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Baylor … going gently into that good night?


I’ve written before about Baylor tenure controversies.

A Christian research university would be a great contribution. But the temptation to sell out to tax-funded materialism is everywhere.

Who is surprised when yet another institution is pitching headfirst? Read The Dying of the Light for a scholar’s take on the subject.

Now some really ominous news has turned up re Baylor. According to a recent Baptist Press story, filed by Mark Kelly,

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–An unusually high number of faculty members at Baylor University have been denied tenure this semester, and one former Baylor professor believes the denials reflect the school’s decision to turn away from its Baylor 2012 campaign to establish Baylor as both a Christian university and a top-tier research institution.

The “former Baylor professor” quoted in the article is our lead blogger, Bill Dembski.* He noted for BP that this year, of 30 faculty seeking tenure 40 percent were denied. Only 14 percent were nixed in 2007 and 11 percent in 2006.

Nine of the 12 faculty refused by current Baylor President Lilley had actually been approved both by their departments and by a university-wide tenure committee, according to Kelly’s account.

Such an unprecedented level of tenure denial is apparently unusual even at elite universities, let alone Baylor, which struggles for recognition as such.

According to Kelly, Provost Randall O’Brien argues that the sudden spike in tenure denial rates is simply because the university is slowly moving to a research rather than a teaching environment.**

But sometimes the denial didn’t turn on research money or teaching. For example, Rene Massengale, denied tenure, had brought in about $1 million in research funds, and students liked him.

The money shot? What’s really at stake here?

 Kelly suggests that the recent flock of tenure denials euthanizes former Baylor President Robert Sloan’s campaign to reaffirm the school as a Christian institution – one that also aims to be a prominent research institution.

“All the junior faculty denied tenure appear to have strongly supported enhancing Baylor’s Christian identity, an aspect of Baylor 2012 that many of the established professors at Baylor reject, preferring instead that Baylor become secular,” said Dembski, who also is a senior fellow with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture in Seattle. “It now appears that Baylor President John Lilley is decimating those faculty who staunchly support the 2012 vision, especially weeding out faculty who supported Robert Sloan’s vision for restoring Christian faithfulness to Baylor”.

Rumour is that junior faculty denied tenure generally support Baylor’s Christian identity, and that many tenured profs would love to get rid of that.

As Mark Bergin of World Magazine puts the matter, discussing the egregious Pritchett case,

For a school like Baylor aspiring to reach top-tier academic status, Prickett is the kind of high-level scholar that departmental deans typically want to work with. But on a campus divided between pedagogical factions, the politics of employment are complicated. For almost a decade, opposing forces have scrapped over the soul of Baylor, one side tugging toward a rekindling of the school’s Baptist heritage, the other eager to secularize.

[ … ]

Jeffrey Bilbro, a Baylor graduate student in English with no qualms about discussing personnel issues, believes Prickett is a casualty of warring factions: “It’s like there are two campuses in the same buildings and same hallways. These people have to get along, but they have such drastically different focuses.”

Bilbro worries that faculty with expressly Christian worldviews, his initial attraction to the school, may be on the way out.

Well, knock me unconscious with the feather duster and then call 911 for an ambulance, okay?

No, but seriously, the Baylor Lariat editorializes for a more transparent process:

Another important step in gaining credibility is making the process transparent. While certain aspects of gaining tenure, such as departmental or committee voting, must necessarily be private, no one should be shocked by who does — or does not — receive tenure. As one (tenured) faculty member said, “If the university is doing things right, at tenure time there should be no surprises.”

[ … ]

And when tenure candidates are denied tenure and their contracts are not renewed, the administration owes them a specific and individually tailored explanation of the reasons behind the decision.

While they might not be able to know in advance how administrators will feel about their achievements, tenure candidates should be able to carry out their work without worrying that their tenure letter will read like a bad April Fool’s Day joke.

No, Lariat, it is an EASTER joke!

