Q&A With Dr. Sandra Harper, McMurry University President

Editor’s Note: McMurry University is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, which is undergoing a significant change. The Global Methodist Church, a more conservative branch of Methodism, launched on May 1, 2022. Some congregations, including many of those in the Northwest Annual Conference, are expected to leave the United Methodist Church for the new denomination. Following is a Q&A with Dr. Sandra Harper, president of McMurry University, regarding the effect of those anticipated departures. Click here to read Methodists Must Decide: Will We Stay or Will We Go? by Loretta Fulton

A Q&A with Dr. Sandra Harper, president of McMurry University

Dr. Sandra Harper

Q Do United Methodist congregations donate individually to McMurry or does your UMC funding come from the Northwest Texas Annual Conference (or both)?

A McMurry is proud to be affiliated with the Northwest Texas and New Mexico Conferences of the United Methodist Church (UMC). McMurry has a longstanding history of support from both conferences. The University also receives financial support from many United Methodist Churches, the Texas United Methodist College Association (TUMCA), the Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF), and individual UMC congregants who are alumni or appreciative of the University’s work. Additionally, McMurry continues to receive strong leadership from the United Methodist Church in filling our various voluntary boards, such as the Board of Trustees, the Board of Visitors, the Alumni Association Board of Directors, and various advisory boards. Specific Sunday School classes donate to support the religious and spiritual life missions sponsored by McMurry. Local churches also donate to the McMurry Friends Closet and provide meals several times a year to McMurry students, faculty, and staff, usually at the beginning of each semester.   

Typically, United Methodists donate individually to McMurry University. The Northwest Texas Annual Conference donates to the religion and spiritual life program at McMurry. The Conference does provide an allocation to the Texas United Methodist College Association, which supports all six United Methodist universities in the State of Texas. These scholarships are designated for United Methodist students who attend United Methodist universities in Texas.

Q What percentage of your annual income comes from UMC congregations, annual conferences, etc.?

A 4/10 of 1 percent from the annual conferences and churches. In addition, most of our funds from the churches come from individual congregants within the churches.

Q Have you and your board of trustees had conversations about the possible impact on funding and enrollment once churches start leaving for the new Global Methodist Church? Have you formed a contingency plan based on possible scenarios? 

A The McMurry University Trustees have been monitoring the situation in the United Methodist Church and its possible impact on McMurry for at least the last three years. We are hopeful that the impact on funding and enrollment at McMurry regarding the split will be minimal.   

Q What percentage of McMurry students have a United Methodist Church connection? 

A 6 percent

Q Do you foresee a negative impact on enrollment once local churches are no longer United Methodist? Do you fear churches in the conference will no longer host a McMurry Sunday or encourage students to attend McMurry? 

A No. This generation of students is significantly less denominationally identified than previous generations. This is a current reality among all denominations, not just Methodists. Most of the top 100 largest churches in the United States are now nondenominational.

Q Will your religion majors/minors be affected in any way? Do you expect to lose any future religion students who may choose to attend schools more closely aligned with Global Methodist teachings? 

A The main impact on future religion majors who are Methodist is that they could be hesitant to tie their future to a denomination that is currently discussing a split. There are so many unknowns. Once the split is final and some of the unknowns are alleviated, this hesitancy may be reduced. Also, from a practical standpoint, most of McMurry’s UMC majors and minors come from other annual conferences that have not expressed a strong interest in leaving the UMC. For those students, disaffiliations and possible splitting will likely be outside their direct experience. (As anecdotal examples, graduating majors from the last two years have come from the North Texas Conference, the Rio Texas Conference, and the New Mexico Conference.)

McMurry anticipates that there will be NWTX churches that will leave the UMC that continue to have strong ties to McMurry. Even more important from a student perspective is the fact that the most conservative UMC churches in Abilene have always hired McMurry students and sponsored McMurry student interns. Those churches know that McMurry students come from diverse theological perspectives and they have always appreciated having our students as youth ministers, children’s ministers, etc. That won’t change.

Q Any additional comments you wish to add. 

A After the called General Conference in 2019, factions within the UMC negotiated a way for more conservative UMC clergy and churches to leave the UMC. The presumption was that the vast majority of those leaving would join what has become the Global Methodist Church (GMC). However, that negotiated plan has to be voted on by the General Conference (GC) of the UMC in order to become a reality. The 2020 GC was delayed; the GC is now scheduled for 2024. In the meantime, there have been some churches (and a couple of whole annual conferences, including NWTX) that have explored the option of disaffiliating with the UMC before 2024. The Judicial Council of the UMC has determined that annual conferences as a whole body cannot disaffiliate; only individual churches can do that. This means that each UMC church that wants to leave the UMC has to go through a voting process to do so.  

McMurry was voted into being at the annual session of the Northwest Texas Conference of the Methodist Church in October 1920. Thus, the University’s connection to the Northwest Texas Conference, especially as McMurry is approaching its centennial, is pronounced. 

The United Methodist University Senate approved McMurry University’s listing as a United Methodist institution without qualification at its January 2022 meeting, an affirmation that occurs every ten years after an external team of United Methodist Senators from across the country reviews documentation regarding university integrity, academic programming, financial stability, and church relatedness. The team interviewed McMurry University trustees, administrators, local clergy, faculty, and students.

McMurry University continues to be grounded in the Wesleyan traditions of intellectual achievement and vital piety. According to its mission statement, McMurry University “challenges students to examine our complex world from multiple perspectives in preparation for lives of leadership, service, and professional success.”  Because the McMurry mission statement emphasizes examining our complex world from multiple perspectives, the university has chosen to view this potential denominational split from the various perspectives presented by the different groups. After doing so, the University has decided to adhere to the historical Wesleyan tenets of the denomination rather than choosing sides in the disagreement that has emerged in the denomination.      

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