A Question Of Leadership

January 18, 2005

While campus groups debate the issues of academic and religious freedom, others were more interested in questions of leadership, specifically that of Robert B. Sloan Jr., now in his 10th year as president of Baylor. 
Against the backdrop of a faculty-led boycott, Baylor's Faculty Senate announced Dec. 6 the results of a referendum on Sloan's presidency. About 59 percent -- 490 -- of the 838 eligible faculty voted in the referendum, which had one question: Should Robert Sloan remain as president of Baylor University?
Of the 490 ballots cast, 418 voted no on the question, 69 voted yes and three were blank. Faculty Senate contracted with the McLennan County Election Commission to conduct the vote, held Nov. 30-Dec. 3.
There was no official comment from the president's office, but Will Davis, chair of Baylor's Board of Regents, said in a prepared statement: "The recently concluded Faculty Senate referendum on the leadership of President Sloan sheds no new light on the fact that a segment of faculty does not agree with the current administration of the University."
Davis added, "I would remind all Baylor constituents that the Board of Regents has the sole responsibility for determining who serves as president of the University. I hope that the administration will continue to make progress in reaching out to faculty to address their concerns and that the faculty will reciprocate."
The regents rejected a request by the Senate to sponsor the referendum at the board's September meeting, and on Oct. 3, Student Congress passed a resolution registering its objection to the referendum.
The executive committee of the Faculty Senate saw the referendum results as vindication of the Senate's previous two no-confidence votes on Sloan's leadership. "The results of the referendum unequivocally confirm and reinforce the position that the Baylor Faculty Senate has taken in its two no-confidence votes against President Sloan in September 2003 and May 2004," the Senate's statement read. "Over the course of the last 18 months, various Baylor administrators have continued to assert publicly and in private meetings that the opposition to President Sloan's leadership was limited to a small, vocal group of faculty. The results of this referendum clearly refute that assertion." 
The no-confidence votes were 26-6, or 81 percent against, and 28-5, or 85 percent against, respectively. 
The faculty group leading the boycott claimed the referendum would create further division on campus, and that the method to be used was statistically invalid and would set an unwelcome precedent in shared governance. After the referendum results were announced, that group noted in a statement that the Senate's no-confidence votes did not accurately represent the wider faculty.
"The referendum does suggest one thing clearly: the Baylor faculty as a whole does not mimic the lopsided pessimism evident in the Senate's past votes of 'no-confidence' on President Sloan's presidency," the statement read. "Their previous votes nowhere near reflect the reality of Baylor's faculty, of which 420 -- half -- did not participate in the divisive referendum at all or else voted in Dr. Sloan's favor."
Forty-seven faculty members had sponsored ads in the student newspaper, The Lariat, urging their colleagues not to participate in the referendum. "We want to stop fighting and start dialoguing, and we don't think the faculty referendum is in any way going to increase dialogue," says Barry Hankins, associate professor of history and church-state studies. "There wasn't even a dialogue leading up to the faculty referendum," he says, noting that the decision was made by the 33 senators alone.
Baylor's Faculty Senate does not hold open meetings and in the past has been criticized by some faculty for this practice. In their statement, faculty who opposed the referendum urged the Senate to "end its closed meetings, its unrepresentative at-large elections, its secret reports, its clandestine voting records, and its lists of grievances for which no evidence is provided."
The group also urged a "wholesale change of leadership" in the Senate as a way to help the University move forward. 
Student Body President Jeff Leach also released a statement expressing disappointment that the referendum was held. "We believe that the recent faculty referendum was divisive and that it will prove ineffective in achieving reconciliation. The results of the referendum do nothing but to once again state what we already know." 
Leach added, "We call for divisive steps such as these to come to an end so that Baylor students can move forward, continuing to be proud of the University that we all love so dearly and so that true unity and reconciliation may be achieved." 
Baylor's Senate is an advisory body composed of 33 elected faculty members that reports to the provost. As the Faculty Handbook states, the Senate "through consultation with the faculty seeks to express collective faculty judgment on campus issues and to encourage effective faculty participation in the formation of University policy, especially as that policy bears on academic governance of the University."
Although not commonplace, governing groups do cast no-confidence votes in university presidents. "Votes of confidence or no-confidence do not happen every day, but on the other hand, they are not unusual. Over the years, we've seen them take place on campuses across the country," says Jonathan Knight, director of the Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance at the national offices of the American Association of University Professors. "As a minimum, [a no-confidence vote] is seen as an important statement that the administration has a good deal of work to do in order to repair relationships with faculty."
Baylor's closed meetings are more unusual. Knight says if this is a longstanding practice ratified by the faculty, if minutes of the Senate are made available to faculty members and if faculty members can stand for office in the Senate, "then so be it. It would be, I think, unusual, but there's nothing that strikes me as somehow wrong with that," he says.
Even as the referendum was being conducted, Sloan seemed unconcerned about its outcome. "I think I know the regents pretty well, and I don't think they're concerned about it," Sloan said in a Dec. 1 interview. "It doesn't change or affect a single bit what I do day to day, nor does it affect my hopes and aspirations for Baylor, nor does it affect my intentions with respect to leadership and where I want to see Baylor go."
Knight offers this encouragement to Baylor: "In our experience, even when faculty and administration seem to be at loggerheads, they are able to move on. And they're able to move on because the most fundamental issue that they ought to deal with is the education of the students. All realizing this, they find it necessary, even if they may hold their noses, that they have to sit down and talk with their opposite numbers to address concrete issues."