Christopher MarshEver since Baylor's ambitious 2012 vision was launched it has been the center of debate, with perhaps as many views on the vision as there are members of the Baylor community. To stand by silently and watch the sometimes rancorous debate over the vision's positive and negative aspects, much of which distorts the reality of the situation, is disconcerting to me. While my voice carries no special authority, I have a deep appreciation of what we are trying to accomplish with Baylor 2012, particularly in the areas of research and the university's Christian mission. These efforts undoubtedly will better serve our students and help faculty build more rewarding careers.
The public opposition to Baylor 2012, pits research against teaching, as if the two were diametrically opposed. I view the situation in quite different terms; scholars who remain active in their research stay current in their fields, and are thus able to introduce their students to the latest research findings. Such faculty members can be more effective teachers precisely because they bring interesting, real-world experience from their research into the classroom. Further, reduced teaching loads make it possible to engage in serious scholarship while carrying on Baylor's tradition of care for students and good teaching.
Another contentious issue at the center of the 2012 debate is Baylor's religious identity. When I discussed my decision to take a position at Baylor with the vice president of my former institution, he asked me how I would feel about having my freedom of speech curtailed at a religious institution. To his surprise, I argued that secular institutions curtailed freedom of speech, and that a religious institution such as Baylor would allow me to delve into issues of religion, faith, and belief as I judged a given topic of inquiry required. Indeed, five years later, this is still my view. At Baylor I am completely at ease talking to my Russian politics courses about Orthodox Christianity and the role of the church in society, including citing scripture if it will help explain the Orthodox Church's position on issues such as regulation of religious institutions (a very valid topic of political inquiry).
Once I came to Baylor, I quickly became aware of another important facet of our Christian mission - counseling students who are deeply religious. At Baylor, when discussing issues such as graduate school and career plans, my students regularly tell me about how they have been praying about their futures and how they feel called to a certain field. I am comfortable talking to such students and I believe I help them with these very difficult decisions. But I wonder, how would these students be counseled at a secular institution? And more importantly, if Baylor were to lose its Christian identity, how will such students be counseled at Baylor?
In my own case, I have taken advantage of the opportunities 2012 has afforded me, and I sincerely believe I have been able to do things at Baylor that I would not have been able to do at another institution. Baylor's attempt to strike a balance between teaching and research and to remain true to its Christian heritage are two of the main reasons why I have remained at Baylor despite opportunities to move to other institutions. Although I have been tempted on a few occasions, the unique environment Baylor offers makes it tough to beat. Moreover, I believe that Baylor 2012 will make it even better.
Dr. Marsh is Director, J.M. Dawson Institute of Church State Studies at Baylor University