Faculty divided over proposed no-confidence vote on Sloan

Updated: August 21, 2003, 9:35 PM ET

WACO, Texas -- As embattled Baylor University President Robert Sloan welcomed incoming freshmen to the world's largest Baptist university on Thursday, dueling groups of professors clashed over a faculty leader's call for a no-confidence vote on Sloan.

Even before basketball player Patrick Dennehy's slaying put the Central Texas university under an intense spotlight, some faculty leaders harshly criticized Sloan and his 10-year plan to move Baylor into the top tier of American universities while strengthening its Christian mission.

Dennehy's death -- which sparked revelations of major NCAA violations by the basketball program and an attempted cover up by former coach Dave Bliss -- has inflamed Sloan's critics, who question his administration's overall leadership and oversight of university programs.

"It's a failed presidency," said Henry Walbesser, a computer science professor and faculty senate member who intends to push for a no-confidence vote at the group's next meeting.

But about 100 Baylor faculty members gathered Thursday afternoon on the steps of the stately, yellow brick Tidwell Bible Building in support of Sloan.

"Many of us are outraged and embarrassed that some of our colleagues would use the tragic death of a student in a shameful opportunistic attempt to advance their own political agendas," said Barry Harvey, a Baylor theology professor since 1988.

Harvey praised Sloan's "honor, courage and responsibility to call for an inquiry into our men's basketball program and then to place it on probation."

If the 30-member faculty senate proceeds with the vote of no confidence on Sept. 9, it will surrender any pretense of being a representative body, he said.

But Walbesser said academic programs have suffered under Sloan and that the president has used retaliatory measures against faculty members who have opposed his plans -- claims that Sloan denies.

Before welcoming several hundred freshmen and transfer students to the president's annual picnic Thursday night, Sloan, a Baptist pastor who has headed Baylor for eight years, told reporters he has received a steady stream of supportive faxes and e-mails.

"At the university-wide faculty meeting (Thursday morning), I heard and felt the support of the overwhelming majority of the Baylor faculty," Sloan said.

Sloan, who said he has no plans to quit, indicated that much of the criticism of him stems not from the basketball scandal but from his reform plan, called "Baylor 2012."

"When you have something that goes beyond incremental change, and you have aspirations as bold as ours, that does create a reaction," he said. "And I think much of this has to do with change."

Bulldozers and mounds of dirt on the campus between Dallas and Austin testify to Sloan's effort to remake Baylor physically.

But the $200 million price tag on the renovations and Sloan's other plans for Baylor have fueled criticism.

Some Baylor supporters worry about saddling the university with so much debt during an economic downturn. Others complain about a decision to raise tuition last year by more than a third, to $17,200 annually.

Still others suggest that Sloan's emphasis on strong faith and on faculty research as a condition of tenure will hurt Baylor's hiring and traditional focus on undergraduate teaching.

If the faculty senate passes a no-confidence vote, the regents would be asked to remove Sloan.

Drayton McLane, board chairman, supports Sloan and believes a majority of the regents approve of his handling of the crisis within the men's basketball program. How Sloan and Baylor work to resolve those problems and prevent them in the future will be a true test of leadership, McLane told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

But Chuck Weaver, the faculty senate's immediate past president and a frequent Sloan critic, said Baylor needs a unifying figure.

"I'm not going to speak for my colleagues ... I'll just say, it's fair to begin asking those questions," the neuroscience professor said of Sloan's future.

As for the claims that critics were using Dennehy's death to their advantage, Weaver said, "The problems existed long before the Dennehy situation. It's a case of confidence and trust in the present administration to lead us past this difficult time."

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