commtitted people to teach for less. Supply and demand are not the determiners. The issue is the same for all our cooperative endeavors: Do you want to be a part of what God is doing or not? When we pay less and force people to live sacrificially we are not hindering God and He will meet these fine professor's (and missionaries') needs but we will not get the blessing for caring for God's people.
Third, often there is a wrong presupposition when it comes to finances. They are not limited. God is not poor. We can not spend more on His Kingdom than He has. We can waste money on junk that is not His will but I think you will find that when we are caring for His servants He is very rarely upset at excess! He is generous with those He loves and wants us to be as well.
Make your motion Bart.
Oh, I can not let slide what the former M said about having too much. I have never had too much. I live quite modestly and am in financial trouble just now. But God is gracious and we will do fine. It is a big world and we all have a fairly uniform salary so maybe he was someplace that enabled him to have extra. I will put it to him that if it was wasted than that is his responsibility not the faithful Baptists who entrusted him with the funds.

beth said...

The amount is less important than the buying power. A professor at SEBTS and a professor at GGBTS require different salaries. Setting an arbitrary amount is not the answer. Salaries should be based on the buying power, inflation, and reasonable comparatives, such as professor salaries at nearby universities.

Bart Barber said...

Beth,

The Boards of Trustees set the salaries, and I am not trying to usurp that power from them. I think you are absolutely right in the case of GGBTS (although I personally think they ought to sell their main campus and use the unbelievable proceeds to build a 24-carat-gold encrusted mega-campus in the middle of Wyoming somewhere, putting the rest of the money into endowment to provide free tuition to everyone for life. :-)

OK, so maybe they wouldn't net quite THAT MUCH money, but you get the point.

Nevertheless, your point and my point are totally compatable. I'm saying that all professorial salaries are too low, while you are pointing out that they are not all equally low.