Session Two - 'Faculty Hiring, Tenure And Promotion'

  • News Photo 1292
    Dr. Mikeal C. Parsons
  • News Photo 1304
    Dr. Robert M. Baird
  • News Photo 1298
    The Kronzer Courtroom at Baylor Law School was nearly full for the colloquy session on "Facuty Hiring, Tenure and Promotion."
April 22, 2003

by Lori Scott Fogleman

Baylor University faculty members examined "The Baptist and Christian Character of Baylor" during a two-day colloquy April 10-11, honoring Dr. Donald D. Schmeltekopf, provost and vice president for academic affairs, who will retire in May.

The presentations at the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center offered differing perspectives on the various dimensions of Baylor's faith mission and its integration into the teaching, scholarship and service endeavors of the university community. Selected faculty members presented their positions on the session topic, followed by short papers in response to the position paper and open discussion.

This session can be viewed by linking to Part one can be seen here. To see part two, click here.

Session II - Faculty Hiring, Tenure and Promotion

Before a nearly full Kronzer Courtroom, the colloquy's second gathering focused on one of the most contentious issues on a college campus, "Faculty Hiring, Tenure and Promotion." The session was moderated by Dr. Pauline T. Johnson, a tenured professor of nursing, director of the graduate program at the Louise Herrington School of Nursing and a member of the university tenure committee.

In her opening remarks, Johnson said great leadership is required to safeguard Baylor's mission and principles. Using the words written in the "2002 Provost's Report" by Baylor's retiring chief academic officer, Dr. Donald D. Schmeltekopf, Johnson said that part of the university's mission is to be a faithful witness to the moral standards called for in the Christian faith.

"Documentation for hiring, tenure and promotion can be extremely subjective in nature," Johnson said. "At Baylor, we can openly look at the most noble leader of all time as our role model. Let us pray fervently that our leaders will be blessed with the divine gifts of wisdom and a discerning heart as they make decisions that will not only impact the character of Baylor University but also this grand community of faculty."

The Significant Contribution Model

Dr. Mikeal C. Parsons, professor of religion, began the session with his paper, "The Implications of the Baptist and Christian Character of Baylor University for Hiring, Tenure and Promotion: The Significant Contribution Model." A faculty member for 17 years, Parsons first acknowledged his support for Baylor 2012, the university's 10-year vision.

Parsons began by defining "Baptist and Christian" character, the theme of the two-day academic conference. Parsons asserted that Christian primarily but not exclusively addresses the substance of Baylor's religious character. Baptist, he said, primarily but not exclusively speaks to the perspective - the attitudes and practices - in the expression of that substance.

"I do not mean to suggest that our Baptist identity has nothing to contribute to the substance of what it means to be a Christian university. Those issues for which Baptists became known...are, in most cases, practices of or attitudes toward certain issues of faith. Baptist distinctives, by themselves, however are not enough to sustain the religious commitments of a Christian university," Parsons said. He added that most, if not all, other Protestant denominational distinctives are in the same category.

"The 2012 document reflects a similar distinction of substance and practice when it claims that our goal is 'to make Baylor an excellent university whose foundation rests on our ecumenical Christian mission, energized by our Baptist heritage,'" Parsons said. "I offer that when we are discussing implications of the substance of the religious character of the university on hiring, tenure and promotion, we should speak and think primarily about the 'Christian' character of Baylor, which Baptists have historically affirmed."

Parsons then spoke about Notre Dame's Significant Contribution Model, a model he contended is "already tacitly in place" at Baylor. Parsons looked back at Baylor's hiring practices from 1985 to today, during which the university moved from a "fill-in-the-blank" model to indicate denominational affiliation to the letter sent today to prospective faculty by President Robert B. Sloan Jr.

"The explicit emphasis of the impact of the Christian intellectual tradition on the content of what faculty teach and publish was pursued also in faculty interviews and tenure procedures. Today prospective faculty are regularly asked to reflect on how they see themselves fitting into the mission of the university," Parsons said.

