Student Stand on Gay Unions Roils Baylor

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Times Staff Writer

In what was widely seen as another clash between faith and academics at Baylor University, the school’s president on Tuesday condemned an editorial in the student newspaper supporting gay marriage, and made clear that the administration would exert tighter control over the paper’s content.

In remarks published in the Baylor Lariat, President Robert B. Sloan Jr. called Friday’s editorial “out of touch with traditional Christian teachings.”

His declaration stirred debate on the Waco, Texas, campus, where he has called for reform aimed at lifting the Baptist university into the upper echelon of academics while strengthening its religious identity.


Many faculty members question whether both goals can be achieved -- citing the administration’s efforts to hire professors who espouse Christianity in the classroom.

Last fall, the faculty senate gave Sloan, a Baptist pastor, a vote of no confidence. Its resolution cited, among other things, “profound concerns about the sanctity of academic freedom and professional standards.”

Several faculty members said Tuesday that Sloan’s rebuke of the editorial was part of a larger pattern.

“He certainly is within his right to do what he did,” said Charles A. Weaver III, a professor of psychology and neuroscience. “But I’m not sure it was a wise decision. It is stifling. One of the issues for the last year has been the atmosphere of intimidation and mistrust here. And this was certainly a very intimidating message.”

Even some faculty members who support Sloan called for more respectful debate.

“It seems important that we try to talk to each other with intellectual respect,” said journalism professor William Murchison. “I would hope that a Christian university can be a premier format for that. Christians don’t crucify each other.”

Sloan, who declined requests for an interview, said in his statement that the editorial had come “dangerously close to violating university policy,” which bans the advocacy of “any understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.”


The staff of the Lariat was counseled on the administration’s position, and a seven-member team of faculty advisors released a statement saying the paper would “avoid this error in the future.” A statement from Lariat news director Ricky George -- who is a paid staff member and former working journalist -- agreed that the editorial “should not have been printed.”

“The kids certainly have a right to free speech. But Baylor has certain rules,” said Doug Ferdon, chairman of the Baylor journalism school and a member of the faculty advisory team. “They shouldn’t advocate things that would be against the basic tenets of Baylor and Baptists. In a private school, there is something that the school really stands for -- in this case, kind of a conservative, Christian theology.”

The editorial was written last week in support of the campaign to legalize gay marriage.

“Just as it isn’t fair to discriminate against someone for their skin color, heritage of religious beliefs, it isn’t fair to discriminate against someone for their sexual orientation,” it said. “Shouldn’t gay couples be allowed to enjoy the benefits and happiness of marriage, too?”

In an e-mail Tuesday to the Los Angeles Times, Lacy Elwood, editor in chief, said the paper’s editorial board members “stand by our decision to address an issue at the forefront of national public debate.”

Baylor officials said they consider the Lariat an independent publication. And like campus newspapers across the country, it routinely takes positions that run contrary to those of the university administration. In an editorial after the faculty’s “no confidence” vote last fall, the paper called for Sloan’s resignation.

“It didn’t make the president happy. But there was no action taken,” said school spokesman Larry Brumley. “The difference here is that the Lariat took an editorial stance ... attacking a basic Christian tenet upon which the university was founded. These are always judgment calls. And they crossed the line in this case.”