In the previous blogging about Baylor’s conference on the future of Baptist Higher Education, I mentioned one flare-up with Bill Leonard from Wake Forest in which he demanded an apology in the middle of his presentation. Turns out there’s more to the story and that he engaged in further argumentation of the point in another session later. Here’s the item from ABP, which is some sort of Baptist Press. I’m not familiar enough with the versions to tell which branch of the Baptist world it represents.
Right to dissent may be key mark of Baptist colleges, Leonard suggests
By Ken Camp WACO, Texas (ABP) —
The right to dissent — even about what makes a school religious — should be a key distinctive of Baptist higher education,suggested church historian and seminary dean Bill Leonard.
Addressing a national conference on the future of Baptist higher education,Leonard, dean of the divinity school at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., said the conference’s program planners were “rude” in the way they characterized Wake Forest.”
Baptists began as a community of dissent,” Leonard said during his presentation on how Baptist education functions within a context ofconflict. Early Baptist dissent was grounded in freedom of conscience and a commitment to uncoerced faith, he stressed.
“I would suggest that one Baptist way-no doubt there are many-for responding to the changing nature of campus life would be a reassertion of those early Baptist ideals of dissent, conscience and believers’ church,” he said.
“That is, Baptists should be at the forefront of the quest for ‘voice’ on college and university campus – not as a tepid, grudging response to nebulous political correctness, but because voice is endemic to the natureof Baptist identity, perhaps even its most profound distinctive.”
At that point, Leonard departed from his prepared manuscript and said he intended to exercise his own Baptist right to dissent and voice disapproval of what he considered an unfair characterization of his school. He cited a statement in the conference’s program about the loss of religious identity at many Christian colleges and universities.
“Secularization has been so powerful that these once-Christian institutions now speak of themselves only as having a religious heritage, the substance of which is reflected in vague language about values in their institutional mission statements,” the printed program read. “Although these reach backinto Baptist history, with prominent examples being Brown University and theUniversity of Chicago, in the last quarter century, the light has been extinguished in a growing number of venerable Baptist institutions in theSouth. The University of Richmond, Wake Forest University, Stetson University, Furman University and Meredith College serve as examples.”
Leonard characterized the language as “incorrect, inhospitable and downright rude.” “If the light has gone out at Wake Forest University, then why invite me?”he asked. “If a public apology is not given, I will pack my bags and go homeright now, and I’ll return to Wake Forest where we are trying to keep thelight burning.”
Don Schmeltekopf, provost emeritus at conference host Baylor University,immediately stood and asked Leonard to accept his apology for any offense.
Schmeltekopf explained in an interview the language in the program was derived from a book by James Burtchaell, “The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from their Christian Churches.” Burtchaell devoted a chapter in the book to Wake Forest University, he noted.
Later in the conference, the issue re-emerged during a presentation by Larry Lyon, senior vice provost and dean of the graduate school at BaylorUniversity. Lyon presented a quantitative study in which he refuted the notion that national universities with religious roots must become secularized to achieve a strong academic reputation.
In his analysis, Lyon distinguished religious from non-religious universities on the basis of church affiliation, explicit religious language in the schools’ mission statements, and required religion courses in theschools’ core curriculum.
Analyzing how U.S. News & World Report ranks schools and how successful schools are at recruiting top students and faculty, Lyon concluded universities do not necessarily have to choose between religious commitment and a strong academic reputation.
One subheading in his academic paper-distributed to all of the seminar participants- raised the question, “Will Baylor go the way of Wake Forest?”
At the conclusion of Lyon’s presentation, Leonard again spoke against a”regrettable generalization” about his school, saying he felt some at the conference had unfairly cast Wake Forest as a “straw-man institution” they could knock down.
As evidence of Wake Forest’s commitment to religion, Leonard cited the selection of Nathan Hatch – an evangelical Presbyterian who was provost atNotre Dame University – as president, a $2 million Lilly Foundation grant on the theological exploration of vocation, and investment in the university’s divinity school. Leonard called for “dialogue in which we don’t characterize each other.”
Lyon responded that his study was a quantitative analysis that did not factor in the kind of qualitative measures Leonard noted, and he felt the criteria used-religious references in mission statements and religion in the core curriculum-were clear measures for analysis.
Lyon also noted Wake Forest holds the “tier one” academic status to whichother schools, such as Baylor, aspire, and he said he did not feel his paper presented Wake Forest in negative light.
In an interview, Schmeltkopf said he shared Leonard’s view that Hatch’s selection as Wake Forest’s president bodes well for Christian identity at the university, and he hoped it might signal a time when Baylor and otherBaptist schools could work more closely in “common cause” with Wake Forest.