Baylor President John Lilley has overruled the tenure committee that voted not to give tenure to Francis Beckwith. He was denied tenure several months ago but appealed that denial. The committee reconsidered and took a second vote, which was apparently 6-5 against giving him tenure, much closer than the first vote. And now Lilley has overruled that vote and decided to give him tenure after all. I’m in an odd position on this because while I oppose virtually everything Beckwith has advocated in his time at Baylor, I like Frank personally and am on friendly terms with him.
Frankly, I don’t think any of this really had much to do with either his abilities as a teacher or his work as a scholar. He is caught up in an ongoing political and religious battle over the direction of Baylor University, and he represents the more orthodox religious side of things. It’s a battle that has been going on for many years at Baylor, and will likely go on for many more. I don’t know anything about his teaching skills, but my understanding is that is generally very highly rated by his students as a teacher. But I’ve read a good deal of his scholarship and, while I disagree with almost all of it, I think it’s important to bear in mind that the standards by which legal scholarship is judged are quite different from how, say, scientific publications are judged.
There are plenty of legal scholars that I disagree with completely that I cannot imagine being denied tenure at any university (Robert Bork, Robert George, etc). It’s not enough to say “I think they’re wrong, therefore they don’t deserve tenure”; by that standard, no one would ever get tenure. Like those men, Beckwith is a prominent advocate for his position and regardless of whether I agree with that position, by the standards of legal scholarship, they would generally be granted tenure on the basis of their scholarship. And I fear for academic freedom if we’re going to make disagreement the standard for deciding who can and can’t be fired.
So on the whole, I think it’s probably the right decision to make. I’m happy for Frank personally because I think he’s a good guy and a true gentleman. But frankly, I’m not sure I would stay there if I was in his position. The battle over Baylor’s direction will, if anything, be even more fierce after this move. There’s no doubt he has powerful enemies there, most notably the Dawson family, who feel that the presence of an accomodationist scholar at an institute named for JM Dawson is illegitimate. I can’t imagine his life will get easier at Baylor as a result of this decision. Tenure offers him protection from many things, but not from behind the scenes intrigue and strained relationships. I think I would likely choose to move on regardless.