WACO, Texas (ABP) — Baylor University's board of regents has urged President Robert Sloan to take aggressive steps to heal the fragmented academic community.
They also have called for the sale of a controversial jet airplane and significant changes in the university's financial plan.
Baylor alumni, faculty and administrators are divided over “Baylor 2012” — a 10-year plan to lead the Texas Baptist school into the top tier of America's colleges and universities. They also have disagreed about Sloan's implementation of that plan.
Supporters insist Baylor, among all U.S. universities, is in prime position to integrate orthodox faith and academic excellence. They contend Baylor can excel simultaneously in classroom teaching and cutting-edge research. They predict Baylor 2012 will catapult the university to elite status. And they claim opponents resist the plan because it represents change.
Detractors counter the goals are too costly and imperil Baylor's longstanding reputation for excellent classroom instruction. They express fear Baylor 2012's changes will alter the essential character of the university and move it theologically and culturally to the right. They also assert that Sloan's implementation of the vision has been authoritarian and unfair.
Divisions among Baylor's constituencies seemed to widen when school resumed last fall. In early September, five members of the board of regents, three former board chairmen, the Faculty Senate and the editorial board of the campus newspaper called for Sloan's removal.
But other faculty and student groups rallied in support of the president, and an alumni group ran ads supporting his administration. Regents capped a show of support by reaffirming Sloan's leadership in a 31-4 vote Sept. 12.
At that meeting, regents created three committees to study academic/relational, financial and legal issues raised by critics and called for reports at their Feb. 26-27 meeting in Waco. The university released reports from the academic/relational and financial committees after that meeting.
The regents' review committee, which examined faculty concerns, the alumni and academic issues, called for Sloan to work on healing the Baylor rift.
In a section labeled “faculty collegiality,” the report states: “The committee interviews of faculty confirmed … the existing divisions within the faculty. The committee recommends that the administration immediately initiate major efforts to build reciprocal trust, respect and confidence among faculty colleagues, administrators, regents and the university.”
Citing the negative effects of these divisions, the report adds: “We strongly recommend that the administration, led by the president, immediately initiate an aggressive program to heal the divisions at Baylor and seek to communicate more regularly with all faculty and staff members, and in a manner most conducive to building goodwill, trust and respect.”
The committee's report provides suggestions for re-establishing harmony at Baylor.
For example, faculty hiring and tenure have been contentious issues. Some critics have accused the administration of running roughshod over faculty and ignoring their well-grounded views for selecting and granting tenure to their colleagues. Administration supporters have contended the president and provost have been well within their range of responsibilities to guide the university in this process.
The committee's report acknowledges both perspectives: “The deans, provost and president should endeavor to follow the hiring recommendations of the faculty, but always with the authority to select a different candidate based on sound and justifiable reasons, with explanation to the department.”
The regents suggest similar processes for granting tenure and appointing departmental chairs, recognizing the value of faculty recommendations while affirming the validity of administrative decisions. But the report also recommends an appeals process for faculty members who are denied tenure.
Some administration critics have claimed the administration has been overbearing in applying religious requirements for faculty employment. In particular, they have said some candidates in fields whose disciplines do not involve overt religious connections have been made to feel uncomfortable — and perhaps have even been eliminated from consideration — by questions that link their studies to doctrinal issues.
Supporters have countered that questions only were intended to assess the integration of faith and learning and were not meant to be invasive or overbearing.
As with other issues, the review committee struck a balance, affirming the process but asking that it be tempered.
The committee took a similar tone regarding the role of the Faculty Senate, which has overwhelmingly opposed Sloan's leadership. “In accordance with Baylor policies, … the Faculty Senate's primary role is consultative,” the report notes. “But it has every right to expect that its role established by Baylor policy … be acknowledged and respected.”
The review committee addressed alumni issues only briefly, urging “a cooperative and supportive relationship” between the administration and the Baylor Alumni Association.
Another report, by the audit review committee, studied Baylor's financial situation, calling for the administration to present a revised long-term financial plan at the regents' next meeting, May 14.
The report asks regents to consider extending the deadline for achieving Baylor 2012's goals by three years and reassessing the university's capital expenditure and borrowing plans, “to overcome present economic circumstances.”
In another cost-saving move, the report directed the administration to sell “the jet aircraft currently owned by the university.” Critics said the university did not need the $2.3 million jet and contended Sloan acted outside board guidelines in its purchase.
After the board meeting, regents' chairman Drayton McLane and Sloan gave the regents high marks for their work.
“I've listened carefully to the recommendations they have produced and look forward to implementing these recommendations in the continuing effort to realize all the promise of Baylor 2012,” Sloan said.
The presidents of both the Faculty Senate and the Baylor Alumni Association likewise praised the work of the review committees and expressed hope that Baylor's constituencies are working through their differences.