Baylor's constituents' opinions differ on effectiveness of presidential search listening sessions

May 29, 2009

By Tim Woods, Waco Tribune-Herald staff writer

As Baylor University's presidential search advisory committee mulls input from the school's various contingencies, the discussion has turned to what the Baylor family members want in their next leader and whether their voices will be heard.

During the past several weeks, the advisory committee heard from faculty, students, staff, alumni, administrators, community leaders, Baptist General Convention of Texas officials and university deans during 16 listening sessions.

The meetings yielded a few common themes for desired qualities in Baylor's next president, but not everybody agreed on what were the most prominent themes.

According to regent Joe Armes, chairman of the presidential search committee, who attended all of the listening sessions, "Virtually all of those we heard from agree that Baylor's next president should be a committed Christian who is passionate about Baylor's mission and vision."

Armes said the Baylor family undoubtedly wants a servant leader who will be active in the community and on campus and is "determined to maintain Baylor's pre-eminence in Christian higher education."

Student body President Bryan Fonville said students are interested in a leader who can develop good relationships with all of Baylor's constituents. Fonville and Baylor Alumni Association President David Lacy said they have heard a call for a president with experience in academia.

Fonville said, "(Students) expressed a desire to see Baylor move away from a pastoral model for a president and seek someone with experience at other prominent universities."

Lacy said a history of building consensus going hand-in-hand with university experience is particularly necessary at Baylor, which has experienced a great deal of turbulence and disunity among its constituents for nearly 10 years. He said he has heard others share the sentiment.

He expressed hope that the presidential selection committee, made up of members of the board of regents, holds the same view.

"I have every reason to think that that's what they're trying to do with this selection," Lacy said. "That's what I would hope they're trying to do, because it's in the best interest of all parties."

Poor turnout

Turnout for the sessions was a source of disappointment for some. For instance, the alumni sessions averaged between about 20 and 40 attendees, with faculty and staff sessions seeing similar turnout.

Two possible reasons were offered: schedule conflicts and concern that input would not be seriously considered. Four of the nine general listening sessions were held between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., including both of the faculty sessions.

"The scheduling was unfortunately set up when many faculty members are teaching," said Lynn Tatum, senior lecturer at Baylor and a member of the executive committee of the American Association of University Professors. "Secondly, some faculty members expressed to me that they are concerned that the regents aren't interested in significant faculty input. Those of us in academia know that major universities typically include faculty on their search committees."

Feedback sought

Armes has repeatedly stated that the sessions are serious attempts by the advisory and search committees to hear what constituents want, and regent Ramiro Pena, pastor of Christ the King Baptist Church in Waco, stressed that point when asked about regents' willingness to listen at a staff session.

Pena noted how busy all of the advisory panel members are, saying, "I would like to say that if I had already made up my mind or the board had, I am way too busy to waste time with a farce of all these listening sessions."

Faculty senate chairwoman Georgia Green, also a member of the advisory committee, said she believes the listening sessions were designed for genuine input.

Tatum said faculty, students and alumni might feel marginalized because their requests were denied for voting seats on the search committee that would recommend a candidate to regents for final approval.

"Whether they intended to or not, the regents' decision to exclude faculty from the actual search committee has been interpreted by some faculty members that their input will not be taken seriously," Tatum said, noting that hundreds of faculty attended meetings with the advisory committee in the 2005 search that yielded former president John Lilley. "I hope the regents work to correct that impression."

This article appeared in the May 29 edition of The Waco Tribune-Herald: