Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Baylor's Identity Revisited

My wife commented last night about my last two blog posts (which I would point you to for the discussion) and how I failed to make my opinion known. This tendency is a holdover from my teaching sensitive issues (religion) to college freshmen. In my classes I try and illuminate issues, especially controversial ones, from all sides while trying to keep my opinion to myself. This helps the students think for themselves and form their own opinions and beliefs.

Yet, I will attempt here to elucidate my opinion slightly more than I have done in my previous posts.

Baylor may be facing an identity crisis so soon after our last identity crisis seemed to have ended with the retirement of Robert Sloan. Now, the Big 12 conference is about to collapse and Baylor looks to be one of the schools left out of the party. Texas, Tech, A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado seem to have places in a new mega conference, the Pac 10, while Missouri and Nebraska appear to want to bolt for the big 10. Where would Baylor go in all of this and what would it say about our identity?

Should Baylor pursue an invite from the Pac 10? Should Baylor try to join a second tier conference like the WAC or Mountain West? Should they try to create a league of middle America academically elite schools as proposed by Mark Osler at Osler's Razor? What do these decisions say about Baylor's Identity?

First, I can say that I only know Baylor in the Sloan and post-Sloan Era (he took over in '95 and I came in '96). Baylor, since I have arrived has been one of growth: academically, in student body, and in campus size. Baylor has seemingly wanted to get bigger, better, and more highly ranked in all areas. I must say that both of my stays at Baylor as a student have been remarkably positive.

In some ways, all of this growth is a good thing. Baylor's reputation in the country seems to have been on a constant rise over the past 15 years. Other than the basketball scandal seven years ago, Baylor seems to be thought of highly by many people across the country. Much of this is due to our successes in Men's and Women's basketball. Anything that increases Baylor's national reputation is usually good for my two diplomas.

Yet, where should Baylor go from here? I will list a few things that I would like to see, and a few things that should stay the same (or go in reverse).

Things that should stay:
1. Baylor's strong Christian and Baptist character.
2. Baylor's commitment to teaching excellence. Many schools that strive for academic excellence among its teachers, usually measured by publication record, lose some great teacher's who just don't want to publish. Baylor needs to find a way to attract good teachers and good publishers, preferably both in the same person.
3. Baylor should continue to seek professors with a strong publication record and to encourage publication.
4. Baylor press should continue to grow. When I came to Baylor, one hardly knew Baylor had a press. Now, Baylor press is widely recognized as a reputable and worthy publication house.
5. Baylor must not lose its warm faculty/student relations as sometimes happens with big research universities.
6. Baylor should strive to reduce faculty to student ratio.

Things that should go or be reversed:
1. Student Body size. Every year Baylor boasts the largest freshman class ever. Baylor's big boast while I was an undergrad was that at Baylor, a student was a person with a name, not a number like at the other Texas schools in the Big 12. We could lose that.
2. Tuition costs: since I came to Baylor in 1996, tuition has tripled. Now, I know that things get more expensive, but tripling tuition in 14 years seems extreme.
3. Buildings: I think we have built enough to last a while. The only exception I think is the tearing down and rebuilding of some of Baylor's eyesores or buildings that do not fit in with the Baylor look. Examples: Tidwell, Sid Rich, Mars Mclean Science, Castelaw, Moody Library, Hankamer and Cashion.

I think Baylor should strive to be among the top tier of religious schools in the country, becoming an academically elite institution with good sports programs. Schools to emulate would be Notre Dame and Duke (although Duke is not known for its Methodist heritage and Baylor should remain characteristically Christian and Baptist).

As far as the conference Baylor competes in, I would definitely say that in a major conference like the proposed mega Pac-10, Baylor would find little in common with its conference colleagues. Perhaps Baylor should seek a conference more akin to our goals and heritage.

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