By Joshua Benton
Baylor University’s interim president has withdrawn his name from consideration for the permanent job. That delays the university’s efforts to fill its top spot and find a unifying leader for a divided campus.
“Hopefully, one of these days we’ll bring you a permanent president,” Will Davis, chairman of Baylor’s Board of Regents, said after a regents meeting Friday. “We’ll be able to get a candidate that will coalesce all of the Baylor family. When, I don’t know.”
The board had been expected to vote Friday on a recommendation from its presidential search committee. William Underwood, interim president since April, was rumored to be one of the two top candidates for the position, along with Linda Livingstone, the dean of the business school at Pepperdine University in California. Dr. Livingstone is a former associate dean of Baylor’s business school.
But Mr. Davis said Mr. Underwood’s withdrawal “changed the dynamics” and led the regents to extend the search.
The Baylor community has been sharply divided in recent years, primarily between supporters and opponents of former President Robert Sloan. Dr. Sloan resigned in January after a scandal in the school’s basketball program, controversy over Dr. Sloan’s 10-year vision for the school and a series of no-confidence votes by the Faculty Senate. He is now the university’s chancellor, a largely honorary title.
Mr. Underwood, a law school professor, had served on the internal committee investigating the basketball program and is supported by many Sloan opponents. Shortly after taking office, Mr. Underwood angered Sloan supporters by removing Provost David Jeffrey and other top administrators.
Mr. Underwood said Friday he has never wanted the permanent post. But he said his ability to be an effective interim president was being compromised by his continuing candidacy.
“Every time you do something, people wonder if you’re doing it to further your own interests or whether you’re doing it to further the interests of the university,” he said. “My being a candidate for the permanent job would be unnecessarily divisive.”
Mr. Davis declined to confirm that Mr. Underwood and Dr. Livingstone had been the leading candidates for the job. He said the search committee would continue its work. “We have no timetable,” he said.