Baylor fires president for failure to 'unite Baylor family'
By Marv Knox, Associated Baptist Press
July 29, 2008

Baylor fires president for failure to ‘unite Baylor family’

Baylor fires president for failure to 'unite Baylor family'
By Marv Knox, Associated Baptist Press
July 29, 2008


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 said.

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

Baylor family.”

Lilley expressed

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

six places.

• 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.)