Baylor’s “Investigation” of Prof. Marc Ellis – The Plot Thickens

In a post last November, I implored readers to support the cause of Jewish Studies Prof. Marc Ellis, who is currently being investigated by Baylor University’s new Prez Ken Starr in what increasingly looks like an unabashedly political house cleaning. Well, the plot is thickening.

According to this very thorough investigative report in Religion Dispatches, Ken Starr (yes, that Ken Starr) in interested in transforming Baylor into a major player in the Big 12 conference – and attracting major money from conservative Christian sources. Needless to say, a brave and outspoken academic such as Marc Ellis stands in the way of Starr’s grand plans.

The upshot:

“With Ken Starr as the president now, Baylor is really looking to clean house,” one faculty member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RD. “Finally they have a president who is accessible to the broader business community and can bring in lots of money.” In his first year at Baylor, Starr raised nearly $35 million of the $100 million 3-year goal he’d set upon arrival…

“I think there is big money behind it,” hypothesized another faculty member. “I don’t think the [local] Jewish community is driving this—like ‘get rid of Ellis and we’ll give you money’—but I do think it would open up possibilities.” Remaking Ellis’ Center for Jewish Studies into a “pro-Israel” center, the faculty member added, could help Baylor attract grants and donations at a national level. “Marc is just in the way.” Given the growing popularity of Christian Zionism in the U.S., it’s just as likely, if not more so, that conservative Christian donations might be easier to elicit with Ellis out of the way.

In the meantime, the Middle East Studies Association has just issued a strongly worded letter of support for Prof. Ellis. If you would like to voice your support as well, click here.

16 thoughts on “Baylor’s “Investigation” of Prof. Marc Ellis – The Plot Thickens

  1. Richard Kahn

    You’re really comfortable calling that article a “very thorough investigative report”? It seems more like an article with some speculation.

  2. Steve Grover

    Jewish Studies should be pro Israel. The fact that some are not means that they are in the business of teaching something else than Jewish Studies. Maybe they should be called Not Jewish Studies. Or, more truthfully “Dislike Israel & Judaism Under the Guise of Jewish Studies”

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


      Jewish studies should enjoy academic freedom just as any other department in an institution of higher learning. It is highly prejudicial to say the least to say any form of studies “should” advocate a specific political ideology. It is precisely this kind of prejudice that leads to the kind of witch hunt we are currently witnessing at Baylor.

  3. Shirin


    So, Judaism=Israel?

    I think there are plenty of Jews, including lots and lots of observant ones who do not find that a valid equation at all. Even applying elementary logic shows it to be little short of ridiculous.

    1. Steve Grover

      Never said Judaism = Israel. Although I wouldn’t disagree with that. Next Year in Jerusalem is the last thing that is said during Passover. Even though I live in the U.S.A. I am deeply thankful that there is a Jewish Country called Israel.
      But more to your point. I would consider Jewish Studies programs that espoused views supporting the elimination of Israel as a Jewish Country or supporting BDS against Israel worthless. They shouldn’t call themselves Jewish Studies if they have those views. The vast majority of Jews find those positions offensive.

      1. Shirin

        Never said Judaism = Israel.</i?"

        Yeah, you did.

        "Although I wouldn’t disagree with that.

        And you just said it again. Absurd on its face, but you said it.

        I’m not an authority on Jewish Studies, but I do believe that it encompasses a very great deal more than just Judaism and Israel, and that includes. If you and others like you get your wish to reduce it to “I Heart Israel” Studies, I fervently hope somewhere in this world it will be kept fully alive in all its incredible richness, waiting for the day when the world regains its sanity.

      2. Vicky

        Judaism predates political Zionism by several thousand years. Uganda and Argentina were being considered as potential locations for the Jewish state during the Zionist movement’s formative stages in the nineteenth century. The connection to the Holy Land was not emphasised, because political Zionism was initially a secular nationalist movement, and what mattered most was the acquisition of territory. Location wasn’t relevant.

        Just as Judaism and Jewish identities existed before Zionism, they continue to exist outside of Zionism. If you use unstinting support for ethno-religious nationalism and opposition to BDS as criteria for Jewishness, then you are essentially creating a whole new religion based on a political entity, with the State of Israel standing in for God. There are Jews who have a strong sense of spiritual connection to the Holy Land, and support BDS as a way of affirming that connection – they see Israel’s policies towards Palestinians as a desecration of their own deeply held principles. They don’t cease to be Jews because you don’t like their politics.

  4. Dave

    1/ The local Jewish community? In Waco? Both of them (slight exaggeration but only slight)? This alleged ‘faculty member’ doesn’t seem quite knowledgable about where he lives.

    2/ That MESA letter could backfire by showing a lack of stature in his own field. The obvious question-where’s the equivalent letter from Jewish Studies orgs?

  5. Steve H

    I am no fan of Ken Starr, but the linked article is hardly “very thorough investigative report.” i.e. using the speculations of an unnamed faculty member in the excerpt above. The linked article already had to post a correction to the original version. A stronger argument would be to ask – just what are the allegations against the professor?


    Post Babi Yar and Treblinka Israel is the central enterprise of the Jewish people. If your against the existence of Israel your against the existence of Jews.

  7. Ken

    Due to the few mentions of Finkelstein and the BDS movement here in this post string, I strongly suggest that you watch this recent interview with Finkelstein. He calls the movement dishonest as its real goal is to get rid of Israel. “I mean we have to be honest, and I loathe the disingenuous. They don’t want Israel.”

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


      Didn’t know you were a fan of Norman Finkelstein. (Only when you happen to agree with him, perhaps?)

      As for me, I appreciate much of his historical scholarship, but I think he’s somewhat wanting as a political theoretician. For an antidote, I strongly recommend political scientist Virginia Tilley’s response to Finkelstein’s comments.

      1. Ken

        No, not a fan of Finkelstein and can now say I’m not a fan of Tilley either. I have issue with their understanding of history and law. Though they may not agree with each other on some issues, they do agree, “Finkelstein’s critique of BDS doctrine is sort of right: yes, taken as a whole (as I agree with him we should take it), the comprehensive effect of the BDS agenda would “abolish Israel” as a Jewish state.”

        The reason I posted the link is because I felt it may be important for the readers of your blog to see Finkelstein exasperated with the extreme positions which he claimed only made sense within the ghetto of the cult of BDS and the Solidarity Movement. He seems to be asking what it is all about; if not about finding a way to enforce a settlement, then why engage. I have the same issue with your blog. I don’t feel it addresses the issue of peace making, but rather perpetuates the conflict by solely focusing on what you see as Israel’s wrongs, while ignoring the possibility of a positive dialogue that could actually change Israelis’ and Palestinians’ views of each other.

      2. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


        I do believe in peace-making – I simply feel that the current peace process is not about peace but rather reinforcing an inequitable status quo. All the “positive dialogue” in the world won’t make a difference until this inequitable power dynamic is addressed. At its heart, the Palestinian call for BDS is an attempt to address this situation.

        I realize you feel differently – and I certainly understand why you would have problems with my blog.

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