Reported by Allison Holden.
About 800 members of the Baylor family gathered July 18 in the Ferrell Center for a "Family Dialogue" hosted by the Baylor Alumni Association. The crowd included alumni, faculty, staff, administrators, students and most of the University's 36 regents, who were on campus for their regularly scheduled summer meeting.
Held at the request of a group of alumni calling themselves the "loyal opposition," Baylor administrators agreed to the dialogue to address some of the misinformation and concern about elements of Baylor 2012 and its implementation.
Moderated by Fred R. Norton Jr., BAA president, the dialogue followed a debate format and was divided into four topics -- finance, academics, leadership and institutional values -- with a time allotment of 25 minutes each. Comments from alumni and administrative representatives often brought equal and enthusiastic applause from the crowd.
On the panel were administration representatives Drayton McLane Jr., chair of the Board of Regents; Dr. Robert B. Sloan Jr., president; Dr. David Lyle Jeffrey, provost and vice president for academic affairs; and David R. Brooks, vice president for finance and administration. Also on the panel were alumni representatives Bette McCall Miller, daughter of former Baylor President Abner V. McCall; Dr. Jim Patton, chair and professor of psychology and neuroscience; Kent Reynolds, son of President Emeritus Herbert H. Reynolds; and Glenn Biggs, former chair of the regents.
McLane stated early in the discussion that when Dr. Sloan became president in 1995, the board encouraged him to develop a strategic plan for the University's future, to "boldly put a stake in the ground and proclaim what Baylor University is," he said. The board studied the proposed strategic plan -- what became Baylor 2012 -- for a year before endorsing it. "I'm not sure any of us comprehended how bold it was," McLane said.
Questions about finances centered primarily on concern that Baylor was outspending what its endowment and student enrollment numbers could support. Brooks said that Baylor's budget for the coming year was, for the 34th consecutive year, in the black. Agreeing that Baylor, like most universities, is highly tuition-driven, he said numbers for fall enrollment are good, running only about 40 students behind projections in mid-July.
Additionally, Brooks said, the endowment -- affected significantly in the last two years by the erratic national economy -- has begun to grow in the past three months, now approaching $600 million. "We will live within our means," he said. "You can take that to the bank."
The results of the University-commissioned work-life study, released in mid-June, prompted questions about academics, leadership and institutional values. The survey showed, in part, that less than one-third of tenured faculty have confidence in Baylor's direction, whereas 67 percent of tenure-track faculty do express confidence. Dr. Patton said these results are "striking and significant," indicating a tenured faculty that is "disaffected."
Provost Jeffrey said the Faculty Senate would be crucial in helping to address these issues. "We're going to spend a lot of time talking and listening to each other," Dr. Jeffrey said. "We need to create a truly intellectual Christian environment on campus."
The administration was asked about its interview and tenure review process for faculty members, specifically about more vigorous questioning of religious activity. Dr. Jeffrey said Baylor upholds "to the letter" the faculty hiring guidelines set forth in 1988 by former President Reynolds, giving candidates "the fairest hearing possible." Dr. Patton urged more "finesse" in the interview process. "The tone of the questioning has changed considerably in the last few years," he said. "We need to conduct our interview in a more courteous fashion."
Biggs, a former regent chair, contended there are "serious flaws in this administration." He added, "At some point, you have to grade the leadership. This administration has not been able to keep the focus and bring all the people together."
During the debate, Bette McCall Miller charged that Dr. Sloan's "move toward creedalism is a page taken from the fundamentalist's handbook." Dr. Jeffrey rebuked that claim stating, "I know something about fundamentalist institutions. They're anti-intellectual, parochial places that resist change at all costs. That is not what Robert Sloan represents or what has attracted so many people to Baylor."
Dr. Sloan said Baylor has the opportunity to be the finest Christian university in the world. "We want to treasure the past, to build upon it, and at the same time, to be bold and move forward," he said.
McLane reiterated the board's support of Dr. Sloan, adding, "There are many great facts we've heard here today. This is the way any organization moves forward. We adjust, face reality and honor Baylor."
To view the dialogue in its entirety, visit baylortv.com.