'A Week Like No Other' On The Baylor Campus

October 13, 2003

Facing the harshest challenge yet of his eight-year tenure as president of Baylor University, Dr. Robert B. Sloan Jr. sat with the 36-member Board of Regents Sept. 12 in a three-hour session to answer questions regarding the viability of his leadership. At 1 p.m., Regent chair Drayton McLane announced the board had reaffirmed Dr. Sloan's leadership by a vote of 31-4. One regent had to leave early and did not vote.
"Robert Sloan has been president and CEO for more than eight years," McLane said. "He's led the University in a very bold way forward with vision, with integrity and fulfilling the Baylor mission. We've discussed it and we had a vote a short time ago totally reaffirming the leadership of Robert Sloan."
Surrounded by regents, Dr. Sloan thanked the board for its vote of confidence, not only in his leadership but in the Baylor 2012 Vision. "I also want to say that I will do everything within my power to reach out to all of the Baylor family -- faculty, staff, students, alumni. It's important for all of us to draw together, to link arms together for the good of Baylor University."
The board discussion came three days after the Faculty Senate passed a 26-6 vote of no confidence in Dr. Sloan. Announced Sept. 9, the vote capped pro-Sloan rallies held by faculty, staff and alumni in the preceding weeks.
McLane also announced the board had appointed three committees to evaluate specific concerns raised by University constituents. A Special Regent Review Committee will evaluate faculty relations, the faculty hiring process, provisional admission policies and Baylor traditions. It also will study the University's agreement with the Baylor Alumni Association to ensure that Baylor is fully meeting its commitments as represented in the cooperation agreement signed last May. The Audit Review Committee will examine Baylor's financial model, tuition structure, bonded indebtedness and the board's conflict of interest policy. The Legal Issues Committee will examine pending litigation. 
The Faculty Senate's vote on Tuesday preceding the regents' meeting came with a strongly worded motion that described Baylor as being a "chilling work environment, a climate characterized by distrust, anxiety, intimidation, favoritism, as well as profound concerns about the sanctity of academic freedom and professional standards." 
The senate vote, conducted by secret ballot, was announced by Dr. Joe Cox, senate chair and professor of management, and the senate executive committee. When asked if they were worried about reprisal, Dr. Charles Weaver, professor of psychology and neuroscience and member of the committee, said, "I think it would be disingenuous for us to say no." He added, "What you hear tonight is the collective opinion of 26 people who believe that among the alternatives available to us, this is the best one."
Dr. Sloan, who attended a student-led prayer meeting on campus while the senators deliberated, responded to the vote later that evening. "I appreciate the fact they've taken seriously their role as senators," he said, "but the Faculty Senate is only one important venue for faculty to express themselves." He said that when he stood before the University-wide faculty meeting in late August, he felt strong support and affirmation for himself and new provost David Lyle Jeffrey. "It's very important to listen to all the voices and that's what I intend to do," he said.
Addressing the claim that a climate of fear of reprisal exists at Baylor, Dr. Sloan said, "Our climate is obviously open for discussion; that's evident by the fact the Faculty Senate has met and feels free to speak its mind. I think universities have to be places where people can have a constructive, healthy disagreement about ideas. My only concern, and the only appeal I would make, is that all of us do our best to work together in a constructive way."
Dr. Scott Moore, assistant professor of philosophy, director of the Great Texts Program and spokesperson at the week's Wednesday faculty rally, criticized the Faculty Senate's secret ballot vote. "Anonymity is no partner to representation. Representation requires accountability, and if we're to know how we can have confidence in the Faculty Senate, then we must know how they, with their courage, chose to pass those ballots," he said.
Dr. Tom Hanks, professor of English who has been at Baylor since 1976, is the senate representative for the English department, the second-largest academic division on campus. He said he polled members in his department for their input. 
