Baylor opens 25% of board to non-Baptist Christians

American Christian colleges and universities have different structures in place in order to maintain their Christian distinctiveness. Baylor just made a change in their policy for their board:

While a number of Baptist colleges and universities in recent years have loosened or ended ties to state Baptist conventions, the move by Baylor is notable because it is widely considered the flagship university of Southern Baptists. The move came despite opposition from the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which last year voted down a similar proposal by Houston Baptist University to permit the election of a minority of non-Baptist trustees there, with church leaders arguing at the time that allowing non-Baptist trustees would dilute the university’s religious identity…

Of Baylor’s 14,900 students, the university states that nearly 5,287 identify as Baptists — making them the largest religious group, but by no means a majority. The next largest groups are Roman Catholic (2,128), nondenominational Christians (2,091), and Methodists (1,156). Most of the other students identify with various Christian denominations, but the college also enrolls 125 Hindu students, 122 Muslim students, 84 Buddhist students, 22 Jewish students and 43 atheists.

Samuel Schuman, who studied Baylor for his 2009 book, Seeing the Light: Religious Colleges in 21st Century America (Johns Hopkins University Press), called the vote by the university’s board both “significant and inevitable.” He explained that “there has been tension for quite a while at Baylor about aspirations to be a national research university and their strict Southern Baptist tradition, and I think it was almost inevitable that something would have to give a bit.”

If we can take Schuman at his word, then this sounds like a common struggle for Christian schools: maintaining distinctiveness while also pursuing education and status. Baylor is not the only school to struggle with this; the University of Notre Dame is an example of a Catholic institution that a decision decades ago to become a major research school while also maintaining its Catholic identity. Juggling these two identities, research school plus Christian school, takes a lot of work on the ground on a campus.

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