I once heard from a tenure-seeking professor at Baylor University who said officials sought information about her churchgoing and whether or not she’d signed up for church committees. They were probing for evidence of what then-Baylor President Robert Sloan called “intentional Christianity.”
Now heading the probe: President Kenneth Starr?
Years ago, Baptist fundamentalists hauled tape-recordings into Baylor classrooms seeking to catch professors uttering heresy.
Now, testing, 1-2-3: President Kenneth Starr?
You say you attended Sunday School on the 12th, 19th and 26th? Remember, you are under oath.
I wonder if the Baylor regents would appreciate the title, “God’s spies,” that Harper’s magazine affixed to a 1999 commentary by Lewis Lapham. It was inspired by Baylor’s new president-to-be, as his probe of Bill Clinton reached a climax. How about it, Mr. Starr? A slam or a salute?
Lapham’s essay, years before the overreaches wrought by post-9/11 hysteria, principally was about spying. However, it also was about self-assured people who claim to have the Almighty on their side as they give the microscope treatment to those they suspect don’t.
Lapham seized on a catch phrase Starr uttered before the House Judiciary Committee: “inchoate criminality.” That has a pastoral ring to it, like “original sin,” as in, all of us are criminals. Just don’t get caught. In Starr’s opinion, he’d caught Clinton.
What does all this have to do with running a Baptist college? Maybe nothing, depending on what Baylor’s regents want. It’s been clear for some time that the controlling clique on the board wants again exactly what tore the campus asunder under Sloan: not a uniter but a holy prosecutor. And did they get their man.
Oh, my, what a resume. Forget the jurisprudence and the Whitewater bona fides. That’s just for the media. For the regents, consider what the authors of Truth at Any Cost: Ken Starr and the Unmaking of Bill Clinton depicted of their humble subject.
For one, while in high school, he helped plan senior prom, but recused himself from the event because his church frowned on dancing.
Another: “As a boy, he had no real toys — just clothespins to use as toy soldiers — and the only reading material in the house was religious in nature.”
Is this central casting, or what?
Regent Joe Armes praised Starr as "a fifth-generation Texan who, throughout his distinguished career in law, the academy and public service, has been an articulate advocate for Christian ideals in the public square."
By “Christian” we presume this to mean that Starr has renounced all forms of obsequious wealth, denounced militarism, and as president will swing Baylor’s doors wide to welcome marginalized people and the poor.
Sure, some in the Baylor faculty will voice concerns about Starr’s deep-rooted and very partisan affiliations, the very criteria that make him a dream date for the regents. Karl Rove, me must assume, had other obligations when asked.
Could it be that Starr was bucking for a job in Waco when he sued in California, claiming that 18,000 legal same-sex marriages should be negated after voters prohibited any more? If not, he was certainly singing the regents’ fight song.
But the truth is that Baylor, like its faculty, is no GOP, religious-right clone mill. Despite the effort of holy schemers and people with tape recorders, most of its history it has managed to be a real university. It fostered independent thought. When populating its faculty and administration, it put quality teaching over insider connections and the accumulation of mile-long resumes.
I would say that such a heritage is what Kenneth Starr was hired to uphold. But I won’t say that under oath.
John Young is former opinion editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.