Robert Sloan paid attention to the big buzz about integrating faith and learning throughout the 90's. He certainly didn't invent the concept, not even at Baylor where Provost Donald Schmeltekopf had already tilled the field waiting for seeds, water, and determination to back up his early evangelism of the concept. What Robert Sloan did, though, was to put money and his reputation behind the project to transform Baylor into a great Christian university that was simultaneously a research university. Whether or not U.S. News and World Report acknowledges it, a lot has happened at Baylor. Student board scores are up, graduate programs are churning out Ph.D.'s and Baylor is winning some serious research grants.
A strange thing happened along the way, though. Sloan himself was forced to resign only to see the vision continue to bloom. He stayed on as Chancellor for a year or so, basically occupying a fund-raising and figure-head role. He is now headed off to Houston to take over as president of Houston Baptist University, a school that characterizes itself as having no problem with the direction Sloan tried to take Baylor.
What may have been the most important part was that he was a symbol, or perhaps less euphemistically, a security blanket for those who wanted to see the university stay true to the 2012 vision Sloan pushed so hard. When David Jeffrey was fired as provost and Francis Beckwith's tenure was denied, there were rumblings. First Things spectacularly jumped ship and Christianity Today clammed up after having given extensive coverage earlier.
Sloan's departure will take the focus off him by both critics and supporters. Baylor will now be judged not by Sloan's presence, but by its faithfulness to the vision it continues to embrace rhetorically. Final word on Beckwith's tenure appeal should come down in late August. That will be one powerful indicator of Baylor's heart and soul. After all, Beckwith (formerly my boss) is a prototypical faith and learning guy.
For his part, Sloan is still presidential. He has refused to publicly criticize anything done by his interim successor Bill Underwood (now at Mercer) or his permanent successor John Lilley. After 27 years at Baylor as student, athlete, teacher, preacher, distinguished prof., dean, and then president, he bleeds green and gold. But he has taken on a new opportunity and Baylor will stand or fall without him.
He starts at Houston Baptist immediately and has already done a public exit interview with the Waco Tribune-Herald. There's some interesting stuff here personally, spiritually, organizationally, etc. It's a good read.
The conclusion is my favorite part:
Q: What are your departing words to the Baylor family?
A: God bless Baylor. We love Baylor and we love Waco. Our greatest passion for Waco is that it be willing to take some risks and to grow and develop. For Baylor, there should be no question, historically or in terms of our obligation, as to what Baylor's identity is. Certain features of it really are not even debatable. Legally and historically, Baylor was founded as a Christian institution in the Baptist tradition and being faithful to that should not be up for grabs. Having a faculty and staff that have those commitments should always be of primary concern because it's the people that really are the institution and what the faculty and staff are determines the experience of the students. Baylor should always seek people that don't merely accept her identity, but embrace it.
Of course, there's another question beyond what Baylor will do without Sloan. What will Sloan do with Houston Baptist? That should be the fun part. Chairman Mao wanted to let a thousand flowers of revolution bloom. I'd settle for a dozen or so more in Christian higher education.
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