By Bob Allen
A Baylor University official charged with creating a position to increase racial, ethnic and gender diversity among faculty and staff has resigned after less than eight months on the job.
“After prayerful consideration and consultation with my family, we have decided that the position of executive vice president and provost at Baylor University is not a good fit for us,” former Saint Louis University professor Edwin Trevathan said in a statement released to media. “I have, therefore, decided to step aside from my role as EVP and provost.”
Shortly after moving to the Baptist-affiliated university in Waco, Texas, Trevathan convened a group to recommend an organizational structure and scope of responsibilities for a Chief Diversity Officer position to facilitate increased diversity among faculty and staff.
After two town hall meetings in October, the group released its report in December. On Jan. 15 President Ken Starr announced appointment of 13 faculty, staff and students to a new President’s Advisory Council on Diversity aimed at “deepening the university’s unapologetic Christian commitment to racial, ethnic and gender diversity.”
In 2014 the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Baylor has the whitest faculty among U.S. universities employing between 700 and 1,000 faculty members. Nearly 36 percent of undergraduate students at Baylor are minorities, compared to 12.3 percent of faculty.
“As a university committed to our Christian faith — and maintaining our Baptist heritage — we believe that all truth is open to inquiry,” Starr said in a President’s Diversity Statement on the Baylor website.
“As such, Baylor has a strengthened commitment to diversity — to exploring unique perspectives, seeking the unfamiliar, and loving our brothers and sisters of different heritages and experiences,” Starr said. “By diversifying the breadth of knowledge and enlarging the cultural horizons encountered at Baylor University, our mission of preparing future generations for worldwide leadership is being fulfilled.”
Some faculty voiced concern that the diversity plan might lead to hiring quotas, less qualified teachers and watering down the school’s religious heritage.
“Christian schools should think long and hard about exactly what kind of diversity they wish to promote before they sign their souls over to the secular rule of diversity officers,” Elizabeth Corey, associate professor of political science, warned in an October blog. “If they don’t, they might live to regret it.”
While embracing aspects of diversity, Corey said Christian schools must also maintain a kind of “particularity” that sets them apart from their secular counterparts.
That’s why different kinds of schools, such as historically black colleges, women’s and men’s colleges and small liberal arts colleges exist, she said.
Others voiced concern that financing a high-level administrative position might pull funding from academic departments or programs.
Baylor officials say the Chief Diversity Officer would not mandate preferential hiring for people of color or women in faculty and staff positions but simply ensure there is a diverse pool of candidates for open positions.
A Waco Herald-Tribune report said it’s unclear if Trevathan’s resignation is directly related to disagreement over the diversity plan.
Starr expressed gratitude for Trevathan’s “dedicated service to Baylor University and the manner in which he has helped position us for future success” in a statement to media.
Trevathan, who became Baylor’s chief academic officer last June after serving as dean and professor of epidemiology in the College for Public Health and Social Justice at Saint Louis University, will remain at Baylor as a neuroscience professor.