Baylor University president's future debated amid basketball scandal

Updated: August 25, 2003, 8:43 PM ET

WACO, Texas -- To some, Baylor University President Robert Sloan is exactly the right person to lead the world's largest Baptist university through its recent crisis: the slaying of a basketball player, revelations of NCAA violations, a tape-recorded cover-up plot by a former coach.

He is, they say, a rock of faith and integrity.

But others say Sloan must be held responsible for the image-tarnishing events -- even if he had no knowledge of wrongdoing before it occurred -- and needs to go.

For his part, Sloan said he relies on prayer, family and friends to cope.

"What I have found is that God's grace really is deeper than the deepest trouble you go through," the 54-year-old Baptist preacher said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Baylor opened its fall semester Monday still reeling from the June slaying of basketball player Patrick Dennehy and the ensuing disclosure of secretly paid players, doctored drug tests and the alleged plot by ex-coach Dave Bliss.

Sloan supporters make their case by pointing to his speediness at putting the basketball program on probation and accepting the resignations of Bliss and athletic director Tom Stanton.

"Although some people may be against him, he knows that the Lord is watching over what he's doing and that he's guided -- it's not like he's making a lot of these decisions on his own," said student body president Jeff Leach, 21, of Plano. "He's praying about them and he's trying to do the right thing."

Computer science professor Henry Walbesser, however, contends that Sloan's faith is mockery.

"He makes himself out to be a pious person with Christian values, but he doesn't practice it," Walbesser said. "He has done so much damage to this institution in the name of Christian faith."

The faculty senate may take up a no-confidence vote on Sloan when it meets Sept. 9, and at least one major newspaper, the Houston Chronicle, has called for his resignation, saying he "failed dramatically" in his duty to ensure that Baylor ran an upright program.

Sloan, who has headed 14,000-student Baylor for eight years, said he doesn't let such talk distract him.

"I honestly do not worry about those kinds of things because what I believe is this: You don't solve any problem by running away from it. I'm committed to Baylor University. It's what I'm doing as a calling," he said.

Even before the recent turmoil, Sloan faced harsh criticism from some faculty leaders over his 10-year reform plan that calls for moving Baylor into the top tier of American universities while strengthening its Christian mission.

Chuck Weaver, the faculty senate's immediate past chairman, said Sloan has threatened Baylor's academic reputation by stressing religious beliefs over qualifications when hiring new faculty members. The neuroscience professor refers to the process as a "religious litmus test."

Sloan said he seeks professors who will not only tolerate but actively support Baylor's religious mission. At the same time, he denied imposing any creeds or religious oaths on those hired. Less than half of Baylor's nearly 800 faculty members are Baptists.

Most importantly, he said, Baylor must strive to hire people of character and faithfulness and hold them accountable.

"It's important for people to have accountability groups and to meet with friends and others," Sloan said. "Because as individuals, if we get isolated, it's possible for any of us to make serious moral errors and mistakes."


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