What is needed at Baylor, he said, is a clear articulation of expectations in terms of hiring, tenure and promotion. Parsons observed that both sides of the bar -- the academic and the religious -- have been raised.

"Just as the research component has gone from 'scholarship tolerated' to 'scholarship encouraged' to 'scholarship expected' to now 'scholarship required,' so the relationship of faculty to the religious character has gone from 'comfortable with the religious mission' to sympathetic toward' to 'supportive of' to now finally 'contributing to' the religious mission," he said. "To raise one side without raising the other will...lead either to secularism, on the one hand, or vacuous pietism, on the other."

The model raises other questions, such as how Baylor would account for the different ways in which faculty from different disciplines might make "significant contributions." Parsons spoke about Stephen Evans' definition of Christian scholarship, in which the notion of vocation is central - the scholar understands her scholarship as an act of devotion to God, rather than an exercise in self-aggrandizement or in praise of human intellect. Evans also distinguishes three kinds of "Christian scholarship": explicit Christian scholarship (theology, religion, philosophy); implicit Christian scholarship (psychology, sociology, art history, law); and purely vocational Christian scholarship (mathematics, natural sciences).

"Purely vocational scholarship has nothing about it -- explicit or implicit -- that is distinctly Christian. Rather, the Christian mathematician or the Christian chemist constructs the same proofs or conducts the same experiments as the non-Christian. Yet the Christian scientist bears witness to the Kingdom of God 'simply by doing excellent work in their disciplines, contributing to the development of new knowledge, furthering the general good and also demonstrating that it is indeed possible for a thoughtful educated person to live as a Christian in today's world,'" Parson quoted from an Evans' article in The Southern Baptist Educator.

In the case of hiring or tenure for those engaged in purely vocational Christian scholarship, Parsons suggested that departments consider developing guidelines where candidates would participate in brown bag lunch groups, faculty orientation and workshops, and guest lectures, "where matters of what it means to be a Christian professor could be discussed and debated."

Parsons concluded his paper with a call for the formulation of an explicit statement of the expectations for faculty about Baylor's religious character.

"This procedure should allow, as it has up to this point, for the local culture of each departmental unit to engage in dialogue with the central administration," he said. "If uniformity of the SCM is beyond our grasp, some coherence might nonetheless be achieved. To ignore totally the implications of the religious character of the institution on the issues of hiring, tenure and promotion, however, is to invite failure and disaster in our efforts to fulfill what is Baylor's unique mission: to become the premier Christian university in the Protestant tradition."

An Alternative Vision

Following Parsons, Dr. Robert M. Baird, professor and chair of the philosophy department and Master Teacher, presented his paper on "Baylor 2012: An Alternative Vision."

On the "fundamentally important" issue of hiring, promotion and tenure at Baylor, Baird looked at the 10-year vision's two major trajectories. The first - increased research and publication - raises several issues, including a reduction in teaching loads and a continued emphasis on the value of teaching. Reduced teaching responsibilities is "simply a problem" that can be solved, Baird said, by finding the resources to hire more faculty. Honoring teaching while emphasizing publication is another matter.

"Once publication in top-tier journals is required for tenure, young faculty can feel pressure to put class preparation and involvement with students on the backburner," Baird said. "To counter this possibility, we will have to be intentional in our emphasis on high quality teaching and attention to students. Balancing the demands of research and the nurturing of students is a challenge, and this challenge is a dilemma precisely because this balancing act will always be with us; we don't solve it; we learn how creatively to cope with it. This is a matter of institutional and individual faculty will."

Baird then focused his paper on the second trajectory of the 10-year vision, which focuses on the university's religious identity and a more detailed examination of a faculty candidate's religious life. To guide the hiring process, Baird said the administration gives search committees a set of criteria, the first of which emphasizes increased focus on the religious life of the prospective candidate. It reads: "The successful candidate will be vigorous in the life of faith, easily at home with [the] Christian confession and thus warmly committed to the fellowship and work of the church."

