Baylor … going gently into that good night?
|March 31, 2008||Posted by O'Leary under Intelligent Design|
I’ve written before about Baylor tenure controversies.
A Christian research university would be a great contribution. But the temptation to sell out to tax-funded materialism is everywhere.
Who is surprised when yet another institution is pitching headfirst? Read The Dying of the Light for a scholar’s take on the subject.
Now some really ominous news has turned up re Baylor. According to a recent Baptist Press story, filed by Mark Kelly,
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.
The “former Baylor professor” quoted in the article is our lead blogger, Bill Dembski.* He noted for BP that this year, of 30 faculty seeking tenure 40 percent were denied. Only 14 percent were nixed in 2007 and 11 percent in 2006.
Nine of the 12 faculty refused by current Baylor President Lilley had actually been approved both by their departments and by a university-wide tenure committee, according to Kelly’s account.
Such an unprecedented level of tenure denial is apparently unusual even at elite universities, let alone Baylor, which struggles for recognition as such.
According to Kelly, Provost Randall O’Brien argues that the sudden spike in tenure denial rates is simply because the university is slowly moving to a research rather than a teaching environment.**
But sometimes the denial didn’t turn on research money or teaching. For example, Rene Massengale, denied tenure, had brought in about $1 million in research funds, and students liked him.
The money shot? What’s really at stake here?
Kelly suggests that the recent flock of tenure denials euthanizes former Baylor President Robert Sloan’s campaign to reaffirm the school as a Christian institution – one that also aims to be a prominent 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”.
Rumour is that junior faculty denied tenure generally support Baylor’s Christian identity, and that many tenured profs would love to get rid of that.
As Mark Bergin of World Magazine puts the matter, discussing the egregious Pritchett case,
For a school like Baylor aspiring to reach top-tier academic status, Prickett is the kind of high-level scholar that departmental deans typically want to work with. But on a campus divided between pedagogical factions, the politics of employment are complicated. For almost a decade, opposing forces have scrapped over the soul of Baylor, one side tugging toward a rekindling of the school’s Baptist heritage, the other eager to secularize.
[ … ]
Jeffrey Bilbro, a Baylor graduate student in English with no qualms about discussing personnel issues, believes Prickett is a casualty of warring factions: “It’s like there are two campuses in the same buildings and same hallways. These people have to get along, but they have such drastically different focuses.”
Bilbro worries that faculty with expressly Christian worldviews, his initial attraction to the school, may be on the way out.
Well, knock me unconscious with the feather duster and then call 911 for an ambulance, okay?
No, but seriously, the Baylor Lariat editorializes for a more transparent process:
Another important step in gaining credibility is making the process transparent. While certain aspects of gaining tenure, such as departmental or committee voting, must necessarily be private, no one should be shocked by who does — or does not — receive tenure. As one (tenured) faculty member said, “If the university is doing things right, at tenure time there should be no surprises.”
[ … ]
And when tenure candidates are denied tenure and their contracts are not renewed, the administration owes them a specific and individually tailored explanation of the reasons behind the decision.
While they might not be able to know in advance how administrators will feel about their achievements, tenure candidates should be able to carry out their work without worrying that their tenure letter will read like a bad April Fool’s Day joke.
No, Lariat, it is an EASTER joke!
Let me explain. Lariat, to me, as a Christian, it feels more like a bad Easter joke than a bad April Fool’s joke.
What if materialism is simply wrong?
In that case, we don’t need to somehow rescue our faith in a world where materialism is actually a correct account of reality, and rewrite everything to fit that fact.
Look, materialism IS really wrong. So the people who sold out, sold out for nothing. They sold their birthright for a really BAD tin of stew. Ugh!
Of course, the materialists still want everyone to know that their Enron is a sound investment … and why am I not surprised to hear that?
A simple reason why Baylor should not be doing this
I’m not an academic or a Baptist, and I have never been to Texas. But here’s the part of the story that jumps out at me:
Administration may be quite right to override faculty when they suspect prejudice AGAINST a candidate. Academics can indeed be a jealous lot, especially if some young pup looks like proving their world-famous emeritus prof wrong – provided the pup survives tenure, of course …
So we should expect the administration to act primarily by awarding tenure in difficult cases. Of course, the pup must then live in a pack that hates him. But it’s his choice.
With tenure, he can, I suppose, just do a midnite flit and join another pack.
That way the administration sends a message to faculty that they should not use the tenure process to protect their own weaknesses or settle grudges – and then land the resulting pile of garbage in the admin offices.
But administration should not disproportionately DENY tenure, against the wishes of faculty.
In that case, “top-tier research university” means a university that ignores the judgment of faculty who are supposed to be the experts in their precise area, in favour of the judgement of … whom?
Administrators? Then why are we to believe that such an institution will ever be in the top tier?
How you get rid of the people who can’t be bought off
This Baylor story reminded me of something I remember from thirty years ago here in Canada.
Suppose you are an administrator who wants to force a public hospital in Canada to do abortions. Must you fire all the current obstetricians who oppose the practice? No, of course not!
What you do is strategically relocate the few who really care. You persuade the following people to transfer their privileges to the local Catholic hospital: two Catholics, an Evangelical, an Orthodox Jew, a devout Muslim, and an atheist pathologist who hates path on viable late aborted babies.
All the rest of the medical staff fall into line over time because they are middle class mall addicts who have no conviction strong enough to withstand the institutionalized pressure to conform. And you don’t hire anyone who does have such convictions.
So fifteen years later, you don’t have serious problems, just a considerable increase in “medical waste.”
Look, if there is no God, and no heaven or hell, it all works, right?
Intellectual Enron: Why invest now?
So here is how I interpret the pattern: Baylor plans to sell out to materialism in slow enough segments that it can do two things: Keep the money coming in from pious old Baptists for now but slowly acquire lavish public funding – funding that is only available for those who never question materialism, of course.
Funding which the pious old folk, along with everyone else, are forced to provide through their taxes incidentally.
Double dipping is sweet.
And Baylor is serious about shutting down dissent from materialism. That can be seen from its treatment of distinguished professor Robert Marks, specially recruited for his computer engineering expertise. Marks started investigating the plausibility of Darwinism using advanced computer techniques. Baylor faculty actually took his lab off line!
Of course these hijinx are no more likely to save the Enron of biology than PZ Myers’ recent bounce from the Mall of America screening will prevent the Expelled documentary from revealing how materialists persecute any scientist who publishes evidence against their theories.
It is embarrassing that Baptists, of all people, would resort to this kind of thing to ingratiate themselves with our materialist rulers. When I was young, Baptists were known for being irritatingly honest. They nitpicked about stuff no one else would even bother with. You know, wouldn’t dance, wouldn’t wear makeup. (They got married and had kids anyway.)
The part I don’t understand is, why sell out now, when materialism is collapsing? As Mario Beauregard and I meticulously showed in The Spiritual Brain, materialism is now just a shell of its former hideous strength. Most of its key tenets have never been confirmed and never will be.
Baylor’s new identity may be – the intellectual Enron of Waco.
And we will all have to learn to live in a post-Darwinist world. Too bad if Baylor won’t be there to help us.
(*Bill, who became something of a bete noir at Baylor in 2000 for his intelligent design sympathies, is now research professor in philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Fort Worth, Texas).
(**Baptist parents, take note: Do you want your kid taught by someone who loves to teach or by someone who hates teaching but has 100 research papers in print? Before reaching for your chequebook, ask yourself, what does MY kid need?)