Written by Helen Strickland // Graphic by Makayla McDonald
In August, Harding University announced that Harding School of Theology (HST) will move from Memphis, Tennessee, to Harding’s main campus in Searcy, Arkansas, in the fall of 2024. HST is the last free-standing school of theology within the Churches of Christ. Upon its move to Searcy, tuition costs for HST will decrease from $740 per credit hour to $100. This decision was made to promote growth for HST, University Vice President Dr. Jean-Noel Thompson said.
“The broader vision was expansion, and we feel we can do that best on main campus,” Thompson said.
HST alumni have reflected on the loss felt by this announcement. President of the HST Alumni Council Garrett Best said that attending HST in the context of Memphis transformed his life due to its academic rigor and diverse community. White Station Church of Christ preacher Bob Turner said that HST “has been so instrumental in Memphis both for theology and ministry.” Both Best and Turner said that they consider this move a loss for Memphis.
“If faculty move away from Memphis, that will be a loss for the Memphis churches, but I think the bigger loss is the ownership that the churches had for the mission of the school,” HST professor Lance Hawley said.
Best recently conducted a survey for HST alumni to share their thoughts on the move. In an article on the Miracle of Study website relaying the results of this survey, Best wrote, “Many alumni expressed sadness and disappointment but saw this coming using descriptions like ‘resigned understanding’ and ‘inevitable.’” Out of 110 survey responses, 9 felt “overall positive” about the decision.
Dean of Harding’s College of Bible and Ministry Monte Cox is chair of the HST academic transition team. Cox said he also shared in the loss felt by this move.
“After 66 years in Memphis, relocating here [to Searcy], there is a sense of loss for people who are there [in Memphis] now and people who studied there,” Cox said.
Cox attended HST as well and praised it for its “academic rigor, depth and breadth” of material. Hawley echoed his praise for the school.
“HST has a legacy of faithfulness and seeking first the kingdom of God,” Hawley said. “It is a blessing to be a part of the lives of students who have committed themselves to serving God in ministries all over the world.”
Cox also made statements regarding Harding’s efforts to move HST.
“We are doing our best to make decisions and then get the word out about what those decisions are,” Cox said.
Thompson reflected these ideas. He said that the university plans to communicate updates via face-to-face interactions, campus emails and social media as they arise.
“This is so important to us,” Thompson said. “We will constantly and continuously communicate what’s happening with our School of Theology.”
HST in Memphis is home to an extensive theological library. Turner worked as a librarian there for 11 years, and though he is no longer employed there, he said he uses it weekly. Best said the library is representative of Memphis’ Church of Christ community as it encourages a spirit of unity.
Cox said Harding plans to preserve HST’s library in its entirety. He connected the library’s value to the academic rigor of the school, which he said will be preserved as well when HST moves to Searcy.
“We love that library,” Cox said. “We don’t want to lose any of it, and there’s no intention to lose anything from that library.”
Details surrounding the library transition have not been released.
“There are too many very qualified people that need to speak together,” Thompson said regarding why the library plans are not yet public. “We want to get the best people around the table together to create the best plan.”
Cox also voiced that many guidelines will have to be followed as this process begins. “There are so many puzzle pieces and so many entities to satisfy,” Cox said of the move.
Cox responded to the criticism Harding has received involving a lack of communication
“We’re going to always defer to HST faculty and staff before we broadcast anything,” Cox said. “It’s not any attempt to hide anything…[Harding faculty] know how much our alumni love that place.”
Hawley expressed hope for HST in the future.
“I trust that God will do good work through HST in the future,” Hawley said. “The school will inevitably change and need to adapt to a new context in Searcy, but I am hopeful that the mission will stay the same.”
Harding plans to continue to connect with Memphis.
“We’re spending time with current ministers and others there [in Memphis] to continue to work through how we can continue partnership and doing things in Memphis,” Thompson said.
As new developments are announced, Best said he is praying for the Harding administration and trusting that the end goal will glorify God.
There will be an HST Lunch on Wednesday, Sept. 27th in Searcy during Harding’s lectureship where Harding President Dr. Mike Williams will be discussing the transition.