‘Cordial’ meeting: Patterson, SEBTS divide documents

After two days of meetings, representatives of Paige Patterson and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary say they have determined, with no disagreements, the rightful ownership of 89 boxes of documents related to Patterson’s 1992-2003 presidency at Southeastern.

Southeastern said it recovered “student” and “personnel” records from Patterson. Patterson’s representatives said he maintained all but about one-third of a box out of the documents at issue. Both sides agreed the meetings — held Jan. 7-8 on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary — were cordial.

The meetings occurred seven months after Patterson was terminated by Southwestern following nearly 15 years as president there. Less than a week following Patterson’s termination from Southwestern, Southeastern released a statement claiming it was “not in possession of documents” from Patterson’s Southeastern presidency that were “deemed as being owned by the seminary.” Official documents likely were not removed “maliciously,” Southeastern stated, but because of “a misunderstanding on the part of the Pattersons.”

Some of the documents, Southeastern stated, likely were needed for internal review of an alleged 2003 sexual assault on the SEBTS campus that became public amid Patterson’s tumultuous final days at Southwestern.

Patterson’s attorney Shelby Sharpe said in June, Patterson “flatly denies that SEBTS archives were ever stolen.”

Following this month’s meeting, both sides declined to identify the specific documents they maintained. But they agreed the meetings ended with no disputed documents.

Southeastern executive vice president Ryan Hutchinson, who represented Southeastern at the meetings along with legal counsel George Harvey, told Baptist Press in a statement, “Representatives from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) and the Pattersons met in Fort Worth on January 7th and 8th to review the documents related to Dr. Patterson’s tenure at SEBTS.

“SEBTS and the Pattersons entered into the review under an agreed-upon system of evaluation. SEBTS was able to recover the documents that would be classified as either student or personnel records. Both groups examined the remaining documents and then categorized them as being either of historical significance to SEBTS or of a personal nature related to the Pattersons. The time was productive and collegial. SEBTS believes the matter is closed,” Hutchinson said.

Patterson told BP in written comments, “Ryan Hutchinson and George Harvey were the consummate Christian gentlemen that I have always experienced them to be. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary remains fortunate and blessed of God to have them as a part of their team.”

Patterson’s representatives at the meeting were his wife Dorothy, former Southwestern professor Candi Finch and Patterson assistant Scott Colter. Patterson was not present.

Colter told BP via email, “Even with the few documents [Southeastern] retained, there was no charge of wrongdoing — they were mostly letters on which Dr. Patterson was copied that he filed along with all of the other mail he received and nothing that we felt strongly we needed to maintain.”

Colter stated, “From our perspective, the two most significant points are that it was a very cordial and amenable meeting, with no difficulties arising, and actually no documents that were even in dispute…. The Pattersons were glad to release to SEBTS what they felt they needed — approximately one-third of a box if my memory serves correctly. There were also several items the Pattersons had collected of historical significance (newspaper clippings, letters from dignitaries, event programs, invitations, etc.). SEBTS requested copies of some of these items for their institutional history archive to record the story of Dr. Patterson’s time there as president.”

A meeting has been scheduled for late February, Colter said, at which Patterson’s representatives will sort through documents from his Southwestern presidency with Southwestern representatives.

— David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.