Let me explain. Lariat, to me, as a Christian, it feels more like a bad Easter joke than a bad April Fool’s joke.

What if materialism is simply wrong?

In that case, we don’t need to somehow rescue our faith in a world where materialism is actually a correct account of reality, and rewrite everything to fit that fact.

Look, materialism IS really wrong. So the people who sold out, sold out for nothing. They sold their birthright for a really BAD tin of stew. Ugh!

Of course, the materialists still want everyone to know that their Enron is a sound investment … and why am I not surprised to hear that?

A simple reason why Baylor should not be doing this

I’m not an academic or a Baptist, and I have never been to Texas. But here’s the part of the story that jumps out at me:

Administration may be quite right to override faculty when they suspect prejudice AGAINST a candidate. Academics can indeed be a jealous lot, especially if some young pup looks like proving their world-famous emeritus prof wrong – provided the pup survives tenure, of course …

So we should expect the administration to act primarily by awarding tenure in difficult cases. Of course, the pup must then live in a pack that hates him. But it’s his choice.

With tenure, he can, I suppose, just do a midnite flit and join another pack.

That way the administration sends a message to faculty that they should not use the tenure process to protect their own weaknesses or settle grudges – and then land the resulting pile of garbage in the admin offices.

But administration should not disproportionately DENY tenure, against the wishes of faculty.

In that case, “top-tier research university” means a university that ignores the judgment of faculty who are supposed to be the experts in their precise area, in favour of the judgement of … whom?

Administrators? Then why are we to believe that such an institution will ever be in the top tier?

How you get rid of the people who can’t be bought off

This Baylor story reminded me of something I remember from thirty years ago here in Canada.

Suppose you are an administrator who wants to force a public hospital in Canada to do abortions. Must you fire all the current obstetricians who oppose the practice? No, of course not!

What you do is strategically relocate the few who really care. You persuade the following people to transfer their privileges to the local Catholic hospital: two Catholics, an Evangelical, an Orthodox Jew, a devout Muslim, and an atheist pathologist who hates path on viable late aborted babies.

All the rest of the medical staff fall into line over time because they are middle class mall addicts who have no conviction strong enough to withstand the institutionalized pressure to conform. And you don’t hire anyone who does have such convictions.

So fifteen years later, you don’t have serious problems, just a considerable increase in “medical waste.”

Look, if there is no God, and no heaven or hell, it all works, right?

Intellectual Enron: Why invest now?

So here is how I interpret the pattern: Baylor plans to sell out to materialism in slow enough segments that it can do two things: Keep the money coming in from pious old Baptists for now but slowly acquire lavish public funding – funding that is only available for those who never question materialism, of course.

Funding which the pious old folk, along with everyone else, are forced to provide through their taxes incidentally.

Double dipping is sweet.

And Baylor is serious about shutting down dissent from materialism. That can be seen from its treatment of distinguished professor Robert Marks, specially recruited for his computer engineering expertise. Marks started investigating the plausibility of Darwinism using advanced computer techniques. Baylor faculty actually took his lab off line!

Of course these hijinx are no more likely to save the Enron of biology than PZ Myers’ recent bounce from the Mall of America screening will prevent the Expelled documentary from revealing how materialists persecute any scientist who publishes evidence against their theories.

It is embarrassing that Baptists, of all people, would resort to this kind of thing to ingratiate themselves with our materialist rulers. When I was young, Baptists were known for being irritatingly honest. They nitpicked about stuff no one else would even bother with. You know, wouldn’t dance, wouldn’t wear makeup. (They got married and had kids anyway.)

The part I don’t understand is, why sell out now, when materialism is collapsing? As Mario Beauregard and I meticulously showed in The Spiritual Brain, materialism is now just a shell of its former hideous strength. Most of its key tenets have never been confirmed and never will be.

Baylor’s new identity may be – the intellectual Enron of Waco.

