The specifics of what led to Paige Patterson’s removal from leadership at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) have been scarce, largely due to closed-door trustee meetings and confidential student files, but a recent series of statements by two seminaries and Patterson’s attorney have begun to parse the finer points of the controversial decision.
SWBTS photo by Adam Covington
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustee chairman Kevin Ueckert, left, addresses trustees at a special called meeting at the Fort Worth, Texas, campus May 22. The board met to discuss the recent controversy surrounding seminary President Paige Patterson, right.
Kevin Ueckert, chairman of the SWBTS board of trustees, released a statement June 1 in response to inquiries he received about the executive committee’s unanimous decision May 30 to fire Patterson. Ueckert addressed three issues related to Patterson’s termination, which prompted a duo of follow-up releases from Patterson’s attorney, Shelby Sharpe, and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS).
Statements & student files
The SWBTS board of trustees’ executive committee was given the necessary permissions to review information in SEBTS student files during their May 30 meeting, Ueckert said. What they found contradicted an answer given by Patterson on May 22 in response to a “direct question” from trustees. The files were related to a 2003 incident at SEBTS, where Patterson was president at the time.
Megan Lively, a former SEBTS student, was discouraged by Patterson from notifying law enforcement of an alleged rape, according to news reports. Ueckert said the documents reviewed by the executive committee corroborate Lively’s account.
Sharpe said in a statement June 4 that Patterson neither saw nor had the opportunity to respond to the student records reviewed by the executive committee. Ueckert’s previous statement said, “SWBTS will not release the student record to the public without additional appropriate permissions.” Sharpe said requests to see the material have been denied.
Sharpe added that Patterson had no memory of an allegation of rape at SEBTS. He said further that “all parties with direct involvement and knowledge of the situation,” which include Allan Moseley, current SEBTS faculty member and former dean of students, “have stated rape was not mentioned.”
SEBTS disputed Sharpe’s claim in written comments to the Recorder: “The parties involved at SEBTS cannot and have not made statements about facts contained in student files. Non-statements should not be interpreted, in any way whatsoever, as official statements. Assumptions have been made based on documents not contained in the student file, constituting partial facts. Due to the federal privacy laws we cannot comment on the facts contained within the student record.”
A SEBTS press release on June 4 said, “At this time there has been no evidence discovered that disputes or discredits our former student’s account.”
‘Break her down’
Ueckert’s statement said the executive committee also discussed Patterson’s handling of another sexual assault allegation, this time at SWBTS in 2015, where he told the seminary’s chief of police in an email that he wanted to meet with the alleged female victim without the presence of law enforcement officials in order to “break her down.” Ueckert said, “The attitude expressed by Dr. Patterson in that email is antithetical to the core values of our faith and to SWBTS.”
Sharpe claims the wording has been “isolated” and shared without “full context.” He also said the student “had given several different accounts of her story to authorities,” and that Patterson “was seeking to understand what had actually occurred.”
Sharpe said, “He preferred that there be no police presence so the young women would not feel intimidated.” Sharpe clarified in a phone call with the Recorder that “women” was a typo and should have been singular, referring only to the woman in question.
Private letters or confidential documents?
SWBTS received a request May 25 from SEBTS for the return of any SEBTS documents taken by Patterson on his departure, Ueckert said. Sharpe maintains that Patterson only took documents owned by him. Ueckert said SWBTS located material on its campus belonging to SEBTS and has taken steps to preserve and return the documents.
According to Ueckert, Sharpe provided “a few documents he reportedly obtained from Dr. Patterson” after the May 30 trustee meeting. Those documents later surfaced online as attachments to a blog post defending Patterson that was apparently written by the wife of Patterson’s now-former chief of staff.
SEBTS legal counsel believes correspondence between Lively and Patterson that is contained in the leaked documents, which is related to disciplinary action taken by SEBTS against Lively, should be kept in her confidential student file under the protection of federal privacy laws.
Sharpe said Patterson’s legal counsel has invited SEBTS into an arbitration process through a third-party ministry, rather than going to court over the documents. He added that SEBTS has not accepted the request. SEBTS said in a press release they have not received any such request at this time.
A spokesperson for SEBTS said the school does not intend to release more statements on the matter, and is working in friendly cooperation with SWBTS. Sharpe clarified to the Recorder that his statement was not made on Patterson's behalf, and that he was speaking of his own accord.