Baylor > Lariat Archives > News


Faculty concerned about Sloan+s direction

Sept. 12, 1996

Faculty concerned about Sloan's direction

Jennifer Paschal/The Lariat

Some University faculty members and administrators are at odds over the direction the school is taking.

Campus reacts to articles

By Amy Priour

and Lisa Zapata

Lariat Staff Writers

Articles that ran Wednesday in the Waco Tribune-Herald and the Wall Street Journal reveal that several Baylor faculty members are concerned with the direction the University is taking under the administration of President Robert B. Sloan Jr.

Baylor has long been known as a university with high moral and ethical standards present in educating the students; however, the articles claim that current practices of hiring professors, authorizing faculty tenure and the overall lean of the university is moving toward fundamentalism.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Pamela Morris, an assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, was being considered for a faculty position in the environmental studies department and was turned down because of her lack of regular church attendance.

In a lengthy letter sent to Sloan, Morris questioned Baylor's hiring policy by stating, 'I believe that a University with a Mission as difficult and as noble as the one that Baylor is trying to uphold should refrain from using such shallow criteria.'

Morris also said that she was not hired because of her lack of involvement with undergraduate student.

The articles mentioned several professors who share feelings of disillusionment with Baylor's current hiring criteria. Currently, Baylor asks applicants to submit a written letters expressing the applicants 'faith history' and their feelings concerning Sloan's 'Letter to Prospective Faculty Member's.'

This letter, printed in its entirety on page eight, emphasizes Baylor's Christian priorities in education and his belief that Baylor can 'remain true to its heritage' by seeking educators who have a strong Christian faith which is seen in their academic and professional endeavors.

The articles said four professors were denied tenure, a number which according to Sloan is not out of the ordinary.

When contacted, Dr. Greg Benesh, chairman of tenure review committee and associate professor of physics, said he does not receive the final word on how many professors are actually denied tenure, and Stan Madden, vice president for university marketing, could not be reached for comment.

Mark Pantle, professor of psychology, claims he was approved for tenure by both his department and the tenure committee, but Sloan denied him tenure based on rumors about 'the appearance of impropriety' on his part after he divorced his wife, according to the Wall Street article.

The overall direction of the University is quickly becoming a debatable topic among faculty. Some fear an ultra-conservative movement is working its way through the upper levels of administration.

'The new president has an interest in having an ever-stronger Christian evangelical religious fervor on campus,' said Dr. Michael Bishop, chairman of Baylor's journalism department, in the Wall Street article.

Several professors are concerned that religion is becoming more of a priority than academics.

Rather than openly discussing the problems that hiring, tenure and other issues are creating, some faculty are trying to skirt the real issues by focusing on the general concept of fundamentalism.

'The faculty at Baylor are legitimately concerned about a number of serious issues,' said Dr. Michael Beaty, associate professor of philosophy. 'Unfortunately, the discussion of these important issues are being deflected by virtue of the way in which the debate is being framed: the fundamentalist and ultra-conservative path versus the moderate and progressive path.'

Several Baylor Regents were contacted, but few had comments on the articles. Some admitted they had not read either article and chose not to comment on the direction of Baylor.

'I don't know what direction [Sloan] is taking. I don't know enough about the situation to comment,' said Dr. Paul Powell, Baylor Regent and President of the Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. 'As far as I can tell [Sloan] has done a good job.'

Also contacted was Brian Harbour, a fellow regent and pastor of the First Baptist Church of Richardson, who agreed with Powell that more information was needed before assessing the situation.

'I basically agree with the direction Sloan is leading the school in,' Harbour said.

Many fear that placing too much emphasis on the general direction of the university will cause the real issues, such as Baylor's hiring and tenure policies, to be overlooked.

'Those who are displeased with President Sloan about particular issues are ironically using the same tactics they deplore in fundamentalists,' said Beaty. 'Alarmist scenarios about Baylor becoming a Bible college are being offered just as the Pressler-led fundamentalists used to tar Baptist colleges for ' becoming havens of liberalism.' Such alarmism does not promote healthy, productive discussion and debate about serious issues.'

Regardless of whether faculty is overreacting, Baylor now has to deal with the issue of how to satisfy all sides and the negative nationwide publicity these two articles produced.

President accused of shift to right

The Associated Press

A number of Baylor University faculty members are accusing President Robert B. Sloan Jr. of weeding out those who don't meet his strict religious standards, the Texas Journal of The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

They say professors have been denied tenure, lecturers fired and job candidates run off for not being sufficiently devout, the newspaper said.

Critics say Sloan's attempts to create a conservative religious atmosphere threaten to damage the Baptist-affiliated university's reputation and stifle intellectual freedom.

'The new president has an interest in having an ever-stronger Christian evangelical religious fervor on campus,' Dr. Michael Bishop, chairman of the University's journalism department, said.

'He wants to select faculty members who come out of a narrow Baptist tradition that he's comfortable with, but that is foreign to the historic tradition of Baylor. ... I believe that religious credentials under Robert Sloan have surpassed in importance academic qualifications.'

Sloan, 47, says nothing has changed in the year since he took the helm.

'Baylor for 151 years has been committed to its Christian heritage,' he says. 'I have the same commitment that every one of my predecessors has had.'

Baylor, the largest Baptist university in the world, is legally free to choose its faculty based on religious criteria and always has done so, giving preference first to Baptists, then to other Christian denominations except Mormons.

In recent decades, however, many church-affiliated universities have grown more secular, partly to cultivate their academic reputations. Baylor has been no exception.

When Sloan, the first Baptist minister to head the school in 34 years, allowed the school to hold its first-ever dance in April, it widely was viewed as a sign that Baylor was falling even more in line with secular universities.

'Is there a wolf in sheep's clothing? Is that a diversion? I think it is,' said LaNelle McNamara, a Baylor alumna and former professor who now practices law in Waco.

There already is talk in academic circles that Baylor is becoming more 'BC' or 'biblically correct,' says Glenn Linden, a Southern Methodist University history professor and former president of the American Association of University Professors in Texas.

Baylor Alumni Association President Lyndon Olson is concerned the turmoil will detract from fund-raising. The controversy, he says, 'has a life of its own now. And I don't know what the reality is at this point.'

Sloan's predecessor, Dr. Herbert H. Reynolds, had a reputation as a critic of fundamentalists

and defender of academic and

religious freedom. Now Baylor's chancellor, Reynolds declined to comment on the turmoil. But he emphasized he has 'high regard for our faculty and staff here.'

Sloan proposed changing the wording of faculty-recruitment advertisements to emphasize Baylor's preference for hiring Baptists and Christians. He defended the move as an effort to be more honest with job candidates.

But many faculty members saw a shift to give religious qualifications priority in hiring over academic credentials. The Faculty Senate issued a statement condemning the new wording, saying it could have a chilling effect on recruitment and 'dramatically reduce the academic quality of the faculty.'

Sloan canceled the ads, but in a letter to all prospective faculty members, he spends two pages emphasizing Baylor's Christian priorities and his belief that 'Baylor University can remain true to its heritage only by recruiting, hiring and developing faculty members ... who sincerely espouse and seek to express their academic and professional identities through the particularity of the Christian faith _ i.e., commitment to the universal lordship of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.'

Copyright © 1996 The Lariat

Comments or Questions can be sent to The Lariat