Daniel C. Browning Jr. was to many students and alumni the professor who defined what they valued about William Carey University. He is described as a professor who cared about every student, sought out students facing difficulties in and out of class -- and who achieved widespread popularity despite a reputation for expecting students to do a lot of reading and writing, and for rigorous grading.
So his many fans want to know why he was just fired, despite having taught history and religion at William Carey for 26 years, the last 20 with tenure.
William Carey's president and press spokesman did not respond to emails seeking comment, and they told Mississippi reporters that they could not comment on personnel matters.
Browning, in a brief phone interview, said that his lawyer advised him not to offer opinions about what has happened, but that he could confirm that he was given a letter telling him he would not receive another contract to teach -- despite having tenure. Browning said no reason was given for his dismissal. "There has been no discussion whatsoever about a cause," he said.
Under generally accepted procedures, tenured professors are assured of continued employment unless they are found by a faculty panel to have engaged in severe misconduct, or the institution has declared that it is in grave financial distress. Neither of those things has happened.
Faculty sources said they believed Browning offended a few students and some university administrators because of the way he taught the Bible. They said that while Browning is a deeply religious man, he teaches Genesis as having great value that does not depend on it being a literal history. While Browning does not teach evolution, his teaching of Genesis, they said, makes it possible for students to stay close to their faith at the Baptist university without rejecting modern science.
Others noted that the university last year barred Browning from teaching his popular survey courses in the Old and New Testaments, courses that led many students to take his upper-level seminars.
Aynsley Saucier, a recent graduate who is among those criticizing the firing of Browning, said in an interview that when he arrived at William Carey, he heard rumors that Browning was a "dangerous liberal," and that some students avoided his courses as a result. But Saucier said studying with Browning was "transformative," not because of the professor's views, but because of the way he helped students understand their own views.
"Here was a man who respected your opinions, but expected you to understand why you believe what you do," Saucier said. "Dr. B wasn't a liberal, but a true scholar and lover of the Bible. He told you what each denomination believed about such and such passage, then gave you the historical context and a quick lesson on the Greek and Hebrew of key words and phrases. 'Comprehensive' isn't a strong enough word for his lectures. I'm all the more a better person for having learned from him. I would say that his mantra was, 'Believe what you believe, but understand where it comes from and why you believe it.'"
A petition calling for Browning's reinstatement has attracted hundreds of signatures. Many of those signing -- Browning's former students -- have posted emotional accounts of how he made a difference in their lives.
"This man treated students as if they were his own flesh and blood, always leaving his door open to those who needed someone," wrote one former student. "Dr. Browning always provided a listening ear and could brighten anyone's day no matter the situation. Whenever I experienced death and heartache, he never once hesitated to listen to my woes and try to help me. He was not only a phenomenal friend but a scholarly instructor who pushed his students to achieve greatness in the classroom and in life. He was a hard teacher, but his toughness in the classroom was developed out of a passion to see students conquer obstacles set before them.
"With all this said, William Carey has wronged a wonderful man who gave so much life to her hallways and classrooms. Daniel Browning deserves so much more than this university has halfheartedly slung his way over the years, and to release him from his duties is a blow that has rocked alumni, students and friends to the core. This man is the reason William Carey can boast compassion and the 'students are more than just numbers' mantra that we plaster over every means of advertisement possible. William Carey has made a grave mistake, and this will not only cost them future students but funding from the alumni who knew and loved Dr. Browning. I am ashamed of this institution and heartbroken over the loss of a teacher and friend."