GRAPEVINE, Texas —
Baylor University President John Lilley has been fired for failing to
“bring the Baylor family together,” according to Howard Batson, chairman
of the university’s board of regents.
Regents voted to remove
Lilley from office, effective immediately, during their summer meeting July 24
in Grapevine, near the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The vote was
taken by secret ballot and the vote total was not announced to the board,
Batson cited Lilley’s
inability to unite Baylor’s various constituencies at least nine times in a
20-minute telephone press conference and several times in an interview with the
Texas Baptist Standard shortly after the regents’ vote.
Lilley became Baylor’s
president in January 2006, at a time when Baylor’s constituency had divided
over the administration of the previous president, Robert Sloan. Also
controversial was Baylor 2012, a decade-long strategy for growing the world’s
largest Baptist university and increasing its influence.
For two and half years,
Lilley worked to strengthen Baylor but could not foster unity, Batson said.
“The board really
thinks Baylor needs a new president who can bring together and unify the
various constituencies of the university,” he said. “We felt like Dr.
Lilley came at a very difficult time in the history of Baylor, and we
acknowledge that. We do appreciate his service a great deal.”
Lilley could have stayed
longer — possibly until his contract ends in 2010 — if he had agreed to
participate in a transitional process, Batson said.
Under terms of the
proposed transition, Batson would have been authorized to appoint a
presidential search committee “sometime before the end of 2008,” he
said. Lilley would have remained in office until his successor was selected.
“This could take
from months to years,” Batson noted. “With John in place, we could
take more time to do a thorough search. We probably saw John serving out much, if
not all, of his contract. But he didn’t want to do it under those terms.”
Although tensions with
faculty flared this spring, when Lilley’s administration initially denied
tenure to 12 of 30 faculty candidates, Batson said no single factor led to the
regents’ decision to dismiss him.
“There’s no denying
we had the tenure situation … and the branding situation (Lilley’s initial
decision to get rid of Baylor’s popular “interlocking BU” logo).
Perhaps the process was not as swift as some of us had hoped in bringing the
Baylor family together,” he said. “I don’t know that there was any
one particular relationship that caused the difficulty. … We did not see the
Baylor family coming together as we envisioned.”
In an e-mailed
statement, Lilley expressed his disagreement with the regents’ decision.
“Two and a half
years ago, I was invited unanimously by the board of regents to come to
Baylor,” Lilley said. “I did not come to Baylor to advance my career.
(Wife) Gerrie and I were reluctant, but finally were persuaded to come because
of the unanimous vote and the promised prayers of the regents.
“We felt that we
could help to heal the wounded hearts left in the wake of the conflict that
preceded us. Despite the board’s unanimous vote, it became clear immediately
that the Baylor board of regents reflected some of the deepest divisions in the
satisfaction with the work he and his team accomplished during his tenure.
“I am proud of the
work my colleagues and I have done to bring the Baylor family together and to
help the university achieve the ambitious goals set forth in our mission and
Vision 2012, documented in our annual report just presented to the
regents,” he said.
“I deeply regret
the action of the board, and I do not believe that it reflects the best
interests of Baylor University.”
In both interviews,
Batson affirmed what he called Lilley’s “significant accomplishments”
achieved during the past two and a half years. They included:
• Baylor’s highest-ever
ranking by U.S. News & World Report
— 75th — among national doctoral-granting universities, an increase of
• Attracting a
“large and diverse student body,” including last fall’s enrollment of
14,174 — the university’s second-highest total.
• Record endowment,
“now crossing the billion-dollar mark.”
• A record 402 students
enrolled in Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary, including
“more students interested in ministering in the local church.”
• Athletic successes,
including the men’s basketball team’s return to the NCAA Tournament, the
women’s basketball team’s continual appearance in the tournament, men’s and
women’s tennis teams’ Big 12 championships and anticipation of an exciting
football season under a new head coach, Art Briles.
• Classification as a
university with “highest research activity” by the Carnegie
Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
• Extensive construction
on campus, including the $42 million Brooks Village residential center and the
$30 million football training/practice complex.
“John has left
Baylor better than he found it. John had a passion for the research element of
(Baylor) 2012,” Batson said. “We are appreciative of his service and
love for the university.”
The regents selected one
of their own, Harold Cunningham, as acting president with “full
authority” to lead until an interim president is chosen, Batson said.
Cunningham is immediate
past chairman of the Baylor regents and served as a Baylor vice president twice — for special projects and for finance and administration.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Knox is
editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.)