Monday, July 28, 2008

Baylor in the News

Baylor is making headlines ( least in the Chronicle for Higher Education) due to its recent firing of its president. See the Chronicle article here. Much of the difficulty appears to be a shift in goals that have affected the tenure process. The Baptist university is trying to become a top research institution, while maintaining its Christian character. In the process, it seems that some priorities in the hiring and tenure process have shifted, and 12 out of 30 tenure bids were denied this year. 10 of these appealed the decision, with 7 reversals.

Forbidden Gospels has talked about this recently (since she is geographically closer to Baylor), and has suggested two things: to become a top tier research university, 1) Baylor must secularize and 2) it must reward research above teaching in the tenure process. She suggests that the resistance is due to the conflict of becoming a top-tier research institution and maintaining their faith identity. In response, Rebecca Lesses (also known as Mystical Politics) has made a good point that it is not merely a conflict of faith and research, but a conflict of the conditions under which faculty were initially hired and the possible change in tenure evaluation. Lesses writes:
Without knowing anything about this particular case, it seems to me that there is not only a conflict over the university's faith identity, but over the expectations for faculty trying to gain tenure. If they were hired and were explicitly told that teaching was more important than research, and poured their energy into improving their teaching, then I believe it is extremely unfair to those faculty members to deny them tenure on the basis of a requirement they were not informed of at an early stage of their employment at Baylor. It seems to me that this sort of change has to be introduced slowly, over a period of several years, so that incoming faculty know what the expectations are that they must fulfill. I can see why the tenure and promotion committee disagreed with the president, if this is something that he did in only three years. I teach at an institution that places a higher priority on teaching than research in gaining tenure. If over the period of three years a dozen junior faculty were denied tenure by the president because they didn't have sufficient publications, there would be howls of protest.
This particular potential conflict seems to me to be the more important. Or potentially the more likely culprit behind the unrest. Any institution, whether having a "faith identity" or being secular, attempting to reach the top tier will have to go through a slow transition time. I am not so sure that maintaining oneself as a faith institution is so directly in conflict with becoming a top research institution. Although one might note that the top ivy-league institutions all (except one) began as faith institutions and today, well, basically are not. The one exception is my own institution--Columbia University (formerly King's College) never was a faith institution. To receive adequate funding from potential donors and institutions to become a top-tier institution, one might need to secularize. On the other hand, Baylor's recently-fired president sent the university's endowment level over the one-billion dollar mark for the first time last year. Perhaps the issue is attracting the best scholars to do research there. While there are very good scholars who would be of the same faith-character of Baylor, limiting oneself to those scholars could be detrimental to the success of reaching the top tier. I do not know if Baylor does this, but most scholars, for example, would not want to sign a statement of faith as a condition of hiring. In sum, I can see how there could be potential pitfalls for maintaining the institution's faith character and becoming a top tier institution, but I am not sure that their conflict is inevitable or necessary.

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