Barry G. Hankins: Baylor U. Drops Controversial Book He Edited About Its Recent History. School Denies Buckling Under Pressure

Historians in the News

Baylor University has backed out of an agreement to publish a book about a tumultuous period in its recent history. The book's editors, a former provost and a history professor, have vowed to find another publisher, despite irate e-mail messages from a former president who warned that the book was inaccurate and could "plunge the university into a new era of conflict and renewed animosities."

Baylor officials say the decision not to publish the book under the Baylor name, made in mid-November, was not influenced by the angry response it evoked from Herbert H. Reynolds, who was president of the Baptist institution from 1981 to 1995 and served as its chancellor from 1995 until 2000.

A week earlier, Mr. Reynolds had fired off an e-mail message to the book's editors -- Barry G. Hankins, a professor of history and church-state studies at Baylor, and Donald D. Schmeltekopf, who served as provost under both Mr. Reynolds and his successor as president, Robert B. Sloan Jr.

In the message, dated November 7, Mr. Reynolds complained that the book, Baylor Beyond the Crossroads: An Interpretive History, 1985-2005, gave a distorted view of the past two decades. He also threatened to divulge potentially damaging information about Mr. Sloan, who championed a controversial vision for the university that Mr. Reynolds opposed.

Mr. Sloan, who wrote a chapter in the now-suspended book, left the presidency in 2005 to become chancellor after three no-confidence votes by faculty members, and on Tuesday became president of Houston Baptist University.

In an interview a day after his inauguration at Houston Baptist, Mr. Sloan said that he was unbothered by the apparent threat and that he had nothing to hide. "I have written and spoken and preached publicly, and my life has been pretty well scrutinized for the past few years," he said.

"What does disappoint me," he added, "is that the book is not going to be published. I think it's always unfortunate when people give in to external pressure to suppress information. This is a very collegial disagreement that needs to be aired. That's why we have universities and books like these. The suppression of a book -- or threats that some have made if a book is published -- is completely antithetical to Baptist principles of academic freedom and open discussion."...

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