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Baylor Univ. regents fire John Lilley

GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP)–John Lilley, president of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, has been terminated by the school’s board of regents after less than three years in the position.

Lilley was the focus of controversy in March when he denied tenure to 12 of 30 faculty members recommended by a university-wide faculty tenure committee — a far higher percentage than usual. Earlier this month, Baylor’s faculty senate passed a “failure of shared governance” resolution.

The July 24 vote to fire Lilley, taken during a regents’ meeting in Grapevine, Texas, was necessary “to unite Baylor’s many constituencies and move the university forward,” board chairman Howard K. Batson said in a written statement.

“A lot of the faculty members were upset, and our faculty is important to us,” Batson told the Dallas Morning News. “The progress has not been as swift as some of us on the board would have hoped, in terms of bringing the Baylor family together.”

Batson added, “The reality is that the board lost confidence in John’s ability to unite the various Baylor constituencies.”

Lilley, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Baylor but was a Presbyterian layman when hired as president, said deep divisions among Baylor’s regents became apparent shortly after he arrived at the campus.

“Two and a half years ago I was invited unanimously by the Board of Regents to come to Baylor,” Lilley said in a statement e-mailed to Waco’s Tribune-Herald newspaper. “We felt that we could help to heal the wounded hearts left in the wake of the conflict that preceded us. Despite the board’s unanimous vote, it became clear immediately that the Baylor board of regents reflected some of the deepest divisions in the Baylor family.

“I am proud of the work my colleagues and I have done to bring the Baylor family together and to help the university achieve the ambitious goals set forth in our mission and vision 2012, documented in our annual report just presented to the regents,” Lilley added. “I deeply regret the action of the board, and I do not believe that it reflects the best interests of Baylor University.”

An article posted on the Baylor website said university regents “had hoped to transition to a new president gradually, officially beginning the presidential search in January 2009 and eventually replacing Baylor President John M. Lilley during the final portion of his five-year contract.” The article said Lilley rejected that proposal and the board voted to “immediately seek a new president.”

Lilley has been credited with several successes during his short tenure as Baylor president, according to an Associated Press report. The school has its largest endowment, its highest seminary enrollment, its second-largest student body and its highest spot in an influential national ranking of colleges and universities.

Lilley’s predecessor, Robert B. Sloan Jr., stepped aside in January 2005 after nearly 10 years the position. The closing months of Sloan’s tenure also were marked by tense relationships with the faculty senate, which passed no-confidence votes against him three times in 14 months. In May 2004, Baylor regents voted 18-17 against a call for Sloan to resign.

Lilley’s controversial tenure decisions would not be reconsidered, Batson told the Dallas newspaper. Harold Cunningham, a previous regents’ chairman, will assume the role of acting president until such time as an interim president is named.

Before coming to Baylor, Lilley was president of the University of Nevada at Reno, where he had served since 2001.
Compiled by Mark Kelly, an assistant editor with Baptist Press.

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