"We have seen instance after instance of what many of the faculty, including myself, regard as unjust treatment of faculty members," Dr. Hanks said. "We have seen instances of hirings that the faculty didn't approve and firings that the faculty didn't approve, which seem to us arbitrary. We just don't want that to happen anymore."
Dr. Hanks referred specifically to the announcement of the Michael Polanyi Center, established in 1999 primarily by administrative initiative, as have been other academic centers at the University. "We made it very clear at that point that we really do not want to see faculty units or faculty persons being imposed on the faculty without consult, advice and consent of the faculty, and that has continued," he said.
On Monday of that week, a letter written by five sitting regents calling for Dr. Sloan's dismissal was released. The letter was signed by Carl Bell, Mary Chavanne-Martin, Toby Druin, Jaclanel McFarland and John Wilkerson. Previously, three former regent chairs called for Dr. Sloan's resignation.
"I'm disappointed in the process they used," Dr. Sloan said of the letter. "Individual regents have their capacity in the company of board members." 
Leading up to the Faculty Senate meeting were two events -- a campaign prompted by Baylor staff via e-mail and fax and a rally by faculty members on the steps of Tidwell Bible Building -- expressing support of Dr. Sloan. During this week like no other at Baylor, pro-Sloan rallies were held by faculty members Wednesday and by students on Thursday.
At Wednesday's faculty and staff event, Dr. Moore commented on the large group in attendance -- close to 300 faculty, staff and students -- and its political, theological and social diversity. Despite that, he said, "We're here today to make three large claims. The first is that we fundamentally disagree with the Senate action yesterday expressing no confidence in Dr. Sloan." 
He also said the faculty wanted to work with the current administration to make Baylor the best it can be and to achieve 2012 goals. And finally, he said, "We're tired of all this hullabaloo. We want to work together with our colleagues throughout the University to bring reconciliation, progress and get ... back to business."
Saying that for too long their voices had not been heard, close to 200 students gathered Thursday at an event coordinated by Student Government representatives. Jeff Leach, student body president, said, "We are not happy with the current climate of political divide and unrest.We can no longer be spectators and observers while our school is publicly slandered and ignorantly mischaracterized."
Senior Emily Estes attended the rally and said she was sad to see how the members of a Christian community have treated each other. "I think the Faculty Senate had a real opportunity to show the world, because they're watching us, how Christians react in situations that are difficult and when we don't get along," she said. "But we kind of threw stones ... instead of sitting down and finding a resolution."
Junior Brandon Anderson said he was tired of hearing different professors "rant about how they don't like Dr. Sloan" during his classes. "To them, I'd like to say, stop preaching and start teaching. It's time they put aside their differences and really let us learn," he said. "That's what we're here for."
Leach said that a question-and-answer student forum would be held Sept. 23 with Dr. Sloan, provost Jeffrey, chief financial officer David Brooks and vice president for student life Eileen Hulme.
Off-campus, a group called Friends of Baylor, comprised of Central Texas and state businessmen and women and alumni, held their own press conferences -- one in late August at which they presented Dr. Sloan a $1 million check for the endowment, and another on Sept. 4, preceding the Bill Cosby Pep Rally, in which they handed out buttons, T-shirts and bumper stickers that read: "I Believe: Friends of Baylor."
Meanwhile, another group called Committee to Restore Integrity to Baylor, founded by former regents, purchased ads in the Waco newspaper calling for Dr. Sloan's resignation and listing several "myths" about 2012 and actions taken to achieve it during Dr. Sloan's presidency.
Dr. Sloan said he believed the real issues at stake in questioning his leadership had to do with the University's direction under the regent-approved Baylor 2012 Vision. "We are a diverse faculty and a faculty that is changing. Change is hard, it's hard for all of us. But I think it's entirely appropriate for there to be an outstanding academic institution in America that has a comprehensive academic program, that has graduate programs and professional schools and, at the same time, maintains its distinctive Christian commitment. I think that is an important voice in American higher education."