"In passing, let me say that I have been associated with Baylor since my student days in the mid to late 1950s. In my experience, Baylor faculty by-and-large have always been 'vigorous in the life of faith, easily at home with [the] Christian confession and...warmly committed to the fellowship and work of the church,'" he said.

Baird asserted that the religious identity of the university is secure and that a more rigorous examination of the religious commitments of prospective faculty could prevent the university from hiring men and women who could contribute significantly to Baylor's intellectual and spiritual life.

Baird then advanced what he called an "alternative vision" for Baylor. Using his own experiences as a student and a faculty member at Baylor, Baird began by talking about one of his philosophy professors and later colleague, Haywood Shuford. Baird said Shuford was not a "churchman" and his religious views weren't known.

"I do know that religion was a difficult matter for him. Difficult, I suspect, because he needed more evidence or a different kind of evidence than the religious life permits," Baird said. "But he played a powerful role, indeed a spiritual role, in my life, awakening me from my dogmatic slumbers. I do not think that Shuford could be hired at Baylor today, but my dream is of a Baylor that makes room for the Haywood Shufords of the world."

Baird said the same of Charles Hartshorne, considered by many to have been one of the most important philosophers of religion and metaphysicians of the 20th century.

"Arguably, Charles Hartshorne took the reality of and the nature of God as seriously as any thinker who ever lived," Baird said. "But his mind and his integrity required that he reformulate classical theism, and he had difficulty with the doctrine of the trinity. His religious identification was with the Unitarian Church. I do not think he could be hired at Baylor. Our articulated hiring policy excludes Unitarians. My dream is of a Baylor that makes room for the Charles Hartshornes of the world."

Baird's final example was of Florida State philosophy professor, Michael Ruse, who delivered the 2002 Herbert H. Reynolds Lecture at Baylor. In a letter to Dr. James Marcum, associate professor of philosophy, Ruse was impressed by the standards set and achieved at Baylor but even more impressed by the "integrity of everyone."

"Baylor's Christian ethos of a vital kind is there for everyone to see - even [by] those who do not share the Baptist faith, even [by] those like [me] who have no faith at all," Ruse wrote. "It is hardly too much to say that everyone is bound by cords of love and respect: for teachers, for students and for support staff. For me, spending time at Baylor was a privilege, for which I am grateful and humbled."

Baird contended that although Ruse respects the life of faith and often challenges those in the public forum who are disrespectful of the life of faith, Baylor's hiring policy would exclude him.

"What an addition he would make to the intellectual conversation of this community," Baird said. "My dream is of a Baylor that makes room for the Michael Ruses of the world."

Baird concluded by focusing on the natural tension within a religiously affiliated intellectual community.

"To be religiously affiliated is to be part of a tradition with certain substantive values and to be committed to deepening and transmitting those values," he said. "But to be an intellectual community is also to pursue inquiry wherever that inquiry leads and to stimulate students to think independently, to think in new and creative ways. But that is a risky venture, for the intellectual inquiry and the provoking of students may lead, at times, in directions at odds with dimensions of the religious tradition of the institution."

To overcome such tension, Baird said universities can either sacrifice their religious heritage or to restrict intellectual inquiry. Baylor's risky path is to do neither.

"It is a path that will involve continuing debate about where we draw the line so that we preserve both our religious identity and a stimulating intellectual life," Baird said. "I recommend that we draw the line [in our hiring and promotion policy] to include the Shufords, the Hartshornes and the Ruses of the world. My vision of Baylor is a vision of an institution proud of it Christian heritage and deeply committed to sustaining its Christian tradition. But my dream is also of a Baylor so secure in its Christian heritage, so secure in its identity that it willingly embraces some faculty who are not full embodiments of that heritage."

Garland, Osler, Weaver Respond

Responses to the two papers were given by Dr. Diana R. Garland, professor and chair of social work and director of the Center for Family and Community Ministries; Mark W. Osler, assistant professor of law; and Dr. Charles A. Weaver, professor of psychology and neuroscience and chair of the faculty senate.

