On Friday, Baylor University officially notified Francis Beckwith that he was not being granted tenure for his position as associate director of the JM Dawson Institute for Church/State Studies. This is causing a good deal of hullaballoo, with claims of bias and, inevitably, accusations that this denial has something to do with us evil “Darwinists”. As someone firmly on the anti-ID side who is friendly with Frank Beckwith and relatively familiar with the politics at Baylor, I thought I should speak out on this one.
The first thing that needs to be said is that the denial of tenure has nothing at all to do with an evil Darwinian Priesthood out to oppress anyone who advocates ID. This has to do with the internal theo-politics of Baylor University and the Baptist church that controls it. There has been a power struggle going on there for years between, more or less, liberals and conservatives (and I mean that theologically as well as politically). This mirrors a larger struggle within the Baptist church in general, particularly over the issue of church/state separation.
JM Dawson, the namesake of the center for which Beckwith is the associate director, was a staunch separationist, in the long tradition of Baptist separationists going back to the founding itself and men like Isaac Backus and John Leland, Baptist ministers who strongly supported Jefferson and Madison’s vision for separation. But Baptist opinion has swung over the last 30 years or so toward a more conservative accomodationist position and that has been the source of a good deal of struggle, particularly in Baptist academic circles.
Frank was a bit of an anamoly at Baylor from the start, a Roman Catholic conservative with an accomodationist streak in a place that is traditionally strongly separationist. He was brought in by a more conservative administration that is no longer in place and his strongest supporter, Derek Davis, his boss at the Dawson Institute, recently departed as well. So it’s not a big shock that with the internal political struggles going on, he was denied tenure.
Still, I think the reason they gave for that denial – lack of collegiality – is patently absurd. You would be hard pressed to find a nicer, more engaging person. We have had many disagreements over the last few years, including times when I have been harshly critical of his work, and he has never failed to reply with civility and collegiality even to someone he had no reason to view as a colleague. The alleged basis for this claim is a ruse, but not an unexpected one – you certainly can’t expect them to deny him tenure and blame it on internal political struggles, can you?
His grad assistant, Hunter Baker, has an article on it in the American Spectator, under the pseudonym “Graduate Student X” and a post at Southern Appeal as well. His response is fairly overwrought and he tries to turn it into another “we conservatives are so persecuted” affair. This is a struggle over theological and political positions at a private Baptist university. Had Sloan and his backers won the power struggles, things would have turned out differently. But none of that has anything to do some larger conspiracy, either against conservatives or against ID advocates.
With private institutions, these kinds of struggles go on all the time and there’s always a winner and a loser. I am sorry to see Frank Beckwith lose this one because he’s someone I genuinely like and respect despite our enormous differences of opinion. I’m sure he’ll land on his feet somewhere else. But the inevitable conspiracy theories and blame mongering from the ID crowd isn’t going to help the situation any and it won’t be an accurate portrayal of what really happened.