Baylor University's board of regents fired the Baptist school's president on Thursday, saying they had lost confidence in his ability to "unite various Baylor constituencies."
John M. Lilley, on the job less than three years, rejected an offer to serve out his five-year contract as regents searched for a replacement.
Lilley's relatively brief tenure was marked by disputes over tenure and even over the university's logo. But how best to achieve Baylor's goal of becoming a major research university without sacrificing its strong Christian character appears to have been an issue, as well.
I do not have inside information about this firing, but from what I have read (the written news report was more detailed than this on-line version seems to be!), it appears to me that Baylor has a dual agenda. By 2012 it wants to be a top-tier research institution, but it also wants to be a faith institution.
To become a top-tier research university, drastic things have to happen in an institution, and one of them is secularization and a move to reward research above teaching in the tenure process. Apparently Lilley denied a dozen faculty tenure because he felt that their research contributions were not up to these standards, while the promotion and tenure committee disagreed. Teaching must come first. What this represents to me is not a call to rid of tenure, but a call to raise the bar in terms of research at a university whose goal is to enter the top-tier.
I think what we are witnessing is just the kind of conflict that can be expected when such a goal is put into place, especially at a faith-based university. There will be resistance to what needs to be done to meet such a goal, especially among those faculty who have devoted their lives to teaching rather than research, and who feel that the faith of the institution is threatened. I can't imagine that the next president is going to have it any easier.
I for one hope that Baylor sticks to their plan to move the university into the top-tier of research institutions.UPDATE: Rebecca Lesses left this comment which is very good so I have moved it here to the main text.
Without knowing anything about this particular case, it seems to me that there is not only a conflict over the university's faith identity, but over the expectations for faculty trying to gain tenure. If they were hired and were explicitly told that teaching was more important than research, and poured their energy into improving their teaching, then I believe it is extremely unfair to those faculty members to deny them tenure on the basis of a requirement they were not informed of at an early stage of their employment at Baylor. It seems to me that this sort of change has to be introduced slowly, over a period of several years, so that incoming faculty know what the expectations are that they must fulfill. I can see why the tenure and promotion committee disagreed with the president, if this is something that he did in only three years. I teach at an institution that places a higher priority on teaching than research in gaining tenure. If over the period of three years a dozen junior faculty were denied tenure by the president because they didn't have sufficient publications, there would be howls of protest.