This past February, when Robert B. Sloan announced he would resign the presidency of Baylor University, the news sent tremors throughout Christian higher education. Sloan has been the lead architect and builder in an ambitious 10-year plan to transform Baylor into a top-tier research university with an "intense faithfulness to the Christian tradition." This would require more than simply remaining Southern Baptist. It would mean "deepening its distinctive Christian mission."
Evangelicals, with their network of small, cash-strapped colleges, have long dreamed of a Christian university that could hold its own with Harvard, Yale, Chicago, and Berkeley. To them it seemed that Sloan just might have the ability to make the dream a reality. But his program drew powerful opposition from many quarters within the Baylor constituency.
Back in September 2003, Sloan had overwhelming support from Baylor's trustees. But within eight months his board majority had melted to a single vote, making it pretty obvious that the wind was blowing against him. In resigning, Sloan made it clear that he hopes his move to the post of chancellor will quiet the controversy and allow his program for the university to go forward. But will it? And what does Baylor's case bode for other Christian colleges and universities, in light of the recent slew of books that parse out the integration of faith and learning?
Sloan's announcement has given many card-carrying evangelicals an ominous case of déjà vu. Our recessive conservative genes have conditioned us to see this phenomenon as the inevitable process of secularization in higher education. In the conservative analysis, Christian colleges and universities are all perched atop a slippery ...