WACO—While some Baylor University donors and alumni publicly have urged the school to recognize an LGBTQ student organization, the university’s board of regents took no action regarding a policy change.
Gamma Alpha Upsilon—formerly the Sexual Identity Forum—applied to be chartered as an official student group at Baylor. The university’s statement on human sexuality includes the expectation that Baylor students will not participate in “advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.”
‘Love and care’ for all students
In response to a question at a news conference immediately following the regents’ May 17 meeting, President Linda Livingstone emphasized Baylor’s desire to “love and care” for all students, while at the same time continuing to “to make decisions consistent with our vision and our existing policies.”
“It came up in a couple of our committee meetings as we talked—particularly student life, because this is really a student life issue in terms of how we support and care for our students, and certainly our students in the LGBTQ community,” Livingstone said.
“In the context of that, we really talked about how we love and care for all our students, to ensure that they have a healthy and safe and nurturing learning environment so they can be successful educationally in that process.”
At the same time, Livingstone noted Baylor has “existing policies in place that continue to be the policies that we apply when we make decisions about student groups.”
“We will continue to apply those (policies) consistently with how we have in the past and in the context of making sure that we really are fulfilling our Christian mission and loving and supporting our students in appropriate ways,” she said.
Baylor’s statement on human sexuality says: “Baylor University welcomes all students into a safe and supportive environment in which to discuss and learn about a variety of issues, including those of human sexuality. The university affirms the biblical understanding of sexuality as a gift from God. Christian churches across the ages and around the world have affirmed purity in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman as the biblical norm. Temptations to deviate from this norm include both heterosexual acts outside of marriage and homosexual behavior. It is thus expected that Baylor students will not participate in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.”
The university’s student conduct policy states that Baylor “expects that each Baylor student will conduct himself or herself in accordance with Christian principles as commonly perceived by Texas Baptists.”
Online open letters
About 3,000 individuals signed an online open letter in recent weeks asking Baylor to “reconsider its exclusion of student organizations that are designed to provide a community for individuals in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) and allied community.”
The letter encourages Baylor administrators to make changes so the university will not “look back in a few years and realize that we were on the wrong side of an issue of basic compassion and human dignity.”
Signers include major donors, former regents, retired faculty and current faculty including Jackie Baugh Moore, Barbara ‘Babs’ Baugh, Ray Perryman, Oswin “Os” Chrisman, Robert Baird, Blake Burleson, Robert Darden, Preston Dyer and former Congressman Chet Edwards.
In response, another group posted its own online petition titled “Save Baylor Traditions,” that urges the university to “stand strong and refuse to abdicate the traditional Christian values for which it has historically stood.”
George Mason, senior pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, wrote an open letter to Livingstone published in the Dallas Morning News, urging Baylor “to take the small yet significant step of granting LGBTQ student groups official status on campus.”
“The step is small, because the school would not be taking an affirming stance on a matter that continues to be contested among Christians of goodwill,” Mason wrote. “It would be significant, because it would signal Baylor’s commitment to welcome and serve all students equally by providing safe space for LGBTQ students to support one another as they pursue their education and discover more about themselves.”
Baylor Provost Emeritus Donald Schmeltekopf sent a letter to the board of regents on May 6 calling on the governing board to “help make Baylor unambiguously Christian in word and deed alike” by retaining its “historic stance on Christian sexuality.”
Schmeltekopf, former provost and vice president for academic affairs, urged the university to maintain a policy “biblically grounded and in full accord with two millennia of clear Christian teaching: We approve no other sexual practices than lifelong celibacy among singles and lifelong fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman.”
It’s no surprise that the issue has generated significant public and private debate, Livingstone noted.
“Obviously, there is going to be a lot of robust discussion around this topic. And that’s what universities are about—it’s bringing people together, talking about issues that really matter and learning from each other,” she said.
“And in the context of this, we have a lot of people who love Baylor and love our students that care deeply about this issue from a variety of perspectives. We will continue to work with them as we continue to make decisions consistent with our vision and our existing policies.”
Regents approve budget, expenditures
During their spring meeting, Baylor’s board of regents approved a $698.4 million operating budget, $4.1 million for the first phase of a planned renovation of the Tidwell Bible Building and $1.815 million for regulatory corrective action along the Brazos Riverwalk near the university’s athletic complex.
The 2019-20 operating budget, which takes effect June 1, includes an additional $13.4 million for both need-based and merit-based scholarships and graduate assistantships.
Funds approved for the Tidwell Bible Building project include design costs for the renovated building and build-out of space on the fourth floor of the Cashion Academic Center, which will house temporary offices for religion and history faculty during the renovation.
Construction on Tidwell—built in 1954—likely will begin in late 2020, with anticipated reopening in 2022. The renovation is made possible by a $15 million lead gift from the Sunderland Foundation.
The board approved funds for regulatory corrective action to improve and prevent future landfill erosion issues on the south bank of the Brazos.
Baylor’s Highers Athletics complex facilities are built within the borders of a closed and capped Waco city landfill that contains wood, brick and glass from buildings destroyed by the 1953 Waco tornado.
Board elect officers, affirms new regents
Regents elected Jerry Clements, an Austin-based attorney, as chair to succeed Joel Allison of Waco, former Baylor Scott & White Health chief executive officer. Clements is a member of First Baptist Church in Spicewood.
Newly elected vice chairs are Mark Hurd of Redwood Shores, Calif.; Melissa Purdy Mines of Austin; and Randy Lee Pullin of Houston.
The board elected three new at-large regents—Sarah Gahm, senior vice president of Baylor Scott & White Health and a member of Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas; William Mearse, retired Accenture resources group operations officer and member of Second Baptist Church in Houston; and Manny Ruiz, president and senior lending officer of TexStar National Bank and member of First Baptist Church in San Antonio.
The board welcomed David Slover, senior vice president and chief strategy officer of HighGround Advisors in Dallas, to a three-year term as alumni-elected regent.
The board approved Mark Petersen of Arlington as the regent nominated by the Baylor Bear Foundation, Randall Umstead from the Baylor School of Music as faculty regent and Malcolm Foley, a doctoral candidate from Rockville, Md., as student regent.
Regents reappointed by the Baptist General Convention of Texas at its 2018 annual meeting and confirmed by the board of regents are Mark Rountree of Dallas and Randy Lee Pullin of Houston.
The board of regents re-elected to three-year terms Shelly Giglio of Atlanta, Ga.; Larry Heard of Houston; and Julie Hermansen Turner of Dallas.