Both sides claimed vindication in results announced Tuesday of a faculty referendum on Baylor University's embattled president.
Eighty-five percent of voters chose "no" in response to the single ballot question: "Do you want Robert B. Sloan to remain as President of Baylor University?"
Baylor's faculty senate, which commissioned the vote, said the results refuted assertions that opposition to Sloan's leadership was limited to a small, vocal group of faculty.
Sloan supporters, meanwhile, said low turnout--59 percent of eligible voters--indicated that plenty of faculty members are content with the current leadership. Forty-seven faculty members last week signed a letter saying they were choosing not to participate in the vote and calling on colleagues to do the same.
"The much-touted referendum did not deliver what the senate hoped," the boycott group said Tuesday in a statement. "Despite months of planning, extraordinary publicity and easy access to the balloting, nearly 400 of Baylor's faculty elected not to participate."
The professors said the boycott proved the faculty senate was wrong about "an avalanche of faculty grievances" and a "deeply polarized" Baylor community.
It is unclear how many professors stayed away to protest the referendum, however. Some said they were intimidated by fears of retaliation. "We are all scared and very paranoid," a faculty member who declined to be identified told a reporter from the Waco Tribune-Herald.
The executive committee of the faculty senate issued a statement thanking faculty members who participated in the referendum despite "semi-official calls for a boycott" and many who "placed their professional future in jeopardy."
The faculty senate has twice voted no-confidence in Sloan's leadership, blaming him for tuition increases and poor morale. Critics said those votes did not represent broad faculty support not represented on the faculty senate.
The senate said it commissioned the ballot to settle the issue, but Sloan supporters said it was divisive and a flawed means for assessing faculty opinion.
"If you have a senate who has an agenda, that does not square with democratic principles," said a pro-Sloan professor quoted by the Waco newspaper.
A Sloan critic, meanwhile, wondered why if the groundswell of support claimed by Sloan existed, why pro-Sloan faculty wouldn't flock to the polls rather than boycott the referendum.
The referendum is not binding. Only the school's board of regents has the power to remove Sloan, something they have declined to do twice in the last year. In May the regents voted 18-17 to retain him, much closer than a 31-4 margin a year ago.
Regent chairman Will D. Davis said in a statement that the new vote "sheds no new light on the fact that a segment of the faculty do not agree with the current administration of the university."
Davis told the Waco newspaper on Tuesday that the vote did not change his opinion on Sloan's leadership, and that he doesn't expect the issue to come up at the next regents' meeting, Feb. 4.
The administration has declined comment on the referendum, saying it is a faculty matter.
The vote was open to full-time professors, lecturers, instructors and academic professionals. Of 838 qualified voters, 490 cast votes. Of those, 69 voted for retaining Sloan, 418 cast ballots against the president and three ballots were blank.
The faculty senate discussed the results in a regular meeting Tuesday, but no action was taken, according to a report in today's Tribune-Herald.
Baylor's student government last week passed a resolution calling on the faculty to withdraw the referendum, which was held Tuesday through Thursday. After the vote student body president Jeff Leach released a statement criticizing the vote as "divisive and … ineffective."
A pro-Sloan group, Friends of Baylor, said views of the faculty should be respected but encouraged the entire Baylor community to trust in the wisdom of the board of regents, whose sentiments on leadership and governance should be "absolutely respected."
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.