DALLAS (BP)–Reactions to the Jan. 22 resignation of Baylor University President Robert Sloan are as diverse as the various groups that have cheered or challenged the Baylor 2012 vision he championed to move the nation’s largest Baptist university into the upper echelons of American higher education while strengthening its Christian mission.
Friends of Baylor co-chairman Clifton Robinson of Waco released a prepared statement thanking Sloan for his contributions to Baylor during his decade-long tenure and praising the decision of the school’s Board of Regents in naming Sloan chancellor.
“Under his leadership Baylor has improved its academic standing, upgraded the campus infrastructure, increased enrollment, expanded the faculty and doubled the endowment. Perhaps his greatest legacy will be the implementation of the University’s vision for the future — Baylor 2012. All of this was accomplished while maintaining a clear Christian identity for the University.”
Sloan critics who formed the Committee to Restore Integrity to Baylor appear pleased that he will depart as president while concerned over his continued influence as chancellor. Bette McCall Miller, daughter of longtime Baylor President Abner McCall, told the Dallas Morning News, “We are concerned for several reasons with his remaining in the role of chancellor. I would think it might make it difficult for the subsequent president, for people to feel that change can really happen and a new beginning can be made.”
Houston businessman John Baugh, a longtime supporter of moderate Baptist causes, told the Dallas Morning News added that a new president may feel Sloan is “looking over my shoulder, second-guessing me.” While the change might be positive, Baugh said, “It depends on whether companion steps are consistent with the total long-term needs of the university.”
Baylor alumnus Louis Moore, publisher of Hannibal Books in Garland, Texas, regrets Sloan will be leaving the helm as president. “This is a sad day for Baylor University,” Moore told Baptist Press. “Robert Sloan has served as an excellent president — the best I believe Baylor has ever had. The Bible says we believers will be persecuted when we take strong stands for God. Robert Sloan was persecuted for just that reason.”
Moore put the blame at the feet of another former Baylor University president who frequently criticized Sloan’s leadership. “It is a rotten shame that Herb Reynolds and his ilk have succeeded in undermining a great president and a great man!” Moore said.
Baylor Provost David Jeffrey told Baptist Press that he believes Sloan “acted wisely” for the long-term good of Baylor. “In fact, those who know him well can readily perceive that he is stepping down from his responsibilities in precisely the same spirit of self-effacing obedience to the Lord he first took them up.”
Jeffrey added, “History will be far kinder to Robert Sloan than his detractors can imagine. His record will appear only stronger as the years go by.” While acknowledging that Sloan alienated some people — a byproduct that the provost said is not unprecedented among leaders — Jeffrey said Sloan’s leadership “will be bearing fruit for decades in a Baylor that will continue to mature as a Christian intellectual center of national significance.”
Jeffrey offered as evidence of such fruit “the evident faithfulness of so many of our faculty — about half of whom have been hired on his watch — men and women who themselves will mature as Christian teachers and scholars in a time when thoughtful, articulate views and practical leadership in religious matters will become more important than perhaps at any time since the founding era in America. And it will occur because the caliber, character and commitment of Baylor students grows stronger year by year in response to our mission and Vision,” Jeffrey said, referring to the Baylor 2012 agenda reaffirmed by the Board of Regents.
“There is therefore great reason for confidence in Baylor’s future, and for trust in the sovereign good purposes of our sovereign God,” Jeffrey said, admitting that the recent event was, in itself, a deep disappointment to many, including himself. “Yet because of our faith and our sense of clear calling to Baylor, we readily affirm our confidence that all things will work together for good,” he added, quoting Romans 8:28.
Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Director Charles Wade said Texas Baptists can come together around what he described as a positive decision. “Baylor University always has strived to provide quality education in a decidedly Christian context, and none of that will change with this transition,” Wade stated, according to BGCT’s communications office.
“We have supported both the Baylor regents and the president,” Wade said. “I know the goal of everyone is to raise the level of excellence at Baylor along with a desire to deepen its commitment to Christian truth and values. The Baylor family has reason to be grateful for Robert Sloan and the innovative challenge he set before the board and the Baylor community.”
The influence that BGCT churches have on Baylor was limited in the early 1990s when the school’s governing body voted to change its charter to allow the BGCT to appoint only a quarter of the members of the Board of Regents while the majority are selected by the board itself. A motion at last fall’s BGCT annual meeting sought to escrow funds allocated for Baylor for not being “in harmony with the spirit of the convention.” Messengers overwhelming affirmed the BGCT president in ruling the motion out of order.
Rudy Gonzalez, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s student services vice president, received his doctorate in 1999 from Baylor. He told Baptist Press that he was always impressed with Sloan’s personal commitment to clear Christian values as well as academic excellence.
“I believed that the reason they chose him as president after Herb Reynolds is that he modeled what the Board of Regents hoped to instill in all its students,” Gonzalez said. While personally saddened by Sloan’s resignation, Gonzalez said he remains hopeful that the next president will continue to value the school’s historic commitments. “Personally, I do not believe they are mutually exclusive — Robert Sloan demonstrated that.”
In an essay for Christianity Today’s online news service, CT Direct, Baylor doctoral fellow Hunter Baker wrote, “In the end, the only way to move forward was to make a change at the helm. Sloan’s move to the chancellor’s office is a hopeful sign for those in the Christian community who have pinned their hopes on the Baylor experiment,” noting that the remarks of both Sloan and the board chairman Will Davis reaffirmed the centrality of Baylor Vision 2012. “If Sloan’s opponents thought to derail the vision by removing Dr. Sloan, they may find they spent their ammunition in a lost cause.”
Baker also noted, “Careful attention to hiring and tenure based at least in part on a candidate’s faith perspective touched a nerve. When conservatives won the SBC battle and fired personnel deemed unorthodox or too liberal from positions in agencies and seminaries, many of them found work at Baylor. Although Sloan’s concerns and those of the SBC were really quite distinguishable, his critics seized the opportunity to paint him as a ‘fundamentalist.’ Thus, the man who emerged unscathed from the denominational battles in Texas and was even something of a statesman in their midst became a victim of the Baptist war after all.”