And we will all have to learn to live in a post-Darwinist world. Too bad if Baylor won’t be there to help us.

(*Bill, who became something of a bete noir at Baylor in 2000 for his intelligent design sympathies, is now research professor in philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Fort Worth, Texas).

(**Baptist parents, take note: Do you want your kid taught by someone who loves to teach or by someone who hates teaching but has 100 research papers in print? Before reaching for your chequebook, ask yourself, what does MY kid need?)

There is a fallacy whose name I do not know, but which can be phrased follows: "We do not presently have the evidence for p, but once we gather it, we will know that p." (Or more colloquially: "We'll execute him right after we give him a fair trial.") Maybe it's some kind of argument from ignorance. We do not have evidence that who were rejected for tenure were more committed to Christian scholarship. We do not have evidence that their scholarship and teaching did not fall short of the scholarship and teaching of the other candidates. Bill is offering to gather data, and to analyze it statistically. I hope he does so, and I hope he does so in a transparent way (making clear what the methodology is, either using publicly available sources or making his sources public, and ideally announcing ahead of the data analysis how he is going to analyze it). Absent non-anecdotal data, it seems epistemically irresponsible to draw conclusions, including conclusions about what the data will show. The non-anecdotal data that is publicly available at present is that 12/30 cases were denied, and that the denial rate was higher among women than among men. I don't have time to calculate whether the difference in denial rate between men and women is statistically significant. (My "probabilist's intuition" says that it is significant but not very, but don't quote me on it.) To say anything interesting about this discrepancy one would need to have other data, like publication records and teaching evaluations (both peer and student). Speculation in absence of good data is irresponsible. arpruss
[...] said “But the Darwinian paradigms is about macroevolution.” No it isn’t. The... jstanley01: larrynormanfan @ 10 And what, exactly, is so gross about basketball? scordova: One of the [...] Faculty “Massacre” at Baylor | Uncommon Descent
larrynormanfan @ 10 And what, exactly, is so gross about basketball? jstanley01
You know, it makes me really sad that people on the ID side of the fence who claim to be Christians can be so uncharitable, prejudicial and mocking when some line of thought that goes against the they're-out-to-get-us mentality is expressed here. It is precisely this kind of thing that is making me feel very disaffected from the ID movement. I used to think this was a way that only militant materialists acted. The Fork
As yet, nobody has responded to my call [30] for hard evidence by providing any. larrynormanfan
Dr. D. It looks like Baylor is planning on adopting the Mayan calendar. LOL tribune7
Frank: I was on faculty at Baylor during the transition to 2012 (which occurred 2002). Research expectations were ramped up in the transition and teaching loads were reduced. My question still remains, however, which is how, this academic year, those denied tenure by Lilley but approved upstream differ from those approved for tenure by Lilley? I gave you some names (see comment #22)? Are you suggesting, for instance, if I do a "google scholar," the profiles will differ significantly? William Dembski
To Bill: The reason why I put "raising the bar" in quotation marks is because I am using the phrase ironically, which, given some of the folks denied tenured, makes sense. Remember everyone up for tenure this year was hired by Robert Sloan after the 2012 vision had been approved and promulgated by Baylor. In fact, this was the first "class" of post-2012 assistant profs up for tenure. Thus, for that reason, you will have pro-2012 faculty denied tenure. Having said that, there is no doubt that what happened last month was an attempt to perform eye surgery with a sledge hammer. But it was not a purging as you suggest. To Denyse: How many sources have you consulted at Baylor about the current situation? My understanding of journalist ethics is that you don't "go with a story" until you confirm it from several sources. One source you could have consulted is an engineering prof who is very close to Bill and is a DI fellow as well. He, apparently, has an opinion that is inconsistent with your account. I am, of course, deeply grateful of the support that you and many others graciously offered to me during my difficult times at Baylor. However, it is wrong for anyone, including you, to believe that such gratitude entails that I should remain mute on matters over which I have some knowledge that may be contrary to what you believe is true. fbeckwith
