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Baylor regents fire President John M. Lilley

Baylor University in Waco is searching for a new president.

Baylor regents fired current President John M. Lilley during a retreat at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine today.

Board Chairman Howard K. Batson said that Lilley, Baylor's president since Jan. 1, 2006, had rejected plans for the board to replace him in the final portion of his five-year contract. So the board voted to immediately dismiss him.

"We all came hoping the transition plan would take place," Batson said in an 11 a.m. conference call. "The honest truth is, it wasn't any single, one thing.

"He certainly had some successes," Batson said. "We did not see the Baylor family coming together. He's worked his last day."

The board will offer Lilley a buyout that is "fair and appropriate," Batson said.

Regent Harold Cunningham will be acting president until an interim president is named, the university said. Cunningham is ex-chairman of the board of regents and a former vice president for special projects and former vice president for finance and administration.

Lilley was Baylor's 13th president, according to the university's Web site. His administration was marked by controversy over replacing the trademarked interlocking BU logo on the football team's helmets and by faculty dissent over tenure decisions.

In April, the Waco Tribune-Herald reported that Lilley had rejected 12 of 30 candidates for tenure. Those decisions won't be revisited, Batson said, adding that there was no controversy over Lilley's stance on religious doctrine, an issue that often roils the Baptist school.

But Lilley bowed to pressure in May when he announced that the logo would remain on the helmets.

"There's no denying we had the tenure situation," Batson said. "We had a branding situation."

But former regent Gracie Hilton of Arlington said those weren't the real issues.

"It's not about that," said Hilton, who was a regent from 1981 to 1990. "I think that's a great big old red herring. It's all about power."

Hilton said she was neutral about Lilley.

"One by one, we have lost the regents who put Baylor first," Hilton said. "I think the board looked at John Lilley as a Band Aid to get Baylor past some rough spots."

Among the rough spots: the black eye sustained when a Baylor basketball player was convicted of killing a teammate in 2003.

"Most of us knew that John Lilley would not last," Hilton said. "John Lilley would have been fired at the last meeting except that it was the day before graduation. It's like politics anywhere else."

Lilley decried his firing in comments posted on the Baptist Standard's Web site.

"We felt that we could help to heal the wounded hearts left in the wake of the conflict that preceded us," Lilley was quoted as saying. "Despite the board's unanimous vote, it became clear immediately that the Baylor Board of Regents reflected some of the deepest divisions in the Baylor family.

"I am proud of the work my colleagues and I have done to bring the Baylor family together and to help the university achieve the ambitious goals set forth in our mission and Vision 2012, documented in our annual report just presented to the regents.

"I deeply regret the action of the board, and I do not believe that it reflects the best interests of Baylor University."