Voices: Faculty Share Their Views on Illuminate
The Texas-Sized Hubris of Illuminate
Baylor transformed my family. My father was the first Lyon to attend college, going to Baylor under the GI Bill. The degrees he received here allowed a career in public education that forever changed the arc of our family. In 1967, my mother took her first job outside the home to help pay for Baylor’s outrageous $25 per hour tuition, and I arrived on campus to receive much more than a degree. I learned about a world far beyond my small Texas hometown, about how Christianity was so much richer, nuanced and meaningful than I ever imagined in Sunday School, about how brilliant, caring faculty could awaken me and equip me to try and compete with the best and brightest in graduate school. A generation later, Baylor did all of that and more for my daughters, who now enjoy success enabled by their Baylor experiences.
Through the generations, Baylor has improved, growing larger, stronger, offering more. Today’s students take their science courses in our magnificent multidisciplinary science building and business classes in the cutting-edge learning environment of the Foster Campus. They may think that Baylor has always had chapels near the dorms, faculty living in their residence hall and a dazzlingly broad array of food choices for each meal. They regularly walk across the Brazos to McLane Stadium without the sense of awe that I still experience before each game.
Baylor’s progress has been remarkable, but our next step, as described in Illuminate, calls for much more than just new buildings, more scholarships, smaller classes or better student services—things we have strived for since 1845. This next step—that formally began in 2002 with the controversial Baylor 2012 initiative, codified in the more widely accepted Pro Futuris and now implemented under Illuminate—is based on a revolutionary aspiration that Baylor should become “a preeminent research university that is unambiguously Christian.” Such a step would not only be revolutionary for Baylor, but for all of higher education. There are no Protestant research universities, and none are on the horizon, save, hopefully, Baylor.
Illuminate imagines a Baylor where some of the best scholars in the world come to a unique university, where they are encouraged to practice their faith while engaging in important research supported by graduate students in laboratories, libraries and performance halls that are among the best anywhere. Baylor would not only greatly expand its graduate profile, the quality of our undergraduate education would also improve because such universities, without exception, recruit the most academically gifted undergraduates and provide them with the most highly ranked learning experiences (e.g. the USNWR rankings). Illuminate imagines a Baylor where the very best of what the Lyon family experienced as undergraduates is supplemented with rigorous graduate programs, producing a truly great Christian research university.
Still, we must be clear about the challenge. It is easier to compete with Texas and A&M in athletics than it is to compete with them in hiring faculty who are top researchers, who win major external grants, write great books, inspire undergraduates and attract top graduate students. A colleague at Wheaton once described Baylor’s research aspirations as an example of Texas-sized hubris, and perhaps it is. Maybe we can’t do it, but as Illuminate acknowledges our calling to be a light unto the world, dimming that light in the highest levels of higher education (graduate education and research) diminishes not only Baylor, but the world.
C.S. Lewis noted almost 80 years ago that “a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons.” Today, science is not only removed from the moorings of faith, but growing hostile to faith, seeing believers as an impediment to progress. The irony here is that as Baylor sociologist Rodney Stark argued in The Victory of Reason, science would not have developed when and as it did without the foundation of Christian theology. Similarly, the arts and humanities are now more likely to see religion as a source of knee-jerk censorship rather than as a source for inspiration. And, as Baylor’s David Lyle Jeffrey illustrates in his People of the Book, this stands in sharp contrast to an earlier time when the finest examples of literature and art were expressions of religious themes. The current manifestation of the trends outlined by Lewis is troubling, but not surprising. We should not expect secular higher education to create culture with significant room for faith. Yet a brave new world of social, economic, political, scientific and technological development without the moral influence of a deliberative faith does not bode well for humankind.
So, with an acknowledged level of Texas-sized hubris, I believe that the success of Illuminate means more than just the continued success of Baylor. The world needs a preeminent Protestant Christian university. The world needs Baylor.
