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

    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 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.)


    7/29/2008 11:06:00 AM by By Marv Knox, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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