Regents vote their confidence in Sloan's presidency
By Mark Wingfield
WACO–Rather than firing President Robert Sloan as five members of the board of regents and the Faculty Senate had asked, the 36-member board passed a vote of confidence in Sloan's leadership Sept. 12.
Before regents went into their closed-door meeting, five regents announced their intent to ask the board to fire Sloan because of unrest among faculty and alumni. When the board emerged nearly five hours later, they stood jointly before reporters to announce instead the vote of confidence, adopted 31-4. One regent left the meeting early and did not vote.
The motion to terminate that had been previously announced by regents John Wilkerson, Carl Bell, Mary Chavanne-Martin, Toby Druin and Jaclanel McFarland apparently was not put to a vote.
Presented with a negative possibility, the board decided instead to vote on a positive motion, Regent Charles Overby explained in an interview after a regents' news conference.
"We expressed our confidence in Robert Sloan, his leadership and his vision," Overby said. "That was the decisive vote. It wasn't that we didn't allow the other vote."
The vote should settle questions of Sloan's leadership, Overby said. "This vote is unambiguous. The issue of the leadership of Baylor University is no longer in question. This in effect starts the second term of Robert Sloan."
Regent Toby Druin, editor emeritus of the Baptist Standard, confirmed he was the one person among those initially calling for Sloan's firing who changed his mind.
"I was the one who jumped ship," he said. "It was just after hearing Sloan's pledges to try to remain open, I tried to put as positive a face on it as I could."
Druin confirmed that Sloan made pledges to the board about what he would do in the days ahead. What those pledges are was not spelled out in the news conference.
Regents Chairman Drayton McLane, owner of the Houston Astros, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram the regents will be overseeing Sloan's presidency to ensure he works with the Faculty Senate and other groups that have been critical of him.
"We're going to monitor Robert," he told the paper.
At the news conference, McLane announced three committees would be appointed to investigate specific issues raised by critics.
One is a regents' review committee, which will examine issues such as faculty concerns, the alumni association and academic issues. It will be chaired by Will Davis of Austin. Other members are Stan Allcorn of Abilene, Jay Allison of Frisco, James Bowden of Waco, Steve Carmack of Hinton, Okla., Phil Lineberger of Sugar Land, Laree Perez of Corrales, N.M., Donell Teaff of Waco and Walker Harman of Dallas.
An audit review committee will study concerns that have been raised about tuition increases and school finances, as well as alleged conflicts of interest among board members. It will be chaired by Dale Jones of Dallas. Other members are Bill Brian of Amarillo, Bobby Dagnel of Lubbock, Sue Getterman of Waco, David Sibley of Waco and Harold Cunningham of Waco.
A legal issues committee will examine pending litigation. Its members are Joe Armes of Dallas, Joe Coleman of Richmond, David Sibley of Waco and Jaclanel McFarland of Houston.
In calling for Sloan's removal Sept. 8, the five regents were joined in separate but similar actions by the Faculty Senate, three former chairmen of the board of regents and the editorial board of the student newspaper, the Lariat.
Large numbers of other faculty, however, had expressed strong support for Sloan, several times holding public rallies. Some student groups also rallied for the president.
The Lariat editorial was written on majority opinion of the seven-member editorial board, on a 4-3 vote.
Sloan has been under attack by an array of critics for months. The dispute gained national attention this summer due to the media spotlight of a basketball scandal. However, the alumni and faculty critics of Sloan's administration have focused mainly on academic concerns.
They have criticized the implementation of the university's 10-year strategic plan, Baylor 2012, for its $246 million bond debt, emphasis on hiring research-focused faculty at higher salaries than existing teaching-focused faculty and for alleged vindictiveness in treatment of faculty. When the administration essentially defunded the university's independent alumni association, more fuel was added to the fire.
The Faculty Senate, in its vote of no confidence in Sloan's leadership Sept. 9, cited 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."
The five dissenting regents, in their letter calling for Sloan's termination, cited faculty unrest, "heavy and uneven-handed methods in seeking a particular kind of Christian professor," the debt and "exorbitant tuition increases."
To implement Baylor 2012, the university moved to a flat-rate tuition that started off with a 29 percent jump and is projected to increase about 8 percent per year until 2012.
In the news conference after the regents' meeting, McLane acknowledged "there has been a lot of discussion" about Sloan's leadership.
"There has been some controversy, lots of discussion," he said. "That's part of the Baptist faith. There has been spirited debate in the last few months."
However, the board "had a vote reaffirming the leadership of Robert Sloan," McLane reported. "We feel very strongly about his leadership."
Sloan spoke briefly to reporters, noting this has been "a very long and hot summer, and I have to say the entire experience has been a very humbling experience."
He thanked the board "for this very strong reaffirmation of me today, not only of me but of the 2012 vision. … I will do everything within my power to reach out to all the Baylor family, faculty, staff, students, alumni. It's important for all of us to work together.
"The most important thing right now is to move forward, to make sure the Baylor family stands together."
Asked how he intended to smooth things over with his critics, Sloan replied: "I want to make every effort to establish lines of communication."
He talked of holding listening sessions with senior faculty and others. "I want to make sure their voices are heard."
Asked what he had learned, Sloan answered: "I have learned from this and relearned the importance of communication. Communication means first and foremost listening."
News of the board meeting make page one headlines in major newspapers across Texas the next day, and both critics and supporters of the president sounded off in news releases, letters and paid advertisements.
The Committee to Restore Integrity to Baylor, an anti-Sloan group, released a statement calling the regents' action "a sad day for Baylor University."
Rather than settling the matter, the regents' action "served only to prolong the divisiveness that has plagued the Baylor family" because the damage cannot be repaired without new leadership, the statement said. It was signed by the three former board chairmen who previously called for Sloan's termination–Glenn Biggs of San Antonio, Randy Fields of San Antonio and Gale Galloway of Austin–as well as Gracie Hatfield Hilton of Arlington, Bette McCall Miller of Dallas, Ronnie Rogers of Dallas and Joe Ross of Fort Worth.
Meanwhile, Baylor alumnus Harold Riley of Austin took out ads in major Texas newspapers the day after the regents' meeting to tell those opposed to Sloan it's time to give up the fight.
"I wanted them to understand I would not be supporting Baylor at the same level of commitment if anything happened to Robert Sloan," the insurance executive told the Star-Telegram. Riley has given millions to Baylor and has pledged an additional $15. He also has been a major benefactor to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, where he gave $6 million to name the seminary new Leadership Development Complex in honor of his former pastor, Ralph Smith.
Waco businessman Clifton Robinson, who started "Friends of Baylor" as a pro-Sloan group, told the Waco Tribune-Herald he was encouraged by the regents' action.
His group recently presented Sloan with a $1 million check for Baylor's endowment as a show of support. It also distributed bumper stickers and other spirit wear declaring support for Sloan and hired a public relations firm to help get out their message.
"We have said from the very beginning that the support is broad and the dissension is the minority," he told the Waco paper. "We think the sleeping giant has now spoken."