The United Methodist Church’s South Central Jurisdictional Conference is suing SMU over the university’s move to re-define its relationship with the church.
The SMU Board of Trustees reportedly voted Nov. 6 to update its governance documents and bylaws to state that SMU is solely controlled by its board and voted Dec. 6 to amend its bylaws to be consistent with the changes made in November.
SMU’s moves came in response to the United Methodist Church voting to endorse the ‘traditional plan,’ which excludes the ordination of LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage within the church, in a special session of the general conference in February.
“In response to the ongoing debate over the future organizational structure of the Church, I met with members of the Church leadership to seek support for the SMU Board of Trustees’ plan to update the University’s articles of incorporation and bylaws. We met and communicated several times thereafter on this topic,” SMU President R. Gerald Turner said in a statement. “We are confident that our board’s actions are in compliance with Texas law. With Methodist in our name, the Perkins School of Theology as a resource, and assurance of Methodist representation on the board of trustees, the church will continue to have important influence in the governance of SMU. Nothing changes in SMU’s day-to-day operations because of these actions.”
The UMC’s South Central Jurisdictional Conference filed a petition in response claiming jurisdiction over the university and asserting the university can’t make the changes without the conference’s approval. The conference claims that it founded SMU in 1911 with an initial gift of 133 acres of land and that SMU’s governing documents acknowledged the SCJC is the “electing, controlling, and parental body of SMU,” according to an article in Inside Higher Ed.
Specifically, the suit claims SMU’s 1996 articles of incorporation grant the conference the right to approve SMU trustees, the right to veto efforts to sell campus real estate, and that SMU’s trustees can’t amend the articles of incorporation without approval by the SCJC, according to a United Methodist News article.
“The SCJC regrets that a lawsuit was necessary, yet the conduct by SMU left the SCJC no viable alternative. The purpose of this lawsuit is to preserve and protect a valued relationship that has benefited both SMU and the SCJC for more than a century; and SCJC’s rights and beneficial interested in SMU,” SCJC spokeswoman Amy Ezell said in a statement. “The SCJC has sought only a judicial declaration that SMU’s unauthorized amended Articles of Incorporation are void; and SCJC’s rights and relationship with SMU remain intact.”
For SMU’s part, Turner said the church will continue to have influence over the university and the university was in compliance with state law in their votes.