A leading benefactor considering withdrawing his support for Baylor University says he hopes the act will prevent the school from abandoning its heritage as a “Christ-centered” educational institution.
Sysco Corporation founder John Baugh told Baylor’s board of regents May 14 that unless they take steps to restore the university’s reputation and trust he would ask that several million dollars on loan to Baylor from a foundation in his name be repaid and all gifts made to the university over the years by his family be returned.
Baugh’s meeting with regents was held in executive session, but a text of his comments is posted on the Internet. Baugh told EthicsDaily.com that his presentation came before a reported 18-17 vote by the board to retain Robert Sloan as the school’s president.
“All of this comes back to the difference between people who are genuinely committed to trying to live their lives as Christ has led us,” Baugh said in an interview, and “those who use the facade of Baptist and claim to be Christian, who slash and slander and harm those they are unable to control.”
Baugh said he deplores tactics of “hardcore fundamentalists” who at present have “platoons of predators encircling Baylor.” They hope to capture the school, he said, and eventually the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the way they achieved control of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s.
“The architects of takeover are deeply committed to taking over Baylor and destroying the BGCT, and in my opinion their purposes are not Christ-mandated,” Baugh said. He said it is “patently false to say that evil things are done for the glory of God.”
Baugh said he is also troubled by a growing gap between compensation of top administrators and faculty. Sloan received a reported 14.8 percent raise in 2001, when faculty raises were 2.9 percent. The next year Sloan got a 17.7 percent raise, and faculty 4.7 percent. Last year, Sloan’s compensation increased by more than 16 percent, and the faculty’s by 1.5 percent.
Baugh said earlier presidents would “never have tolerated” such disparity.
“The main players at Baylor University are the students who come there wide-eyed … and the faculty members who love them and nurture them and foster their development,” Baugh said. He cited several professors by name whom he credited with “opening the eyes” of his four grandchildren who are Baylor alumni.
Their experiences are “characteristic of that which Baylor has been,” he said, “and many of us will strive mightily that it remains that.”
Baugh said he and other like-minded Baylor supporters don’t want to return “enmity for enmity, but we do not want Baylor damaged and transformed into what it should never be.”
“I’m one of the people who feels like an absolute fool for sitting there and seeing what happened to the Southern Baptist Convention without doing more about it,” Baugh said. “That was 25 years ago next month,” he said, alluding to the 1979 SBC meeting in Houston that marked the launch of the so-called “conservative resurgence,” which eventually gained control of the denomination and steers its course today.
Baugh said he is “not going to sit on the sidelines” and watch it happen again. He and others are “not going to fight back and sully our own lives” with “fundamentalists who hate us,” he said. “But neither are we going to allow what happened to the SBC to happen to Baylor University.”
Robert Sloan, president of Baylor since 1995, faces increasing division over his leadership among faculty, regents, students, alumni and friends. Baylor’s faculty senate recently voted no-confidence in Sloan for the second time in less than a year.
Baugh said Sloan is “a good man” but has moved away from values for which he once stood. He said strife dividing Sloan and various segments of the Baylor constituency wasn’t initiated by any of those groups. He also said the recently reported administrative pay raises are “not consistent with the Robert Sloan that I have known.”
“Baylor is not a Falwell-driven university, not a Bob Jones-driven university,” Baugh said. “It’s a university that reflects the love and gentleness of Texas Baptists.”
Baugh said attorneys and others are working on plans to establish a new 501(c)(3) entity called the Partnership for Christian (Baptist) Education with funds equivalent to or exceeding aggregate gifts made to Baylor by the Baugh family. Gifts from the fund will be limited to BGCT-related schools that “undergird the principles and practices extant prior to these recent times” at Baylor.
“Our grandchildren led the way for our family assets to be used in an effort to foster Kingdom work, not fundamentalist work,” Baugh said.
“Leadership of Baylor can have it either way,” he said. “They can keep Baylor true to its course and we can work together. They can try to violate Baylor, and I have to oppose them.”
Asked for a dollar figure of his total gifts to Baylor, Baugh said, “I haven’t added it up.”
Baugh and his family have donated funds for some 15 programs and projects at Baylor over the years, according to a Baylor Magazine article in 2002. That includes a $5 million lead gift for construction of a building for the George W. Truett Theological Seminary, which came in addition to helping to fund the seminary’s start-up in 1993.
Baugh is also lead benefactor and namesake for the John F. Baugh Center for Entrepreneurship at Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business. Baugh and his wife, the former Eula Mae Tharp, have been honored with the Founders Medal, the most distinguished award given by the university, for service and contributions of significant value to the life of the institution.
Baugh did not attend Baylor, but his children and grandchildren are graduates, and he is a former regent.
Growing up during the depression era on a ranch in Waco, Baugh attended the University of Houston before going to work for the A&P food stores. In 1969 he founded Sysco Corporation, which specialized in ready-to-eat packaged foods. Today the company is the nation’s largest marketer and distributor of food-service products, with 47,000 employees and annual sales of $26 billion.
Baugh retired in 1998 as senior chair of Sysco’s board, but at 88 years of age he still goes to the office as distinguished tenure director for the company.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.