Whoever said, "There's no such thing as bad publicity" should speak with embattled Baylor University president Robert Sloan. Never in Baylor's 158-year history have the eyes of the national media and academic community been so riveted on the world's largest Baptist university. Beleaguered by a combination of athletic scandals and academic controversy, Sloan has been targeted for criticism by numerous members of his faculty and student body. Yet Sloan passed the only test that matters for his job security when, last Friday, September 12, Baylor's Board of Regents affirmed his leadership by a vote of 31-4.
Even taking into account the recent murder of a Baylor basketball player, allegedly by his own teammate, Sloan's greatest liability appears to be his "Baylor 2012" plan. Sloan's stated vision is to transform Baylor into the "world's greatest Christian university," or at least a "Protestant Notre Dame" where research and education are imbued with the Christian worldview.
In his 2001 book Quality with Soul: How Six Premier Colleges and Universities Keep Faith with Their Religious Traditions, Robert Benne ponders Baylor's challenge within the context of five other schools representing a continuum of Christian education. Benne doesn't venture to predict the success or failure of Sloan's vision, but his analysis gives us an opportunity to consider the history Baylor is working against.
America's leading universities, most notably Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, set a pattern, followed by other institutions, of abandoning a Christian framework for teaching and scholarship. Benne identifies a three-step process: first, these schools abandoned their theological distinctives in favor of a generic brand of Christianity; then they presented ...