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Faculty Senate begins controversial vote

Nov. 30, 2004

By SANDI VILLARREAL, assistant city editor

Faculty members will have the opportunity to voice their opinions concerning President Robert B. Sloan's leadership by voting in the facultywide referendum held today through Thursday at the McLennan County Election Administration Office.

The referendum, prompted by the Faculty Senate, will ask the single question, "Do you want Robert B. Sloan to remain as the president of Baylor University?"

Dr. Eric Robinson, educational psychology assistant professor and member of the Faculty Senate executive committee, said some of the day-to-day issues surrounding problems at Baylor can be resolved, but he believes the issue of trust between faculty and administration is overriding the daily issues and is very challenging to fix.

Some faculty members are concerned that the referendum will only increase the divisiveness on campus among the administration, faculty, staff, alumni and students.

At least 47 faculty members have expressed that they will not participate in the vote, saying in a Lariat advertisement Baylor factions should work "in good faith toward reconciliation among ourselves and with the other Baylor constituencies."

Dr. Barry Harvey, associate professor of theology, is one of the faculty members who sponsored the advertisement.

"I think this kind of referendum doesn't help Baylor out at all," he said. "It lacks subtlety, and it doesn't give advice about what the university should do after President Sloan."

Robinson said he doesn't understand the position of those faculty members in opposition to the referendum.

"I don't understand why it's divisive," he said. "I think the reality is that we're divided anyway, and this information will only shed light on the level of divisiveness."

According to a senate e-mail to faculty members, the motivation behind the vote was to find a clear picture of the feelings of the full faculty. The senate has been criticized that it doesn't accurately represent the faculty.

"The Faculty Senate acknowledges this criticism and has concluded that the only way to determine whether the senate votes do, in fact, represent the will of the faculty is to provide each full-time faculty member the opportunity to vote individually on this issue," the e-mail read.

Dr. Beck Taylor, associate dean in the Hankamer School of Business, disagrees with the senate and said he is not participating in the vote because he still doesn't think it will be an accurate representation of faculty opinion.

"Not all faculty will vote, and it's not clear who has the biggest motivation to vote," Taylor said. "I think those who disagree with Sloan will go vote, while those who support him probably will be less likely to head to the polls."

The referendum cost is about $1,500, and Faculty Senate members are asking for faculty donations to cover the cost. The senate intended to give any extra money to Student Government, but government members refused the donation, saying "it gave the appearance of collusion" with the senate.

Robinson said the senate has not decided where to allocate the funds should it receive an excess from donations.

Robinson also said he has heard some concern over possible repercussions for voting in the referendum among non-tenured faculty members.

"This is off campus," Robinson said. "Even if you go in there and vote, you're the only person who knows how you voted."

Kathy Van Wolfe, McLennan County elections administrator, said no media will be allowed at the voting venue. She said the elections office will count the votes after all mail-in ballots have been received on Dec. 6.

Robinson said the data will be communicated to Sloan and Regent Chairman Will Davis following the count. He emphasized that while he hopes the Baylor Board of Regents members will consider the vote, senate members aren't trying to force regents' hands.

"They are the leaders of the university, so we're not trying to tell them what to do at all," he said.

Those eligible to vote in the referendum include full-time lecturers, instructors, senior lecturers and academic professionals. Administrators may only participate if they are also tenured or tenure-track professors.

Faculty members are required to show faculty identification to participate in the vote. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. - 7 p.m. today through Thursday.

Reporter Jessica Youngpeter contributed to the article.