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Baylor Flap Heating Up Again

Baylor University’s faculty senate, which twice has voted no-confidence in the leadership of President Robert Sloan, now wants to poll all 770 faculty members to see if a majority agrees that he ought to be replaced.

The request, reportedly adopted 29-1 at a retreat earlier this month, asks for a secret-ballot survey this fall asking faculty, “Do you want Robert B. Sloan to remain as president of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Baylor University?” the Waco Tribune Herald and other media reported last week.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
The faculty senate voted overwhelmingly last September and again in May to request Baylor’s 36-member board of regents to remove Sloan or ask him to resign as head of the 14,000-student Baptist-affiliated university in Waco, Texas. Sloan supporters have charged that the elected faculty senate doesn’t represent feelings of the whole faculty.
 
The request is expected to be considered when the regents meet later this week. Opponents of the idea said it would only increase polarization and further hurt the school’s image.
 
Regents reportedly came within one vote of firing Sloan at their meeting in May. At their last meeting in July, they did not vote on Sloan’s leadership but affirmed his 10-year plan, Vision 2012, which is the focus of much criticism leveled against the embattled leader.
 
With regents returning to campus for a scheduled meeting Sept. 23-24, debate over Sloan’s leadership appears to be heating up again.
 
The pro-Sloan Friends of Baylor and anti-Sloan Committee to Restore Integrity to Baylor have competing Web sites. Both have bought ads in local media.
 
CRIB recently renewed its call to remove Sloan from office, after backing off briefly amid rumors that a deal was being worked out for him to resign. Friends of Baylor leader Clifton Robinson called the supposed negotiations a “total fabrication,” according to a Waco TV station.
 
Meanwhile, a transcript of a speech delivered at Wheaton College by Baylor Provost David Jeffrey is making the rounds on campus and across the Internet, along with an anonymously written rebuttal criticizing remarks as insulting and demeaning to the school’s faculty and students, as well as to Texas Baptists in general.
 
Sloan weighed in with an e-mail memo welcoming faculty back from summer vacation—reportedly delivered four weeks into the semester—which includes the following: “Now that the regents have restated their unanimous affirmation of 2012, I ask for your support in putting an end to the atmosphere of instability that has often brought media to our campus to report the latest argument or accusation. Not only is the sense of continuing rancor bad for our effectiveness, it is also a bad witness to students and the broader community.”
 
Some faculty critical of Sloan reportedly took that as a veiled threat against criticizing the president. Some reportedly have become nervous about discussing the issue on campus phones or e-mails. One faculty member who spoke to EthicsDaily.com on condition of anonymity cynically characterized the appeal to Christian witness as implying, “If you don’t support me, you’re not only being insubordinate to your president, you’re being insubordinate to God” by creating a bad witness.
 
Sloan supporters, meanwhile, accentuate the positive. This fall’s freshman class was the fourth-largest and most diverse ever, with the highest average SAT scores in history, according to a press release. (Critics point out that SAT scores are now calculated differently than in the past. The highest math and verbal scores are counted for each student, regardless of how many times they were tested. The old method was to count the math and verbal scores on a particular test date.)
 
Another release touted 2003 as Baylor’s fourth-best year for fund raising, and new science and residential buildings opening on campus.
 
The New York Times ran a story favorable to Baylor’s goal of becoming a top-tier university without compromising its Christian identity, sort of a mainstream Protestant Notre Dame. The plan is also being viewed with interest outside the mainstream, such as the conservative World Magazine, which featured Baylor Sept. 4, and the American Family Association, which honored Sloan with its “God and Country Award” in August.
 
Sloan attributes resistance to his leadership to a mindset the faith is irrelevant to higher education and research. “We have an artificial separation of faith and reason,” he told World. “There are plenty of Christians who accept that split and have been trained to do so. To them, when we talk about ideas like integrating faith and learning, we seem to be speaking an alien tongue.”
 
But critics say Sloan’s talk of battling for the soul of Christian higher education is overstatement and view probing questions about faith expressions during faculty interviews as jeopardizing academic freedom and denigrating privatized faith.
 
Jeffrey, a Canadian-born literary scholar who took over as Baylor’s provost June 1, 2003, said in his remarks at Wheaton that hiring practices at Baylor for decades had been too lax about articulating faith, resulting in a faculty and student body less biblically literate than in the past.
 
 He criticized “the anarchic subjectivist” notion of Baptist freedom, which he said has been “essentially institutionalized” in Christian colleges, coupled with biblical illiteracy with results “necessarily fatal to a coherent biblical world view.”
 
“To argue from current Baptist articulations about freedom, essentially secularist in every pre-suppositional way, [is] to demonstrate that there [is] neither coherence nor community in the present edition of Baptist religious tradition in Texas,” Jeffrey said, according to a transcript of his lecture.
 
The anonymous rebuttal paper accused Jeffrey of making “a straw man of individual freedom.”
 
“The speech reflects the fact that certain anointed leaders at Baylor have decided they are the definers, and they will set the parameters and precepts for the rest of the members of the community,” it said.
 
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.