Baylor Project, The

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352 pages, 6" x 9", preface, foreword, introduction, notes, afterword, index

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Baylor Project, The

Taking Christian Higher Education to the Next Level

Hankins, Barry G. and Schmeltekopf, Donald D.

[T]he earlier and much-anticipated version [of this book], entitled Baylor Beyond the Crossroads: An Interpretive History, 1985–2005, was in the printing process when its publication was cancelled. The first several hundred copies of the book were then destroyed. The earlier version was cancelled because the new administration at Baylor believed the publication of the book under the Baylor name would unnecessarily involve it, the administration, in the prolonged controversy that had enveloped Baylor at least since the 2001 adoption of Baylor 2012 – Baylor’s sweeping vision to be a Christian research university.

The cancellation of the book became a national media story primarily because of a threatening e-mail a former Baylor president sent to the book’s coeditors, which gave the impression – correct or not – that the university had cancelled publication in response to outside pressure. The former president, for reasons not entirely clear, did not want the book to see the light of day.

Cryptically, he told the editors, “My tertiary specialty in the Air Force was psychological warfare and I was no mean student thereof.” The former president claimed to know just how to strike at the “soft underbelly” of his adversaries. He also threatened to release an “asbestos file” containing damaging information on another former Baylor University president, Robert Sloan, if the editors went forward with publication.

– From the Preface

What could have precipitated such animosity, such controversy? The creators of Baylor 2012 sought to do two things at once – create a Tier-One research university and maintain the school’s Christian identity – and all around them they found those who thought they could not or should not do just that. Some scoffed at the notion of a first-class research university maintaining a Protestant identity consonant with historic Christianity, “mere Christianity,” as C.S. Lewis proposed. They saw conflicts everywhere and thought that academic freedom would be in danger. Even more feared that the very identity of Baylor’s Baptist tradition would suffer in the attainment of the goals of Baylor 2012 as a top research university, that Baylor would sell its birthright for a mess of pottage.

These foes could cite evidence all around them that a vision like Baylor 2012 was a fool’s errand. Great universities founded on Protestant principles abounded, but none remained true to their founding vision as Christian institutions of learning. All were secular to the core, at best neutral with regard to Christianity, but, for many, the antagonism was explicit. Moreover, those, usually smaller, colleges and universities that had remained openly Protestant in orientation remained outside the top tier of major research universities. One might even say that many were self-exiled lest what they saw as the contamination of secularism reach them.

The creators of Baylor 2012 saw their goals as restorative, as enhancing the body of Baylor as a premier university with a Christian soul, a unity they saw as not only not contradictory but one where the mind and spirit would grow together and improve each other. They noted that this vision was being practiced in a few Catholic institutions and saw no reason why it could not be attained once again in a Protestant one.

This has admittedly involved walking a tightrope, and there have been adversaries on both sides shaking that tightrope with all their might in the hope that the Baylor Project will fail. All of this is all fearlessly chronicled The Baylor Project.

Animosities abound, and though much has been accomplished in changes to Baylor’s governing charter, in athletics, in its definition of faculty responsibilities, and in its support of graduated education and research, its renewed commitment to campus and residential life, and its financial management (all of which, it must be admitted, welcomed by the strong secular forces at the university), what remains unsettled are the central issues surrounding faith and learning, or, as the editors put it, “how Christian belief and the Christian intellectual tradition are to engage our common academic life, and the question of Baylor’s identity as a university.”

In this provocative work, the authors of The Baylor Project pull no punches. What emerges in these pages is both a history and a vision for the future that is embattled and by no means secured, one that many of us, far from Waco, knowingly or not, have strong stakes in.

Barry G. Hankins, is Professor of History, and Donald D. Schmeltekopf, is Provost Emeritus, Professor, and Director, Center for Ministry Effectiveness and Educational Leadership, at Baylor University.