How To Steal A University

Baptists battle for control of Baylor

What Brigham Young University is to Mormons and Notre Dame is to Roman Catholics, Baylor University is to Southern Baptists. With 12,000 students, Baylor is the largest Baptist university in the world and the crown jewel of Texas Baptist life. But now a struggle for control of the university is raging between the fundamentalists who dominate the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the more moderate Baptist academicians who run the Waco campus. At stake is the question of whether Southern Baptists can run a university that is free yet faithful to the Baptist heritage.

The battle was joined last September, when Baylor president Herbert Reynolds staged a carefully planned coup of the university's governing body. Sensing that fundamentalists in the state convention were preparing to interfere with Baylor's curriculum and campus life, Reynolds had university lawyers draw up a new charter which removed control of the school from convention-appointed trustees and placed it in the hands of an independent board--thus loosening Baylor's historic ties to the Texas Baptist Convention. The new charter was slipped into the trustees' agenda as "miscellaneous business" and approved by a majority of theological "moderates" who were in on the ploy. As an extra precaution, Reynolds cut the power to all the fax machines in the administration building lest the fundamentalists try to obtain a restraining order. Once the vote was in, the machines were turned on and the charter faxed to the secretary of state's office for immediate recording. The convention retaliated by withholding funding for the school. "It was a beautiful job, "said trustee Bill Grubbs of Dallas, one of the outfoxed fundamentalists, "a classic story on how to steal a school."

For the moderates, the rescue of Baylor was the latest step in a counterattack against the fundamentalists who gradually won control of the Southern Baptist Convention over the last decade and are attempting to impose doctrines of Biblical literalism on the denomination's largest seminaries. Just last year trustees at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., allowed students to tape class lectures, sparking fears that heretical professors would be identified and disciplined. Trustees have also passed guidelines that encourage the hiring of teachers who affirm, for example, that Biblical figures such as Adam and Eve were real persons. "They disapprove of higher education in the classical sense," says Baylor vice president Mike Bishop. "What they want is indoctrination."

Already, two other Southern Baptist universities--Wake Forest in North Carolina and Furman in South Carolina--have severed ties with their state Baptist conventions to escape fundamentalist control. But Baylor is the biggest loss. And without its frontline university, the entire Southern Baptist Convention could lose the academic respectability which the fundamentalists have worked so hard to acquire.