leo stotch, I think Frank should answer Bill's question. If you read what I said carefully again, you will discover that I did not say that you personally criticized my style. I took the opportunity that I was posting anyway to advise the list that that's a dead end. See: For some of us, making a living writing is like making a living plumbing. You can't keep up with all your customers, but someone you've never heard of, with no credentials in the field, is shaking his head, opining, "No good, no good ... " So? O'Leary
the kvetching about my writing style You write like a girl, O'Leary. Hee hee hee hee. tribune7
They (or many) were religiously inclined and motivated, but the direct impact religion had on their scientific discoveries was zero. But that's not necessarily true. For instance Lord Kelvin's contributions to our understanding of thermodynamics was to some degree guided by the Bible it seems, especially with regard to the heat death of the universe. And Pasteur's proofs against spontaneous generation and his development of the germ theory also seem guided by fidelity to scripture. And then their is Father Lemaitre and the Big Bang. While you can use him as an example as a religious person practicing pure science, his opponents to the theory (including Einstein) thought it too akin to Christian dogma. Eventually, of course, the science won out. OTOH, you could say so did Christian dogma. tribune7
mike1962 (35) Precisely! They (or many) were religiously inclined and motivated, but the direct impact religion had on their scientific discoveries was zero. Everything was based on and resulted from the application of methodological naturalism. They weren’t investigating theology, in the same way that Newton wasn’t looking at ‘religious’ gravity. It’s why everyone, including atheists, can appreciate his conclusions (with the necessary subsequent nod to Einstein, of course). duncan
leo stotch: "For you to suggest that he should repay your previous support for him with his silence on this matter is unseemly and deprives the reader of the opportunity to here both sides of the controversy." No one asked for silence. On the contrary, I think it is a good idea for Beckwith to respond to Dembski's request for stats. I wanted people to know that there is a history here as well. Is everything okay now that Beckwith has tenure? Also, a suggestion: When talking to someone like me, try not to use phrases like "settled on your narrative." I don't mind technical terms but academic jargon spooks heck out of me. And, quite frankly, the kvetching about my writing style says way more about the people doing it than about me. You want Maureen Dowd? Read Maureen Dowd. Who's stopping you? Still reading me? Why? If you really prefer Dowd but are still reading me, I am not the person with the problem. O'Leary
O'Leary at 34 We appreciate how much you have done in speaking up for justice. Your focus in 34 appears to be:
Suddenly, he did not want to know his old friends any more.
Just suggesting in 33 that there may be other / more positive meanings to Beckwith's brief post. (I will let Beckwith explain his actual intentions.) DLH
duncan: All existing and historical science of any note has been based on materialism Say what? Go research what the founders of the modern age thought about that. Most of them believed in a predictable law because they believed in a supernatural Lawgiver. mike1962
DLH, please read what I WROTE at 32 above. What do YOU think is the point of what I am trying to say? O'Leary
fbeckwith at 29 and O'Leary at 32 I wonder what is the meaning of "done"? From yourdictionary.com adjective 1. completed; ended 2. sufficiently cooked 3. socially acceptable because acceptable to arbiters of good taste: usually in a negative construction it just isn't done I vote for 3. Appreciated by arbiters of good taste. But then, on reflection, 2 would fit with "Fork" - tasty? delicious? as in well written? DLH
Frank Beckwith writes, "Who would have ever thought that it would take a Fork to show us that Denyse is done?" Beckwith thinks this is a joke, I suppose, to judge from the smiley. Readers here may not realize that I spent considerable volunteer time blogging on Beckwith's behalf, when he was struggling for tenure himself at Baylor. At THAT time, he thanked me. But as soon as he HAD tenure, his attitude changed. Suddenly, he did not want to know his old friends any more. No, Frank, I am not done. And, if you continue in this path, you will doubtless hear from me again. But I would advise you to stop, and consider justice. O'Leary
