N.C. committee escrows Meredith College funds

RALEIGH, N.C. (BP)--The executive committee of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina's general board has voted to place in escrow Cooperative Program money budgeted for Meredith College.

The move was in response to the unanimous decision by the college's trustees in February to make their board self-perpetuating over the next four years, which would effectively end the convention's control over the school by the election of trustees.

Meredith gets approximately $1 million a year from the state convention, which is about 4 percent of its budget. Meredith trustees adopted a budget for the school's next fiscal year anticipating no money from the convention.

In previous years, the school has submitted a list of potential trustees to the convention's nominating committee. One-fourth of the trustees were elected during the convention each November.

Meredith trustees plan to elect successors to nine of the 36 members of the board each year beginning this year. In four years the entire board will be made up of people chosen by the trustees and none elected by the convention.

Messengers to the convention this fall will have to decide what to do with the money in escrow, likely voting on whether to change the constitution to formally end Meredith's affiliation with the convention. A two-thirds vote is needed to change the constitution.

The executive committee's decision to escrow the money April 22 was effective April 1. Meredith already had received Cooperative Program money for January, February and March, which is about one-fourth of what it is budgeted for this year.

Convention officials asked the school to delay its decision for a year, but Meredith officials "refused to accept the overture," said Roy J. Smith, convention executive director-treasurer.

Meredith officials did not comment.

But in a statement released just after the trustees' February decision, Meredith President John E. Weems said the school will continue to be Baptist. Under the school's bylaws, most of the trustees will be members of Baptist churches and most will live in North Carolina, he said.

Weems said the trustees took the action because of changes they have seen at other Baptist schools across the South. "The trustees do not want Meredith to be put in a position of losing its independence and identity," he said. "This action removes the college from the partisan political activity within our denomination."