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Group sees BU as 'restrictive influence'

Jan. 26, 2010

BCM director says online petition distorts talks as possible merger

By Sara Tirrito
Staff Writer

In opposition to talk of a merger between Baylor University and Baylor College of Medicine, a group from the college began an online petition. It has since gained 534 signatures, some accompanied by comments or notes to Interim President of Baylor College of Medicine William Butler and Marc Shapiro, chair of the Baylor College of Medicine Board of Trustees.

The petition states that the two institutions' missions are "incongruous" and that science and medicine should not be mixed with religion.

"As BU is a religion-affiliated institution that promotes values and teachings from religious beliefs throughout its ranks, we cannot overlook the restrictive influence that this potential merger would have on BCM, a leading biomedical research-oriented college," the petition states. "The religious ideologies that permeate throughout BU's academic policies may adversely affect both scientific progress and the culture at BCM, particularly in relation to issues such as evolution, embryonic stem cells, and sexual orientation. While we respect everyone's right to religion in his or her own life, we believe that science and medicine must be separate from religion, and urge you to reject any such merger."

In an e-mail to the Lariat, Lori Williams, executive director of public affairs and media relations at Baylor College of Medicine, said a merger was never considered.

"The online petition focused on the possible merger of Baylor College of Medicine and Baylor University," Williams said. "A merger between the two institutions was never under consideration."

In an e-mail to the university last Thursday, Baylor's Dr. David Garland said that a strengthened affiliation with the College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital is being considered.

"We believe that such a strengthened affiliation could be helpful to the University's continued growth and advancement," Garland wrote. "Talk of a strengthened affiliation has encouraged us to think broadly about some exciting new opportunities for the faculty and students of Baylor University."

Dr. David Pennington, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Baylor, said concerns that an affiliation could enable the university to dictate what research opportunities are pursued by Baylor College of Medicine are unfounded. He added that in his years at Baylor, the university's Baptist affiliation has not kept the chemistry department from being able to pursue any research topics.

"Any thought that we would govern what they can or cannot do research on is based on misinformation," Pennington said. "In my entire experience at Baylor, I have never seen anyone at the chemistry department denied an opportunity to participate in research."

Garland noted in his e-mail that Baylor is classified as having high research activity by the Carnegie Foundation and that university researchers can now utilize federal and state funds in their work.

Dr. Jaime Diaz-Granados, associate professor and chair of psychology and neuroscience, said comments on the petition, a misperception of the university.

"It seems like some of the comments on the petition are coming from a misperception of us being a Bible college that is against doing research, and clearly we're not," Diaz-Granados said. "We have an enormous amount of science research on the campus; we have many collaborations at the Baylor College of Medicine."