The Lariat (quoted above):
But exact guidelines for the number of publications and length of publications are vague. The Tenure Policy and Procedures of Baylor University states that “a bibliography of published articles” is required in the tenure notebook — a compilation of the professor’s merits for tenure during their time at Baylor. The policy requires the tenure applicant supply “three or four representative samples” of refereed or non-refereed publications.
Wow, that really stinks. The more vague the policy, the more Lilley can get away with. The school cannot legally "raise the bar." It must abide by its stated standards. If the nine candidates rejected only by Lilley sue, he will have to show that tenure policy and procedures were not properly applied by the committees that made decisions before he did. Ambiguity makes it easier for him to do that. I hope the nine can and do file a class action suit. Accounting for the nine overrides jointly would be much harder for Lilley than accounting for each individually. Thomas English
"Look, seriously, something ridiculous is happening at Baylor." On this we're all agreed. I would say that "something ridiculous" is a typical university screwing up its decisions in a hamhanded attempt to raise its status. Why do I say that? Because that's how universities work. It happens all the time. The only evidence for the theory proffered by the article is anecdote and speculation. People here are acting like the tenure process is a lot more rational than it ever is. It's always got its share of blunder, politics, vitriol, mixed motives, resentments, payback, and so forth. Occasionally, at every ambitious university, some provost or dean decides to overturn the votes of various departments. In turn, the departments b*tch, gripe, and resist. That's their privilege. It's the circle of academic life. As Henry Kissinger once said, academics fight so much because the stakes are so small. What I want to know is this: is there a shred of hard evidence that the charges of the article fit this situation, which looks exactly like similar conflicts at universities everywhere? I haven't seen any yet (a mention of undefined "anecdotal evidence" notwithstanding). larrynormanfan
Who would have ever thought that it would take a Fork to show us that Denyse is done? :-) fbeckwith
The Fork: "JPCollado - Matthew Cordon is not “on the outside” so my comments clearly does not imply that I am in a better position than he is. I’m surprised that I even have to point this out." Good that you cleared that out Mr.Fork, since it looked like you were using the "inside info" apologetic as a ploy for claiming higher ground in defending the school or otherwise providing a rationale for censoring people from the outside. It's good to know that there are folks who are a lot more familiar with the political nuances of this institution that would agree with the general tone of this thread, in counter-defiance to your position, whatever that may be. That was why I posed the question. JPCollado
The Fork: Are you the dinner fork or the dessert fork? I need to know, as I must go out to a formal dinner soon. I don't usually talk to my cutlery, so you and I need to arrange to whisper very quietly near the "organic" buffet. (Most people avoid that buffet, fearing gastro-enteritis, so it is a good chance for us to really TALK!) Look, seriously, something ridiculous is happening at Baylor. My honest belief: Some talented Baylor faculty might like to de-Christianize the institution. That way they can more easily transfer to Ivy League universities, which have long since been de-Christianized. (Dying of the Light, and all that ... ) Yes, of course I might be wrong. But the difficulty is that no one admits those things even to themselves. So no one knows. We will see. Only time will tell. O'Leary
JPCollado - Matthew Cordon is not "on the outside" so my comments clearly does not imply that I am in a better position than he is. I'm surprised that I even have to point this out. I do agree, however, that there is something very wrong with the administration's decision procedure this year with respect to tenure. It appears quite misguided. Denyse-I have no desire to quarrel beyond the issues that I raised in my previous comment. I think your work is very, very good. Only I recognize some blind spots and misleading commentary in your treatment of Baylor. The Fork
The Fork: "I suspect that I am in a little bit better position to know than those on the outside of Baylor" Better than Matthew Cordon? - "a professor at the Baylor Law School and chairman of the university's faculty senate" who "said he was troubled by the spike in tenure denials." JPCollado
