Faculty Senate want voice in decisions about academic speakers

By Daniel C. Houston
Staff Writer

Faculty members should have a seat at the table when the university determines whether to allow certain academic speakers a platform on campus as decided by the Faculty Senate at its meeting Tuesday.

Dr. Rosalie Beck, professor of religion and chair of Faculty Senate, said the issue of academic freedom was raised by the introduction of a bill in Student Senate criticizing the university for sponsoring a Sept. 21 event in which disobedience of the law was discussed. Faculty Senate did not weigh in on Student Senate’s decision, which is scheduled for Thursday.

“The question the faculty have,” Beck said, “is when there’s an academic component in that relationship — like inviting a well-known professor or author or something like that to campus to speak — shouldn’t the faculty have a role? If the person is going to be vetted [by the university], shouldn’t the faculty have a role in that?”

Beck said the university has some discretion over the guest speakers student organizations can bring to campus, and said the faculty representatives believe they should be consulted in some manner when making decisions about guest speakers who have backgrounds in academia.

The Senate also affirmed the spirit behind a policy proposal in the provost’s office that would restrict romantic or sexual relationships between individuals at Baylor who relate to one another as teacher and student.

Although Baylor does have existing policies regulating appropriate sexual behavior for employees and students, the teacher-student relationship itself is not yet adequately addressed, according to Dr. James Bennighof, vice provost for academic affairs and policy.

“The core of what this policy is trying to address is the potential for romantic and/or sexual relationships between people who are teaching and people who are students,” Bennighof said. “The majority of the people who are in the position of being teachers are faculty, but this would also address graduate assistants who are in a teaching capacity or staff members who are teaching or supervising academic activities.”

While the Senate affirmed the need for such a statement, it charged Beck with the responsibility of working with the provost’s office to make the policy less specific and more about protecting students.

“[I will be] in conversation with Dr. Bennighof to see if his group can broaden the statement to make it more about the abuse of authority,” Beck said. “We affirmed the good work that they have done, and we will be in conversation with them about simply rewording it.”

Bennighof declined to provide the Lariat a copy of the proposal itself on the grounds it is still in the revision process.

He said he intends to take very seriously the Senate’s suggestions as the provost’s office moves forward with creating the final policy.

In other business, the Senate discussed Baylor transfer policy, specifically whether the university should offer the same credit for a class taken online as one taken in a traditional classroom.

The body also discussed establishing departmental standards for excellent teaching that can be used to inform personnel decisions.