WACO, Texas (BP)–An otherwise cordial discussion between disgruntled Baylor University alumni and the administration of the Waco, Texas, Baptist college intensified when a leader of the alumni association effectively invited University President Robert Sloan to resign during a “family dialogue” at the school July 18.
“When Bob Jones, Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts and W.A. Criswell wanted universities that fit with their description of what a Christian university should be, they founded their own. … I just make a teacher’s salary, but I will be the first to donate if you will found one of your own and give us Baylor back,” said Bette McCall Miller, an alumni representative and daughter of former Baylor President Abner McCall.
Miller and other alumni leaders of the Baylor Alumni Association (BAA) are at odds with Sloan’s “Vision 2012” expansion campaign, which was enacted to transform the school from a teaching university into a “tier one” research university patterned after schools such as Princeton, Notre Dame and Harvard. Under the plan, professors would teach fewer classes in order to pursue publishing, and graduate programs would be bolstered by the employment of nationally recognized scholars.
Some alumni leaders, however, have cited the plan as financially irresponsible because they believe it shifts the school’s source of revenue away from endowment revenues to a tuition-driven model where undergraduate students fund study programs for those at the graduate level. Undergraduate tuition at Baylor increased from just over $11,000 per year to almost $17,000 per year from 2002 to 2003. Expenses after room and board, textbooks and extracurricular activities could cost an additional $12,000 per academic year.
Glenn Biggs, who sat on the alumni panel opposing the Baylor administration, said that placing the increased tuition burden on the backs of middle-income families would change the constituency of the “original Baylor.” He warned that Baylor might soon find itself an elitist institution in the throws of bankruptcy just like the Luby’s restaurant chain.
Alumnus Kent Reynolds, a certified public accountant and also the son of former Baylor President Herbert Reynolds, said if tuition continues to increase the average family would need to invest nearly $300,000 in order for a child to attend Baylor.
Others, while concerned about the increase in tuition, believe the plan will lead Baylor away from its historic Baptist traditions toward a more open, evangelical school model similar to Wheaton College. Miller, for example, criticized Sloan for focusing too much energy on attempting to make the school an “evangelical Christian” university. “Evangelical,” she said, was “fundamentalism in a suit.”
“We fought so to protect Baylor from that, and now it has crept in from the inside,” Miller said. She added that during all of Sloan’s dialogue with alumni, the university president had not referred to Baylor as a Baptist school on a single occasion.
At its core, the division in the Baylor family is far more complex than fears of the school succumbing to “fundamentalism.” Sloan’s critics cite falling admissions standards, significant tuition increases, overspending, coercive leadership and “the subjectivity of religious requirements for the faculty imposed by the administration” as points of contention with the leadership of the university.
Sloan admitted during the dialogue that he and other administrators had made “some mistakes,” but he was unapologetic in his belief that the 2012 plan would make Baylor “the finest Christian university of academic excellence in the nation and in the world.”
MOVING TO ‘TIER ONE’
Should Baylor become a tier one research university, faculty members would spend more time researching and publishing in their field, Baylor Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs David Jeffrey said. That does not mean that they would view teaching as any less important, he added. In fact, Jeffrey patently rejected any claim that teaching in the classroom would suffer as a result of the university’s move toward tier one status. Teaching and research, for example, are both important at Princeton, he said.
“Number one is Princeton. Best in teaching and best in research. … That doesn’t mean you can’t get a teacher who’s a bum researcher or a researcher who is a bum teacher, but if you are good in one, chances are you will be good in both,” Jeffrey said.
The provost also claimed that the move to tier one status would not create difficulties in class sizes because “teaching does not uniformly take place in the classroom. Much of that teaching takes place in the clinical situation and in the laboratory.” Teaching loads are reduced, he said, only so research will not suffer.
Miller claimed that the move to tier one would mean the university would pay six-figure salaries to researchers while teaching assistants taught students. “In freshman religion, 66 percent of incoming students are taught by teaching assistants because there is not enough money to hire professors with terminal degrees. Research professors are teaching a handful of students,” she said.
Jeffrey denied the claim that the school is relying heavily on teaching assistants to teach courses. He said the numbers Miller used were false and said that the university has employed a significant number of visiting professors and retired ministers. Fewer than 5 percent of incoming students, he said, are taught by teaching assistants.
Ascension to tier one won’t matter if the students taught by well-known faculty are substandard, according to Biggs. He said that the SAT scores of students admitted under the Sloan administration are falling.
Sloan did not agree. He said the number of provisional students with low SAT scores had increased this year as opposed to the previous year, but that the scores of those students had been included in evaluating the preparedness of all incoming freshmen. According to Sloan, the average SAT score for an incoming freshman is 1176, “still on a historically upward trend.”
Incoming freshman, regardless of their SAT scores, will be paying more in tuition at Baylor. David R. Brooks, vice president for finance and administration, said that while tuition may increase to keep pace with other institutions, it will not increase beyond those schools. In fact, he said, Baylor’s tuition rate fell behind peer institutions statewide and nationally.
“Baylor has always been a highly tuition-driven university,” Brooks said. “It is our predominant form of revenue. … We are at the top of the second tier, 60th or 70th in the nation, but we had in fact about the 200th lowest tuition and yet we aspired to raise the level of education by keeping and continuing to hire great faculty,” Brooks said.
Sloan said that Baylor is still “a great value.” “We still have combined tuition fees less than Trinity, Tulane, TCU, SMU, Rice and Vanderbilt.”
One block west of Baylor’s Ferrell Athletic Center where the dialogue between the alumni and administration of the university was held, a new university science center is under construction to the tune of $103 million. Further down is a building dubbed “the garage mahal” by students and faculty, a $15 million parking facility complete with steeples and windows.
