The soul-searching at Baylor University should extend well beyond sexual misconduct and what to do about it. I have felt for some time that Baylor is not always open and candid about its other shortcomings. It seems to me that Baylor University’s practice is to hype the positive and hide anything negative that might tarnish the image of Baylor as a uniquely “Christian” university.
More than anything else, it is the hubris of “Baylor exceptionalism” that has brought us to this hour. We now see where this leads — a scandal good enough to dispatch high-level administrators as well as other staffers; a threatened athletic program; and daily crucifixion in much of the news media, especially on social media.
Students, alumni, parents and faculty as well as the Waco community deserve to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about anything pertaining to Baylor, both in its academic program as well as its athletic program.
Everyone knows college athletics is big business. Colleges and universities spend more than $6 billion a year on athletics. But in 2014, they also spent $67 billion on academic research — 10 times what was spent on athletics. Contrary to popular belief, most colleges, including Baylor, lose money on athletics. They have to make up the difference from general funds such as activity fees, tuition and investment income.
Baylor doesn’t like to be compared to other universities. But by almost any standard that could be used to measure academic performance, Baylor is a pretty mediocre university — good but not great. Baylor likes to claim that it has a Carnegie classification as a high-intensity research university, which is true. However, what officials neglect to mention is that this is not the highest classification. There are 115 universities that are classified as very high-intensity research schools, and Baylor isn’t one of them.
Baylor ranks 254th in money spent on academic research. In 2014, Baylor spent only $20 million. To be ranked in the top 100 research universities, Baylor faculty should be attracting at least $200 million in research grants. Baylor leadership — presumably intent on the university’s stated goal of becoming a top-tier research university — needs to discover why this isn’t happening and correct it.
How a university spends the tuition and fees that its students must pay is also an example of a “win-at-any-price” priority. At $106 million, Baylor spends almost 20 percent of its total budget on athletics. But a university is not a sports franchise. The head football coach (rumored to have an annual salary of about $4.2 million; other sources say more) makes more in a year than a tenured professor will earn during his entire career.
Now would be a good time for Baylor to re-examine its priorities. Academics always must be the top priority of any university.
There have been several well-publicized large gifts to Baylor University. But overall, Baylor alumni perform poorly when giving back to their beloved alma mater, as measured by the percentage who give and the average size of their donations. Using this measure, Forbes magazine ranks Baylor 289th in alumni-giving. This present crisis could be very expensive to resolve, and Baylor doesn’t have a lot of resources to draw on. My fear is that it will come at the expense of its academic reputation.
Perhaps the current unpleasantness at Baylor will usher in a new culture of candor. There is too much unnecessary secrecy at Baylor. It can create the impression that Baylor has something to hide. In its nine-month investigation, the law firm Pepper Hamilton uncovered a lot that Baylor was hiding, even from its own board of regents. Hopefully, “no comment” and lame excuses will be a thing of the past.
There are many in our community who think that Baylor Scott & White and the Baylor College of Medicine are somehow connected with Baylor University. They are not. However, Baylor does little to correct that impression. Baylor needs to state frankly who it is and who it is not.
“Baylor Nation” and the Waco community deserve a world-class university. Private power conference schools can be competitive on much smaller athletic budgets than Baylor’s. Examples: Northwestern in the Big Ten spends $70.03 million; Vanderbilt in the SEC spends $68.62 million; in the ACC, Wake Forest spends $57.87 million; Boston College, $69.30 million; and Miami, $76.50 million. There’s no reason for Baylor University to spend $106 million to chase the fantasy that winning on a field of dreams somehow defines a great university. For “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” And what does it profit a university to gain a national championship and lose its reputation?
W. Richard Turner is a retired industrial research chemist who lives in Hewitt.