Secret maneuvers won the battle for Baylor : University officials worked behind the scenes for months to prevent a fundamentalist takeover.
Baylor University, tree-shaded and bordered on one side by the muddy Brazos River, is a place where controversy seldom finds a home.
The strife-torn anti-war years barely made a ripple at this, the largest Baptist institution in the world. The commotion when Playboy magazine wanted to photograph female students in the altogether a few years back was about as steamy as it gets.
Baylor, and in particular its president, Dr. Herbert Reynolds, is at the center of a swirling firestorm, fueled by fundamentalist Baptists who feel they have been duped into relinquishing their growing influence at the 12,000-student university.
In fact, that is what happened. Reynolds planned it that way. For two years he worked in secrecy to change the governing structure within the university to make certain that the ever-more-influential fundamentalist Baptist wing was kept at bay.
Since he sprang his trap late last September, howls of protest have been ringing out from fundamentalists that the university has been stolen. And there are sure to be more protests Tuesday and Wednesday when the Baptist General Convention of Texas meets in Houston.
“We’re told the fundamentalists are going to launch an attack against Baylor, that they are going to try to do such things as link Baylor with being pro-abortion,” said Dr. Michael Bishop, Baylor’s vice president for communications. “They are enraged because we just outmaneuvered them.”
Baylor is part of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which until now had been the school’s governing body. The state organizations belong to the Southern Baptist Convention, which for the past 12 years has been controlled by fundamentalists who maintain that every word in the Bible must be taken literally.
During that time, the fundamentalists have taken control of six seminaries and a number of other key organizations within the convention. Reynolds, never one to mince words, has compared the takeovers to Sherman’s fiery march to the sea during the Civil War. At another time, Reynolds described the fundamentalists as a “little Baptist College of Cardinals” who feel that “somehow they are endowed with a special wisdom and special authority when, in fact, they possess neither.”
Reynolds had long believed that the heretofore moderate Texas convention, which elected Baylor’s governing trustees, would be the next takeover objective of the fundamentalists. Then came an event two years ago that convinced Reynolds that Baylor--"the crown jewel of Texas Baptist life"--was a target.
The conservative president of the Texas convention, speaking at the annual meeting, skewered the Baylor religion department as being too liberal.
Liberal is not a word that seems to apply to Baylor. Dancing has been banned on campus since the school was founded 145 years ago. Two semesters of chapel attendance are mandatory. But with that pronouncement from the convention president, Reynolds believed that the university would soon become little more than a literalist Bible college if he did not act quickly.
Reynolds went back to Baylor and began calling the university’s lawyers, asking them to research whether Baylor could change its charter so that the university could become an independent agent, free of the Texas convention. Two years later, Reynolds had a sheaf of legal documents that maintained the university trustees were empowered to change the charter.
Throughout the process, knowledge that the research was going on was kept to a handful of people. On Sept. 21, the Baylor Board of Trustees met on the third floor of the administration building. Bill Grubbs, a conservative trustee, was amazed at what he heard under the heading of “miscellaneous business.”
“I didn’t realize they were going to introduce a resolution to hijack the school,” he said.
Grubbs would have been more amazed had he realized that all of the fax machines in the building had been turned off to guard against a court injunction being granted and sent to Baylor while the meeting was in progress. And a university representative was already at the secretary of state’s office in Austin, waiting to file the papers once the amended charter was approved.
The vote to change the charter was 30 to 7, with Grubbs among the seven. The new Board of Regents will have only a handful of members chosen by the Texas convention. Robert Miller, the chairman of the political science department, said the faculty is relieved to have been pulled from the fray. Meanwhile, the fundamentalists have threatened to file suit to have the university returned to the Texas convention.
On that point, Bishop is quite clear: “It’s absolutely ironclad. There is not going to be any successful legal challenge. We’ve done two years of legal homework and subjected it to the best legal minds we can find.”