Baylor Faculty Senate urges regents remove Sloan
By Mark Wingfield
WACO–Baylor University's Faculty Senate passed a resolution of no confidence in university President Robert Sloan Sept. 9, urging the board of regents to remove him.
Sloan, who has been criticized throughout the summer by segments of the faculty and alumni, greeted reporters cordially after learning of the Faculty Senate vote, vowing he has no plans to step down.
The resolution of no confidence, adopted on a 26 to 6 vote in closed session, says Sloan's administration "has produced 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."
It continues: "But above all else, this climate is marked by fear–fear of losing one's job, one's hope for tenure, a promotion, a pay raise or a friend, over an opinion or activity that might be labeled 'disloyal' or 'not mission-friendly' by a representative of the administration."
Such a culture, the resolution contends, is "incompatible with our Christian faith and our noblest Baptist traditions."
The resolution cited a poll of faculty and staff conducted by the administration last spring, as well as "an avalanche of faculty grievances, as evidence of discontent.
"Faculty confidence in President Sloan's leadership methods and direction has eroded to a point where only a personnel change at the top can begin to restore the trust, common purpose and faithful cooperation within and among Baylor's constituencies," the resolution declares.
The internal survey found differences of opinion about the administration and the university's direction between older, tenured faculty and newer faculty in tenure-track positions. Less than one-third of tenured faculty expressed confidence in the university's direction, while more than two-thirds of tenure-track faculty expressed confidence in the university's direction.
Under a 10-year vision for the university, called Baylor 2012, new faculty hires are brought on with mandates to engage in research. Older faculty have been given a choice of participating in the new standards or continuing under the terms of their initial employment that emphasize classroom teaching.
Older faculty have complained that the new hires are receiving significantly larger salaries and faster promotions than faculty in the teaching-emphasis category. Sloan said in an interview with the Baptist Standard this summer that promotions and raises are evenly distributed and are not preferential to the research faculty.
Some faculty members and alumni continue to dispute Sloan's assertions, however.
Both pro-Sloan and anti-Sloan forces have claimed to have the backing of a majority of the faculty, which numbers more than 560 tenured and tenure-track members and perhaps 800 when adjuncts and lecturers are added in. In reality, no conclusive data exists to prove either side's point. The university currently has no mechanism to poll the entire faculty on a vote of confidence in the president, other than through the Faculty Senate, whose members are elected by their peers.
Six representatives of the Faculty Senate talked with reporters after their nearly four-hour meeting Sept. 9.
About an hour later, Sloan met with reporters in an impromptu news conference. He expressed appreciation for the seriousness of the Faculty Senate deliberations but declared the senate is "only one important venue for faculty to express themselves."
He recalled receiving a standing ovation and other shows of support from faculty at larger meetings within the last month. "It was very clear there was strong support for the provost and myself," he said.
While not "irrelevant," the Faculty Senate is not representative of the full faculty's sentiments, Sloan asserted.
He denied the senate's assertion that a culture of fear exists among faculty, noting the senate itself felt free to meet and debate their opinions and pass a resolution.
"On our campus, people are encouraged to speak their minds, encouraged to express new ideas," Sloan said.
The senate representatives, on the other hand, told reporters they took the vote of no confidence with full realization they could experience reprisals.
"I don't think we can begin to convey to you how difficult a decision this was for us," said Charles Weaver, professor of psychology and immediate past chairman of the Faculty Senate. "It cost all of us a tremendous amount of sleep … and caused us to look inside ourselves and make certain this is what we believe to be in the best interest of the university."
Asked specifically if faculty senators were concerned about retribution, Weaver replied, "It would be disingenuous for us to say no."
A faculty member opposed to the senators' vote expressed concern, however, that divisions within the faculty will reach new lows.
"These kinds of all-or-nothing proposals polarize, remove the common ground," said Barry Harvey, assistant professor in the university's Great Texts program and a vocal Sloan supporter. "A change of leadership is not going to bring healing."
Pro-Sloan faculty plan a campus rally Sept. 10 at 4 p.m. to demonstrate their support for the president, said Harvey, who made himself available to media representatives gathered for more than two hours in a waiting area as the faculty senate met.
Harvey accused the senate of peddling "half-truths" and of not faithfully representing their constituencies. Further, he predicted the Faculty Senate's vote would have no bearing on the board of regents.
Faculty Senate representatives acknowledged the regents may not remove the president or be swayed at all by their resolution.
"All we can do is what we can do," said Senate Chairman Joe Cox, professor of management.
Eric Robinson, assistant professor of educational psychology, noted the rarity of a Faculty Senate at any major university passing a vote of no confidence in the president. The scarcity of similar cases to draw on makes it impossible to predict an outcome, he said.
However, he cited the case of another Baptist school, Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina, where last fall the faculty passed a vote of no confidence in President Chris White, who had been accused of changing the grade of a star athlete to keep him eligible to play. That school's trustees initially ignored the faculty vote and supported the president. But about a month later, the president was pressured to resign.
Sloan reiterated his previous statements that he serves as the pleasure of the board of regents and that he believes he has strong support from the board.
Despite the vote of the Faculty Senate and the announced intention of five regents to seek Sloan's firing later this week, the president said he anticipates remaining in his post.
"You don't solve problems by running from them. I am committed to being Baylor University's president."
He characterized the senators' no-confidence vote as yet another symptom of dealing with change.
"There are people clearly who are unhappy with the change that's going on on campus. In our world, we have to move forward. Much of this is about change. Every university, in order to keep up with these dramatically changing times, must be willing constantly to improve itself."
The faculty senators said their action had nothing to do with the basketball scandal that has engulfed Baylor this summer.
"The word 'basketball' was never mentioned" in the deliberations, Cox said. "We're an academic unit. We're dealing with academic issues."
Later, another reporter asked the senators if they would be holding such a news conference were it not for the basketball scandal.
"We'd be here anyway," Cox answered, and then another senator quickly added, "But you wouldn't be here," noting the intensity of media attention generated by the basketball in proportion to academic issues.
The faculty senators also rebuffed charges that their body is not representative of the full faculty.
All 32 members of the Faculty Senate were elected by their peers in open contests, said Secretary Eric Rust, associate professor of history.
The Faculty Senate includes 16 members from the College of Arts and Sciences, the university's largest college; six from the Hankamer School of Business; three from the School of Education; two from the School of Music; and one each from engineering and computer sciences, libraries, nursing, Honors College, law school, Truett Seminary and retired faculty.
"In the most recent faculty elections, more than 50 percent of the Baylor faculty voted for their senators," he said. "So any statement to the effect that this body is not representative of the Baylor faculty, I would find curious."
He further explained that in the last election within the College of Arts and Sciences, 18 candidates vied for six senate openings. "If you look at the list of candidates, you would find at least two among those who would represent the view that would be very pro-administration. Those two individuals ended up tied for ninth. The faculty of arts and sciences chose eight others over them."