The university issued $247 million in bonds to pay for the facilities, new dormitories and additional faculty. All are part of Sloan’s 2012 plan, which even administrators admit is an “aggressive vision.”
Drayton McLane, chairman of the university’s board of regents, said that the plan was perhaps too aggressive, but necessary for Baylor to “put a bold stake down” in the 21st century.
Still, as aggressive as the plan is, it has not placed the school in financial jeopardy, according to Brooks. He claimed that “revenue streams have increased substantially each year” and that this year the university closed its fiscal year with a $1.3 million surplus. The budget, he also said, would increase by 13 percent over the next year.
“Baylor University, contrary to what some people are saying, is in great shape,” Brooks said. “We will live within our means. As the CFO of this institution, you can take that to the bank.”
But alumni leaders did not agree that the administration can live within its means or that the school is in great shape. Reynolds said the “financial model for 2012 is based on continuing high returns on investments and a booming economy,” neither of which have existed since Sept. 11, 2001. The downturn in the economy has affected the primary source of Baylor’s revenue — its endowment. Reynolds said the school’s endowment had dwindled.
According to figures published by the Baylor Development Council, the school’s endowment fell from $650 million in 1999 to $514 million in 2002. In order to make up for ailing endowment funds, Reynolds charged that the university was admitting substandard students in order to use their tuition to cover deficits.
“I am very concerned about the longtime viability of the 2012 program,” Reynolds said. “Not so much financially, but it will completely change the complexion of Baylor with the students it attracts and the quality of graduates it sends out into the world. … People who do not meet minimum academic standards are being admitted in order to meet the financial model of 2012.”
Sloan denied that “provisional students” — those whose SAT scores are below the standard requirement for admission — were admitted in order to meet the financial goals established in 2012. “The number of students … is over 2,700, and the financial model shows 2,775 to meet financial goals,” he said.
Alumni also chastised the administration for overspending. Miller, for example, twice cited the use of $2.3 million for the purchase of an airplane. She said that the “jet-powered golf cart” was an unnecessary purchase.
Reynolds also expressed his discontent with the loose spending on the part of the administration. He said the fiscal policy of the administration was one of immediate gratification. “We want it all and we want it right now,” Reynolds said. “Immediate gratification does not build character. Delayed gratification builds maturity.”
The downward turn in the school’s endowment may be slowing, Brooks said. He said that endowment funds had begun to grow again over the past three months, adding more than $65 million. Critics such as Biggs say it is unlikely that the school will reach its goal of a $2 billion endowment by 2012 because of what they see as Sloan’s ineffective leadership and the turmoil it has created.
“Somewhere along the line you have to grade leadership,” Biggs said. “This administration has not been able to keep focus, to bring people together to a common cause. … People will not give to controversy. The more you polarize students and friends of Baylor, the more difficult it is to raise money.”
But even if the school met the $2 billion goal, alumni representatives said, the school would still lag behind other similar private schools in Texas, such as Rice and Southern Methodist University.
CHALLENGES TO LEADERSHIP
Within the last year, the Sloan administration created an alumni services division within the university itself and defunded the independent Baylor Alumni Association (BAA). The loss of $340,000 in funding has not eliminated the BAA, but it will only continue if it raises its own funds, alumni leaders said.
Under an agreement reached this past May, the BAA may keep its name and use the school’s alumni database. It also may continue awarding distinguished alumni and other awards at their own expense. According to literature distributed by the alumni association at the dialogue, the defunding of the BAA has created a “serious deterioration of trust in the administration on the part of many of Baylor’s most loyal and dedicated alumni.”
Disenchantment with the leadership was apparent at the dialogue when Os Chrisman, interim executive vice president of the alumni association, said alumni had grown weary of answering questions about Sloan’s priorities and plans for Baylor.
“The alumni of this institution want a voice in the governance of this institution. … We are tired of the firings, tired of the contract breakings, tired of losing on the athletic field. We are tired of being apologetic about being Baylor alumni,” Chrisman said.
Sloan, however, also has lost the trust of many members of the Baylor faculty because, alumni representatives said, he has “hijacked the hiring process,” often denying employment to qualified professors because they did not answer religious questions during the interview process to the satisfaction of the administration. Jim Patton, chair of the university’s department of psychology and neuroscience, said faculty who disagree with goals of 2012 are labeled “dissidents” and “chronic complainers.” He also said the tone of questioning potential faculty members had changed under Sloan.
Patton warned that potential faculty who were not treated well in the interview process would spread negative comments about Baylor and ward off the first-rate scholars Sloan was seeking for his tier one research university. “If we do not pursue our policy in a more courteous fashion, we are going to pay dues there,” Patton said.
Bill Austin, a former Baylor University chaplain, also said that in the past several years, he had counseled “hundreds of faculty” who have been fired, “abused” and “disenfranchised from the university.”
Miller said that although she did not believe Sloan to be a fundamentalist, his tactics in relationship to the faculty were “a play right out of the fundamentalist handbook.”
A significant majority of the university faculty is at odds with Sloan’s 2012 plan. According to one faculty survey, 71 percent of Baylor’s tenured faculty did not express agreement with the direction the university was headed, while nearly 30 percent of all faculty agreed or strongly agreed that Baylor is solid ground and headed toward a brighter future.
For his part, Sloan said he was not blind to problems facing Baylor. “Have mistakes been made? Of course. Have there been people who claim they have been mistreated? Of course. It’s a large and complex organization,” Sloan said.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: PRESIDENT & PROVOST, BAYLOR ISSUES AIRED and BUDGET TALK.