The Fork: "I’m sorry but unfortunately this blog post is misleading....I have no axe to grind, so there is less chance of my being prejudicial in my comments as Denyse tends to be when she talks about Baylor." Actually, Mark Kelly, the author of the article, is the one who is exposing something terribly wrong with the university this time, an institution that is supposedly affiliated with the same denomination under which this news wire service operates. JPCollado
One example of publicly stated criteria:
Dr. David Lyle Jeffrey, provost-elect, said it was possible to be a good researcher, or a good teacher or a good member of the community and still not receive tenure.
The typical balance is weighted 40 percent for teaching, 40 percent researching and 20 percent for service.
Tenure process takes various levels of teaching, research into account The Lariat online By Dana White April 9, 2003 Some current criteria are discussed on: 12 of 30 teachers up for tenure denied Lariat Online March 26, 2008 By Anita Pere
O'Brien said tenure applicants were examined in four categories: record of teaching, research and creative endeavors, interpersonal relationships within the academic community and service. These four categories, however, are not spelled out in the Tenure Policy and Procedures of Baylor University.
But exact guidelines for the number of publications and length of publications are vague. The Tenure Policy and Procedures of Baylor University states that "a bibliography of published articles" is required in the tenure notebook -- a compilation of the professor's merits for tenure during their time at Baylor. The policy requires the tenure applicant supply "three or four representative samples" of refereed or non-refereed publications.
Frank: You keep mentioning "raising the bar" as the best hypothesis of the recent tenure denials. But what evidence do you have for this hypothesis? (As I indicated, I have some anecdotal evidence for the "kill Christian identity aspect of 2012" hypothesis.) Please indicate how a raised bar prevented Rene Massengale and Lori Baker (or your colleague Margaret Tate in philosophy) from getting tenure, but allowed others to clear it. What did these three women lack that, say, Chris Van Gorder, Doug Weaver, and Brett Wilkinson had going for them? William Dembski
Bill and DLH are raising a different, though important, question, that departs from Denyse's initial salvo: Was there something procedurally awry in this year's tenure decisions? The answer, it seems me, is "yes." But were these cases linked in any way to the "Christian vision" question? The answer is "no." Given what happened in my case two years ago, I can see why people immediately go for the "anti-2012" explanation. But given the number of quality Christian folk that did receive tenure, it seems that the post-facto "raise the bar" explanation accounts for what happened. That, of course, raises other troubling questions about the just use of power when one has a unique responsibility over the careers of young and vulnerable academic professionals to whom certain expectations were given at the outset of their probationary periods. But if we extend our inquiry to that question, then one may find the same sort of thing in places like Fort Worth, where a woman Hebrew professor, at Bill's place of employment, had her tenure track position rescinded. Of course, I don't pretend to know the intricate details of that case. But it looks like the same post-facto standard-changing that has the UD crowd up in arms about Baylor: http://www.abpnews.com/3093.article fbeckwith
Fork at 7 Per your undocumented assertions, and in light of Dembski's offer at 17, may I suggest that you use publicly available resources and provide Dembski with a list of the tenure applicants and a list of their publications and citations. e.g., see: http://scholar.google.com/schhp A list of junior faculty with their hiring dates, and approval/denial would be insightful to compare those hired before/after the present administration. You can email Dembski c/o designinference.com (unless he prefers another email.) PS some officially non "relevant" criteria may also be worth exploring. e.g. from BaylorFans.com
John Lilley has denied tenure to 11 out of 31 candidates going up for tenure this year. It´s odd, most of the people denied were supported by the Tenure Committee. Most of the denied were women, and most of them go to Seventh and James. I hear that even beloved profs. like Drs. Baker, Veil and Sturgill did not get tenure!
e.g. webejamin
What are your chances of getting tenure at BU? Male, about 65% and female, about 33%.
Need Dembski's multivariate analysis etc to check if such issues are significant. DLH

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