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Baylor alum totes Reno baggage

Nov. 8, 2005

by JOSH HORTON and ANALIZ GONZALEZ, editor in chief and staff writer

Opinions about Baylor President-elect John M. Lilley's leadership at the University of Nevada, Reno, may be as varied as opinions about former President Robert B. Sloan's leadership.

Lilley's move to assume leadership of his alma mater will end a presidential term at Nevada that's been marked by controversy.

Jessie Solomon | Lariat staff
Faculty Emeritus Robert Young, left, former Baylor professor of President-elect Dr. John M. Lilley, gives a warm welcome to the future Baylor leader.
"To me he's bad news. He's been a disaster here, " said Jake Highton, professor of journalism at UNR. "There was almost universal joy over his resignation."

But Will Davis, chairman of the Baylor Board of Regents, said the regents aren't concerned about Lilley's leadership.

"We are fully aware of those assertions, but (after) a rather in-depth inquiry of people on the scene ... we are convinced that he is still the best person for the job at Baylor," Davis said.

At UNR, Lilley helped rebuild the alumni relations team, which raised a record $32 million in 2004. During his time there, which began in 2001, the university hit a peak of $128 million for external funding by faculty. Before that, when he was at Penn State Erie from 1980 to 2001, the school's enrollment doubled and the physical size of the campus grew to 750 acres.

"Dr. Lilley will, I believe, be a great leader for Baylor University," Davis said.

However, faculty and staff opinions at UNR had soured to the point that only 17 of 281 faculty and staff respondents to an April survey believed morale on the UNR campus was positive, according to a faculty report released in August.

The report called the climate at UNR one of "fear, intimidation and retaliation."

One respondent wrote, "If you disagree, it's off with your head. Just count the bodies. You can't count the people who are in hiding."

The report also mentioned the widespread perception that several firings of women in leadership positions were "more tied to the fact that they were women than to performance issues," that faculty felt powerless in decisions affecting the university and that the administration was dishonest in its communications.

One of the major bones of contention in Lilley's administration at UNR involved what Stop Animal Exploitation Now, an Ohio-based animal advocacy group, called the "worst lab in the nation" for research.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture handed down 46 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, adding up to a fine that was later reduced to $11,400.

The professor who reported the violations to the USDA in October 2004, UNR associate professor Hussein S. Hussein, underwent a six-month investigation by the university. He then asked the USDA to investigate whether the university retaliated against him. It found UNR had not.

At one point during the investigation, Lilley authorized putting a hidden camera outside Hussein's lab, saying a faculty member had reported seeing a swastika on his door.

In February, three graduate students working for Hussein reported that someone had been tampering with their experiments. They said they believed it was an effort to discredit the professor.

In an unrelated incident in 2002, Lilley demoted the dean of UNR's Mackay School of Mines, Jane Long, after she voiced opposition to his long-term plans of incorporating the school into a proposed College of Science. Two days after she sent a memorandum opposing the move, she was given an ultimatum of resigning or being demoted to a faculty position.

This April, Linda Brinkley, former UNR vice president of research and dean of the graduate school, filed suit against the university after being reassigned as a professor in the School of Medicine. Brinkley cited eight claims, including defamation, breach of contract and failure to deal in good faith.

Despite the controversy, on April 15, UNR's regents voted 11-2 to extend Lilley's contract through June 2009 and raise his salary to $227,500.

"There are those who question many of the decisions Dr. Lilley has made," said Howard Rosenberg, one of the dissenting regents. "I do question the judgment and sensitivity in relation to some of those decisions. We have lawsuits; we have hidden cameras."

The other dissenting regent, Jill Derby, cited the perception that Lilley doesn't like women in leadership roles and Lilley's lack of faculty support.

UNR Faculty Senate Chairwoman Leah Wilds spoke highly of Lilley.

"Any time a person comes in and makes waves and rocks the boat, you are going to alienate people," she said. "He came in with some very specific ideas about things that needed to be changed. He brought in a strategic planning process that has resulted in people thinking and planning for future. He brought in an academic master plan for growth and he engaged in fundraising to a degree that previous presidents had not."

Wilds called Lilley a "turn-around guy" and said after a leader makes changes, it's often better for him to move on. She added that Baylor might be a better fit than UNR for Lilley, who is the son of a Baptist preacher.

Baylor Regent Jaclanel McFarland said although she supports Lilley's leadership, she would have felt more comfortable if he had been serving in a Baptist church before his selection as Baylor president. Lilley joined First Baptist Church Waco on Sunday after being a ruling elder at the First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Reno.

"In a perfect world, I would have preferred for him to be an active member of a Baptist church," she said.

Baylor Faculty Senate Chairman Eric Robinson said he expects the senate to work well with Lilley and called the leadership transition an exciting time.

"While you are hearing some stories of concern from UNR, there are two sides to every story," Robinson said. "I think that at this point it is our job to give Dr. Lilley the benefit of the doubt and give him an opportunity to show his leadership skills."

David Jakubowski, community affairs chairman for Baylor student government, said he felt the regents made a good choice in their selection of the president but that "it is too early to form an opinion."

External Vice President for Student Government Katie Weiss said despite some complaints about Lilley at UNR, she feels good about his coming here.

She said Lilley and his wife met with the student government Monday and said he wanted to keep meeting with the group and listen to their ideas.

"I look forward to being able to push issues and develop a relationship with him," she said.