Posted by Phillip Poole on 2008-08-20

In what may be an unprecedented move in Baptist life, Samford University has offered to cap its annual Cooperative Program funding from the Alabama State Baptist Convention at its present $5.3 million.

Samford University President Andrew Westmoreland publicly announced the recommendation at an Aug. 18 university-wide staff meeting. He said the proposal earlier had received unanimous approval from three key groups: Samford's board of trustees; the Alabama Baptist Education Commission, which oversees the work of Alabama Baptists' three higher education institutions; and the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, which oversees Cooperative Program funding in the state.

Westmoreland said he had been studying the university's funding for about two years and became convinced that adjustments would benefit both the university and Alabama Baptists. Samford receives more Cooperative Program funding than any other Baptist college or university in the United States, he added. He is not aware of any other institution in modern history that has presented a similar proposal.

Samford was founded by a group of Alabama Baptist leaders in 1841 and has always had a close relationship with the state Baptist convention, receiving state convention funding since at least 1925. Samford's Cooperative Program allocation is a significant portion of the convention's budget, Westmoreland noted, and represents about three percent of Samford's annual revenue budget.

"We have come to a point with the convention budget that a readjustment of the Samford allocation is in order," Westmoreland explained. In working with state convention officials "we have come to an understanding of how we could be even more proactive in this relationship."

Westmoreland emphasized that the suggestion does not change Samford's relationship with Alabama Baptists. "We value our relationship with Alabama Baptists, and we see this as another way to support all Alabama Baptist ministries."

Despite the fact that Samford will forego automatic annual increases in funding, Westmoreland dispelled perceptions that the university "has all the money we need." He noted, for instance, that Samford will soon embark on a comprehensive capital campaign to secure needed resources for the campus.

Cooperative Program funding for Alabama Baptists' three higher education institutions -- Samford, Judson College and the University of Mobile -- is based on a complex formula related to enrollment and other factors. Under the proposal, Samford's allocation still could be adjusted upward from the $5.3 million in the future if convention and university officials mutually agree. Westmoreland said that such decisions might be made "every few years."

The suggestion that the funding allocation be capped must be approved by the messengers (delegates) to the annual state convention meeting in November as part of the budget approval process. But, Westmoreland said he does not anticipate any significant problems with approval.

Samford will continue to relate to the state convention "just as we've always done," Westmoreland said. "This does not change our valued and historic relationship with Alabama Baptists."

State convention leadership echoed Westmoreland's sentiments.

"Alabama Baptists have been supportive of the mission of Samford University throughout the history of the university," said Rick Lance, Alabama Baptist State Convention executive director. "Alabama Baptists are proud to partner with Samford University in the effort of offering students an intentional environment where there is an opportunity for their faith to grow and their learning to be enhanced. This is a partnership which has been blessed by God, and it holds even greater promise for the future."

State convention president Roger Willmore said, "I commend Samford University, President Westmoreland and the [Samford] board of trustees for their recent Cooperative Program funding proposal. There is a wonderful spirit of good will in this proposal that reflects the cooperative spirit of Samford University and the desire to strengthen the service of her two sister institutions. I am grateful to God for the relationship that the Alabama Baptist State Convention has with our Samford University, Judson College and University of Mobile."

Willmore is pastor of Deerfoot Baptist Church in the Birmingham suburb of Trussville. Both Lance and Willmore serve as ex officio members of Samford's board.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.