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Housecleaning at Baylor


Just so there’s no doubt regarding the following story, to say that the provost was replaced is to say that he was fired. What does this portend for Baylor? The signs are not good if the aim is to see Baylor become a university that is Christian in more than just name. Sloan and Jeffrey — both gone within the space of less than 12 hours (Sloan’s resignation went into effect midnight, June 1; Jeffrey was fired later that morning). They should have done a “Bill Clinton” and installed me as a tenured professor before they left — I would have been their best gift to the people that have vexed them all these years.

Baylor provost replaced by new president

By Mike Anderson Tribune-Herald staff writer

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Bill Underwood began his term as Baylor University interim president Wednesday by replacing two members of the senior administration, including sometimes-controversial provost David Jeffrey. The move may have surprised regents and prompted some fears about harming unity on a campus recovering from years of division over school leadership.

Underwood named religion department chairman Randall O’Brien as interim provost. He also named Baylor law professor and former Waco mayor Michael Morrison to succeed Tommye Lou Davis as his chief of staff. Davis will continue to work as chief of staff for former president Robert B. Sloan Jr., now Baylor chancellor. Underwood said he picked O’Brien to be interim provost because of his abilities to unify people that he demonstrated as religion department chairman and as acting dean of the seminary. Underwood said O’Brien undertook those jobs during times of turmoil in each department. O’Brien, who has been on the Baylor religion faculty since 1991, also brings a sense of continuity because he previously served as executive assistant to then-president Sloan, Underwood said.

“I appreciate Dr. Jeffrey’s contributions to Baylor but at this particular point in our history, I thought what the university needed was a person with Dr. O’Brien’s unique ability to bring people together,” Underwood said. “He has shown his abilities to do that again and again. I thought his particular talents fit Baylor’s needs at this critical point in its history.”

The departures of Jeffrey and Davis make a total of three Sloan appointees leaving the senior administration. On Tuesday, Eileen Hulme announced she would resign as Baylor’s vice president for student life, effective at month’s end. Underwood said Wednesday that he will soon name Hulme’s successor.

Underwood’s decision to replace Jeffrey apparently took some members of the Baylor community by surprise, including members of the board of regents who recently elected Underwood to replace Sloan. Sloan became chancellor Wednesday after 10 years as president.

Sloan announced in January he would step aside as president because he had become a “lightning rod for controversy.” Some members of the Baylor family had grown frustrated with the president and the way he implemented the university’s 10-year growth program, “Baylor 2012.” Some accused Sloan of spending lavishly, raising tuition too high, and being less than understanding of dissent and academic freedom.

Will Davis, chairman of the Baylor regents, said Underwood informed regents of his decision Wednesday by a group e-mail. Davis said many of the regents were likely surprised by the news.

“I think there were regents who were very supportive for Dr. Jeffrey and the job he did as president,” Davis said. “It’s hard to see this as a healing event.”

Jeffrey said Wednesday he wished Underwood and O’Brien the best in the coming days, and that he was looking forward to returning to teaching literature and humanities at Baylor. He expressed concern that his removal could be seen as a contradiction of Underwood’s previous statements about unifying the campus.

“I do share some apprehension for Baylor, this could be a time of perceived contradiction,” Jeffrey said. “And I am particularly concerned that the process of bringing Baylor together not be derailed, that we do anything to minimize divisions here.”

Davis said the university charter gives Underwood the power to hire and fire, though he said it should be done with consultation of regents. He said he would not speculate on whether the action would affect Underwood’s chance at the permanent presidency, which regents are currently searching to fill. Underwood, who has said he has not decided on whether to become a candidate, said Wednesday that concern of hurting his chances at the permanent slot never entered his mind. Underwood also picked Paul W. Powell, dean of the George W. Truett Theological Seminary, to serve as special assistant to the president for denomination relations.

Theological Seminary. O’Brien is also a decorated Vietnam War veteran, Baylor officials said.

Reporting to the president, the provost has overall responsibility for Baylor’s educational and research programs and assumes CEO responsibilities in the case of the absence or illness of the president. As the university’s chief academic officer, the provost coordinates and directs the university-wide academic programs and works closely with the deans and directors of the various academic units.

“I think one of the first things we need to do is make sure everybody feels we are continuing to go forward with vision 2012,” O’Brien said. “We want to bring about implementation of 2012 in a fashion that will affect peace and healing. To that end, I want to hold listening sessions and engage in group think on how we can best go forward.”

Jeffrey ends his term as provost exactly two years since the day it began.

During his term, Jeffrey frustrated some faculty members with his stance on academic freedom. In a 2003 speech at Wheaton College in Illinois, he advocated “communal freedom,” or the right of the university to set group standards over the individual freedom of professors. Copies of that speech circulated around Baylor, and some said they read the comments as an indication the administration might move to limit academic freedom.

The stir led to a public debate on academic freedom last fall between Jeffrey and Underwood. The interim president said Wednesday that the exchange during that debate did not lead to his decision to replace Jeffrey, adding the debate was “one of the most positive moments” during Jeffrey’s term.

Faculty opinions were mixed Wednesday about Jeffrey’s replacement. Eric Robinson, incoming chairman of the faculty senate, spoke positively about the change.

“I think the faculty is going to be very excited about the future with the new provost,” Robinson said. “Dr. O’Brien is a person who has a lot of respect among the faculty. They are comfortable with him and feel they can trust him.”

Walter Bradley, an engineering professor, said as a supporter of Jeffrey he is not pleased with the move, though he respects O’Brien.

“I am concerned that this sends the wrong signal,” Bradley said. “To replace Dr. Sloan and Dr. Jeffrey is going to cause a lot of misgivings, especially among people who came to Baylor specifically to work with those two men.”

Underwood on Wednesday said that he was aware that his decision will not please everybody, but added he believes it was the correct thing to do.

“I think picking someone with Randall O’Brien’s talents was necessary,” Underwood said. “I recognize part of the process is making decisions that are not liked by everyone in order to pick someone with his talents. I’m willing to suffer discomfort in the short term, for the long-term benefit.”

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April 24, 2006
03:30 PM
There is no academic freedom at Baylor. Try not to send your child there - it's an expensive indoctrination with methodologic naturalism. The housecleaning makes that apparent. Send them to a public university where at least you'll know what they're getting into. pluribus
June 3, 2005
10:04 PM
"Some accused Sloan of spending lavishly, raising tuition too high, and being less than understanding of dissent and academic freedom." Wow! He got "fired" for that? That is just daily life in most secular (and some Christian) schools. Oh, and Baylor was mentioned in Christianity Today's recent article in the latest issue about "Christian" schools returning to their Christian faith. I think it would be nice but some of them are so far gone I don't see it as likely (just my opinion).sue
June 2, 2005
09:26 AM

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