Garland described herself as "uniquely qualified" to respond, having been relieved of her appointment as dean in another Baptist institution "because I questioned the hiring policies of the administration." She said the academic environment created by Schmeltekopf made her feel safe enough to comment on hiring, tenure and promotion policies at Baylor.

One of the most significant contributions Baylor can make to academia and to scholarship, Garland suggested, is "to become a living critique of the dangers of American individualism as it plays itself out in the academy."

"To be Christian does not refer simply to our acceptance of a checklist of distinctive beliefs of individuals but, rather, to the ways we live out those beliefs in our life together," Garland said. "What if we helped one another get over the bar that Mikeal talked about, helped one another in intentional, institutionalized ways?"

Garland proposed:

• Evaluating individuals in their community context ("The elements are already here, if we don't lose them in new structures of scholarly expectations that emphasize the individual and only tolerate corporate academic products.");

• Providing safety for risking;

• Including the whole community ("It is not just that we act 'Christianly' to everyone, but that we recognize the necessity of all in this place...");

• Distinguishing between criteria for hiring and criteria for tenure ("We are not only in the process of finding world class Christian scholars; we should also be growing them.");

• Making service to the community and world outside the Baylor bubble central as evidence of valuable scholarship.

"If Waco, Texas, is not a better place -- better environmentally and economically and socially -- by the year 2012, then I wonder if we have really embraced what it means to be a Christian university," Garland said.

Osler suggested that Baylor add a "third line" to it hiring criteria - "those scholars and teachers who are 'unashamed' of their Christian faith, and 'unafraid' to take their resulting scholarship to the larger secular academy."

"Not every hire would be in this category, but if we can attract and keep such scholars and teachers, they will be the ones who define us to the larger world and to our students," Osler said. "In general, it is fair to say that Christian universities have been unashamed of their faith, while great secular universities have been unafraid of the often contentious, even anarchic world of scholarly work and criticism. If we are to be a great Christian university, it is being unashamed of our faith that will mark us as Christian, and being unafraid of the larger academy that will mark us as a great university. It is being both that will mark us as unique."

Weaver said he agreed "up to a point" with the papers presented by Parsons and Baird, and suggested that Baylor already used Notre Dame's "Significant Contribution Model." However, he said what has not been determined is what constitutes a "significant contribution."

"The phrase that produces the greatest anxiety among faculty is, 'supportive of the mission of the university,'" Weaver said.

Religious expectations of faculty can be implemented in two intellectually defensible ways, Weaver said. In the Notre Dame model, prospective faculty are told of the mission of the university, asked if they support it and asked how they can contribute to the mission. However, when they are hired, their religious beliefs and practices are no longer questioned. The second defensible way to determine contribution, Weaver said, would be to list an explicit set of faculty guidelines -- statements of faith, codes of faculty conduct, etc.

"Now, I don't want to be at a university that has such practices, either, but there would be little room for discussion among faculty who are denied tenure on these grounds," he said.

Weaver then turned his attention to Baylor's current model for evaluating religious commitments, which he called "dangerously close to 'discernment.'"

"We have expectations, but they are not articulated," he said. "We expect faculty to be 'vigorous in the life of faith, easily at home with Christian confession, and thus warmly committed to the fellowship and work of the church.' But how can faculty demonstrate that they are 'vigorous' in their faith? Prospective faculty are sometimes turned away after brief administrative interviews when they are judged insufficiently 'warm and reflective' in their beliefs. In reality, we are often passing judgment on one's capacity for spiritual growth and development."

Weaver said he hoped when evaluators measure the depth of a faculty member's support of the mission, they will recognize different but acceptable contributions.

"Some of us believe we are acting out our Christian call by supporting Planned Parenthood or the Sierra Club. When it comes to matters of faith, good people can honestly disagree," Weaver said.

Concluding his response, Weaver said he agreed with Parsons' endorsement of the significant contribution model but found Baird's portrayal of a more open and confident Baylor to hold the most appeal.

"I simply find an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect, one where faculty pursue both scholarly and spiritual questions out of attraction rather than fear, to be the true embodiment of a 'world-class Christian university.'"

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