Dr. Larry Lyon, Dean of the Graduate School, Class of 1971
In 2012, the Baylor University Board of Regents adopted Pro Futuris, a visionary document committed to five major goals: transformational education, compelling scholarship, informed engagement, committed constituents, and judicious stewardship. In 2018, the Board of Regents approved Illuminate, the university’s academic strategic plan and the second phase of Pro Futuris. While Pro Futuris outlined the goals the university aspired to achieve, Illuminate includes specific initiatives that will move us toward the accomplishment of such goals. Illuminate is clear in its ambition to establish Baylor as a preeminent research university where teaching and scholarship intersect in an “unambiguously Christian educational environment.” The strategic plan establishes specific steps to foster Baylor’s Christian mission through a heightened commitment to research and scholarly productivity and through outstanding teaching on the undergraduate and graduate level. By following these initiatives, Baylor will emerge as a leading Christian research institution that will “offer a distinctive voice and presence in the contemporary world.”
One of the most exciting, as well as challenging, aspects of Illuminate is the goal of moving Baylor to R1 status—meaning that Baylor will belong to an elite group of doctoral universities classified, according to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, as “highest research activity.” (Currently, Baylor is an R2, or “higher research activity,” institution.) Why is it important to reach R1 status? How will R1 help Baylor faculty, students, and alumni? An institution committed to the highest level of research and scholarship will bring innovative, cutting-edge solutions to local, national, and global issues. An R1 focus will enable Baylor to speak directly into national and international conversations about pressing societal issues, reflecting a Christian viewpoint and bridging the gap that some people perceive between higher education and American society. Students and alumni will be part of an institution recognized for its world-renowned research excellence, which will allow them to be more competitive on a professional level. Attaining R1 status will also stimulate local economic development, adding intellectual and economic vibrancy to the Waco area. Significantly, moving to R1 status will occur within a Christian framework. As Illuminate states, “Baylor’s Christian mission stands not as an extra condition to its current aspirations, but at the very heart of the matter.”
As Baylor enters into its soon-to-be-unveiled capital campaign, Illuminate’s five signature research initiatives—Health, Data Sciences, Materials Sciences, Human Flourishing and Ethics, and Baylor in Latin America—will provide avenues for multidisciplinary, collaborative research involving faculty from various departments, schools, and external affiliations. Appreciably greater external granting and increased PhD production—necessary metrics to obtain R1 status—will be central to these initiatives, but so will revenue generating programs. Illuminate also envisions student participation in each initiative, including undergraduate and graduate research with faculty, study abroad opportunities, mission trips, and internships. Through each of these interdependent, multi-layered, and multidisciplinary initiatives, Baylor will continue to build a pathway as a preeminent Christian research university.
Where does the strong focus on R1 research productivity leave one of Baylor’s most enduring strengths, its commitment to undergraduate teaching? Is the “new” Baylor vision overshadowing the university’s traditional emphasis on outstanding classroom teaching that has profoundly shaped generations of undergraduates? Not at all. As Illuminate makes clear, a commitment to innovative research and scholarship does not preclude exceptional teaching and mentoring; instead, the two activities are symbiotic. New, cutting-edge research and scholarship leads to better teaching. The interchange of ideas in the classroom, likewise, helps promote new avenues of research and scholarship. Student participation in Illuminate’s five signature academic research initiatives is a central example of Baylor’s commitment to research and teaching. So too is Illuminate’s plan for recruitment of academically motivated and diverse students both nationally and internationally, as well as recruitment and retention of a dedicated and diverse faculty who wholeheartedly embraces Baylor’s Christian mission. Baylor continues to attract Christian faculty who view teaching and mentoring, as well research, publication, and granting, as essential to a transformational educational experience. Illuminate promises to maintain and to heighten these foundational aspects of Baylor’s identity.
I am proud to be part of a university that aspires to new levels of research productivity and innovation while simultaneously emphasizing teaching excellence and the advancement of a distinctively Christian mission. I am excited about the possibilities for growth that Illuminate brings. Baylor University is in good hands with our newly approved university strategic plan.