“Our faith does not discriminate,” reads the send-off in a recent open letter to Baylor leaders signed by a growing number of Baylor alumni and supporters.
In the group’s letter to Baylor administration, it seeks “to achieve a more inclusive campus environment” in response to what it claims are “harmful inequities” and inaccurate “representation of Baylor’s Baptist heritage and tradition” made by the university to authorities.
“Baylor can and should be better than this,” the group bluntly states.
The letter is signed by an group of Baylor alumni, students, current and retired faculty, staff, and administrators, Baptist ministers, faith leaders, donors, and parents of Baylor students. Together, they hope to end the “harmful, separate, and unequal treatment of LGBTQIA+ people in the Baylor family.”
A “religiously controlled” institution
In May of this year, Baylor University submitted a letter to the Department of Education (DOE). In it, the administration outlined a request to exempt the university from Title IX’s sexual harassment provision following three complaints filed to the Office of Civil Rights in the DOE. Using a loophole designed for “religiously controlled” institutions, the letter, signed by Baylor president Linda A. Livingstone, argues that “both Title IX and the U.S. Constitution protect Baylor from any complaint that would compel the University to act in a manner contrary to its deeply held religious beliefs.”
As you have probably read by now in other coverage, the DOE granted the request on July 25, dismissing the Office of Civil Rights cases and protecting Baylor from future complaints “to the extent that they are inconsistent with the University’s religious tenets.”
Recently, greater news coverage and commentary have resulted in growing public discourse concerning the university’s request and the DOE’s decision.
“Baylor is responding to current considerations by the U.S. Department of Education to move to an expanded definition of sexual harassment, which could infringe on Baylor’s rights under the U.S. Constitution, as well as Title IX, to conduct its affairs in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs,” Lori Fogelman, assistant vice president of media and public relations, told the Texas Tribune.
Livingstone also issued a statement, asserting that the decision would not alter the university’s approach to investigating sexual assault complaints.
“There will be NO CHANGES to Baylor’s current practices or policies related to sexual harassment and other forms of sexual and interpersonal conduct resulting from this assertion of our existing religious exemptions,” Livingstone wrote.
While there are other top research universities with religious heritage and affiliations, no public record has been found of these similar institutions requesting such exemptions.
Now a group of members of the Baylor family has released a letter signed by hundreds of Baylor alumni, current Baylor students, current and retired Baylor faculty, staff, and administration members, and religious leaders in response to Baylor’s request for Title IX exemption and characterization of its Baptist heritage, faith tradition, and current leadership.
In 2019, a group of alumni issued a letter advocating for greater inclusion by the University for LGBTQ students and faculty. The 2019 letter was signed by thousands and, in August of that year, the university acknowledged in public communication that it “must do more to demonstrate love and support for our students who identify as LGBTQ.”
Two years later, Baylor granted Prism the first charter to an LGBTQ student group on campus.
Several alumni acted in organizing both letters, including Skye L. Perryman (‘03), a lawyer and nonprofit executive; Jackie Baugh Moore (‘86), vice president of the Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation; and Dr. Tracy Teaff (‘82), a higher education consultant. (Perryman and Moore are members of the Baylor Line Foundation Board of Directors, as are many signatories of the group’s letters, though the letters does not seek to represent Baylor Line Foundation.)
The “special agreement”
In response, the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) — a cooperative association of autonomous Texas Baptist churches and one of the governing organizations Baylor claims makes it a “religiously controlled institution of higher education” — issued a statement expressing concerns to the student group’s charter and would be seeking “clarification to determine the best course of action moving forward.”
“The BGCT’s position on Human Sexuality and Biblical marriage has not and will not change,” said David Hardage, the BGCT’s executive director at the time.
Four months later, in August of 2022, a news tip to the the Baptist Standard and Baptist News Global led to the discovery that the BGCT would seek to review and reconsider its “special agreement” with Baylor. (While many Texas Baptists believe it was the chartering of Prism that led to this review, the BGCT never publicly acknowledged a motive. Ultimately, the two organizations eventually agreed to continue their partnership.) This “special agreement,” established in 1990 through the leadership of then Baylor president Herbert H. Reynolds, reduced the overall control of the BGCT on Baylor and altered the formation of university leadership from a Board of Trustees, appointed by the BGCT, to an independent Board of Regents.
Only two of Baylor’s 34 current regents are pastors: René Maciel (MSE ‘91) and Stephen C. Wells (’90, MDiv ’97, DMin ’03).
Six current regents are labeled as “BGCT regents”: Tyler C. Cooper (‘94), D. Diane Dillard (‘76, JD ‘79), Carey P. Hendrickson (‘85), Maciel, Mark Rountree (‘86, MT ‘87), and Gail W. Stewart (‘80, JD ‘83).
The university states “75% of the membership [of the Board of Regents is] elected by the Regents themselves and up to 25% [is] elected through a process with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.”
Pursuit of progress
In addition to seeking the “well-being of LGBTQIA+ people in the Baylor community,” the recent letter addresses claims made by the university to secure a Title IX exemption, specifically around its governance.
“Baylor’s assertion in its letter to DOE that the Baylor Board of Regents is a religious body that has ascribed to controlling tenets that would require the maintenance of unequal policies or unwelcoming climates toward LGBTQIA+ people is at odds with Baylor’s intentional transition from being a church-controlled institution to a faith-based, world-class academic university,” the letter reads.
The statements made by the University to the DOE “suggesting that Baylor’s governing body, the Board of Regents, operates as a religious institution with controlling doctrine are fallacious,” the group states.
Instead, the group argues “while Baylor’s Board may issue statements of faith, such statements do not operate as a mechanism of creedal control,” and that the university’s claims are “at odds with Baylor’s intentional governance change in 1990 that was specifically designed to spare Baylor from the emerging dogmas of various Baptist bodies.”
The group, through this letter and its growing number of signatories, is urging the university to correct the statements made to the DOE and preserve a culture of academic freedom, integrity, and research that is necessary for Baylor to attract top talent and excel.
“The University must not reverse the progress it has made to free itself from dogmatic control contrary to its foundational values as well as its present and future aspirations,” the group concludes.
The group is accepting additional signatories from members of the Baylor Family.
Disclosure: The Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation has been a financial contributor to Baylor Line Foundation, the publisher of Baylor Line. As a nonprofit organization supporting the Baylor Family we rely on donations from members, foundations, and corporate partnerships. Financial supporters play no role in the Line’s editorial decisions.
Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly associated the letter with the group BU Bears for All, which has posted the letter on its site. The letter was not developed by any particular group. It reflects the views of students, faculty, and alumni across the Baylor Family.