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Spike in Baylor tenure denials protested

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–An unusually high number of faculty members at Baylor University have been denied tenure this semester, and one former Baylor professor believes the denials reflect the school’s decision to turn away from its Baylor 2012 campaign to establish Baylor as both a Christian university and a top-tier research institution.

Forty percent of the 30 faculty up for tenure this year were denied, contrasted with 14 percent in 2007 and 11 percent in 2006, according to William Dembski, a former Baylor professor who now is research professor in philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

More significant than the spike in tenure denials is the fact that nine of the 12 faculty refused tenure by Baylor President John Mark Lilley had been approved by their departments and by the university-wide faculty tenure committee, Dembski said.

“In past years, with the rarest exceptions, every professor who was approved for tenure by his/her department and by the Baylor Tenure Review Committee was signed off by the administration/president and actually got tenure,” Dembski told Baptist Press. “This year, nine people who were passed for tenure upstream ended up being denied by the president. This level of tenure denial is unheard of even at top institutions.”

While the university cannot comment on personnel matters, Provost Randall O’Brien told the Waco Tribune-Herald that the higher tenure denial rate might be attributed to the more stringent standards of Baylor 2012, the university’s 10-year plan for establishing Baylor as a top-tier research university.

“All the standards of [Baylor] 2012 are in play in the tenure judgments,” O’Brien said. “Good teaching, good research, good service and collegiality. Those are the categories or the lens through which candidates are viewed and decisions are made.”

Responding to complaints that tenure requirements have changed several times since Lilley assumed the university presidency in April 2006, O’Brien told the Waco paper: “I think it’s fair to say that Baylor has been transitioning from a college culture, primarily from a teaching university, to a research university for several years now.”

Matthew C. Cordon, a professor at the Baylor Law School and chairman of the university’s faculty senate, said he was troubled by the spike in tenure denials. The usual denial rate has been around 25 percent, Cordon told the Tribune-Herald.

O’Brien replied that the administration has extensive discussions with the faculty committee but that the administration makes the final decision. A faculty member who is denied tenure may appeal the decision, sending the case back to the faculty committee for another recommendation to the president and provost. If tenure is denied, the professor is offered a final one-year contract.

Dembski believes he sees a pattern in the tenure denials that reflects controversy over former Baylor President Robert Sloan’s campaign to reaffirm the school’s Christian distinctives while continuing to pursue prominence as a research institution.

“All the junior faculty denied tenure appear to have strongly supported enhancing Baylor’s Christian identity, an aspect of Baylor 2012 that many of the established professors at Baylor reject, preferring instead that Baylor become secular,” said Dembski, who also is a senior fellow with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture in Seattle. “It now appears that Baylor President John Lilley is decimating those faculty who staunchly support the 2012 vision, especially weeding out faculty who supported Robert Sloan’s vision for restoring Christian faithfulness to Baylor.”

Dembski himself was at odds with some faculty members over Intelligent Design, a scientific theory that says certain patterns in nature are best explained as the product of intelligence rather than random material forces. In 2000, he was removed from his post as director of Baylor’s Michael Polanyi Center for Complexity, Information, and Design after refusing to rescind a statement he made supporting Intelligent Design as a legitimate form of academic inquiry.

Among the faculty members refused tenure were notable young researchers who were drawn to the university’s vision of becoming a top-tier research institution -– and brought large amounts of grant money to the school, Dembski added.

“Rene Massengale, for example, brought in $1 million in research funds, set up a thriving research lab, had great teaching reviews and was still denied tenure,” Dembski said. “This scandal is terrible news for Baylor and the wider Baptist world.

“It indicates that Baylor’s vision for restoring its Christian identity is on the way out and sends a message to top young scholars not to come to Baylor, because whether you get tenure is based not on merit or Christian commitment but on the whim of a capricious president.”
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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