The faculty of the University of Richmond yesterday urged that the school's board of trustees reinstate as chairman of the religion department a professor who was removed after he had publicily questioned the divinity of Jesus.
The faculty resolution, passed on a voice vote, called on the board to rescind its transfer of Dr. Robert S. Alley out of the religion department as evidence of the school's "continuing commitment to academic freedom."
Student leaders also staged a rally last Friday calling for Alley's reinstatement and petitions are circulating on the campus, calling on the board to reverse its earlier action.
The current controversy erupted shortly before Christmas when a Richmond newspaper reported a speech Alley had given to a local atheists' group in which he noted that Jesus "never really claimed to be God." He speculated that Bible passages where Jesus "talks about the Son of God are later additions - what the church said about him."
While this view of Christ is widely respected among biblical scholars today, it is considered virtual heresay by many Christians, particularly among the evangelicals who make up the Southern Baptist Convention that founded and still has ties to the University of Richmond.
Alley's remarks created a storm of criticism among local Baptists and brought strong hints of financial retribution from some of the school's leading benefactors.
Alley said he subsequently accepted transfer to the school's department of American studies rather than face what he predicted would have been "a very long process of infighting and bitterness" if he had sought to retain his position in the religion department.
Alley's removal and transfer took place while the school was in recess over the Christmas holidays. Since classes resumed last week, both students and faculty have attacked the trustees' action.
An editorial in the student newspaper yesterday called the controversy "an issue of money and power" and added, "everyone involved has lost something" by the solution arrived at by the trustees.
Alley said yesterday that the faculty is particularly concerned about the issue of academic freedom. "Because of the wide publicity the thing got," he said, "the faculty would particularly like the world to know that the faculty believes in academic freedom."
Founded as a Baptist institution in 1830, the university cut many of its ties to the church in 1969 as the result of a gift of some $50 million from Richmond pharmaceutical manufacturer E. Claiborne Robins.
Currently, only 20 percent of the trustees are nominated by the Virginia Baptist Association.