David Lyle JeffreyNote: Then Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Jeffrey delivered this speech to the Baylor Board of Regents on July 17, 2003.
Teaching at Baylor
I have been asked to comment on current academic direction at Baylor. New as I am, there is much I could say. I want, however, to restrict my general remarks to teaching at Baylor. There have been repeated claims that it is in decline. Let me say that I regard such charges as very grave, and moreover astonishingly contradictory of my own Baylor experience; consequently I have looked into the matter very closely.
When I was myself invited to join the Baylor faculty three years ago, it was made abundantly clear to me that it was not solely as a researching scholar that Baylor had an interest in me. Indispensable to my being offered an opportunity to be considered by Baylor was my previous record as an award-winning teacher and, indeed, the quality of my demonstration lecture during the interview, I understood, would be decisive in Baylor's decision to hire or not to hire me.
This scrutiny, I can assure you, is not exceptional at Baylor. Every candidate for a position at Baylor is required to offer a teaching demonstration or lecture. Each teaching performance is evaluated by the senior faculty of that discipline, who must approve it before the candidate is recommended to the senior administration. Our tenured faculty members are right to be zealous for good teaching; as an old German proverb has it, first rate academics hire first rate academics- whereas second rate academics hire third rate academics. The charge that newer hires are poorer teachers implicates the judgment of tenured faculty as well as the administration. Therefore, I am doubly happy to have discovered that the tenured faculty have done a much better job hiring new faculty than some of them seem to think.
Permit me to report my findings in relation to those questions which the recent negative claims have raised:
Q: Do students confirm that teaching by the researching and newer faculty is inferior to that of the senior tenured "A" faculty?
A: In a word, NO. In a review of teaching evaluation statistics for the autumn term of 2002, the latest available, students rated teachers of all categories extremely highly, averaging better than 5.0 on a 6 point scale across three groups-"A", tenured "B" and as-yet-untenured "B" faculty ( by definition those hired during the last five years). Not only were the newest faculty NOT inferior in the student view, they scored marginally higher than both other groups. It is important to note that when students fill out teaching evaluation questionnaires they have no notion of the profile of the faculty member whom they are evaluating.
Thus, the extremely good student evaluations of Baylor teaching, reported by such external sources as the Princeton Review of Best Colleges in America( 94% of students surveyed find their classes simulating and their teachers accessible), are confirmed by our own regular internal assessment. There is no indication whatsoever of a diminishment in teaching excellence. To the contrary-teaching at Baylor continues to improve. This year, when the Southwestern Sociological Society inaugurated an annual award for best teaching department, Baylor's Department of Sociology was chosen as the inaugural recipient. The accolades keep coming in.
I. Teaching Diversity
Q: But is Baylor still hiring that special "Baylor type" of teacher?
A: Yes-and No. If we are to tell the truth, there isn't any one "Baylor type", and possibly never has been.
It will be apparent to all of you that teaching takes different forms in diverse disciplines. In the sciences, research is integral to a valid teaching program; in engineering research is explicitly connected to technical development in such a way that fundamentals of technique as well as of scientific principle must be taught. In music, studio art, theater, journalism and professional writing, conventional lecture instruction is of limited value; one on one intensive lessons, and the transmission of technique closely modeled to account for particular gifts of both student and teacher is essential to excellence. In education, as in nursing, the clinical experience of the practicum is an indispensable means of instruction, while fundamental innovation in content may come from other, more primary disciplines altogether.
Less than ever is teaching in the modern university to be uniformly associated with the unitary older lecture hall format with which most of us are familiar. Even in the College of Arts and Sciences, as our Dean Wallace Daniel has recently written, "the instructional model is shifting from assuming that students are passive vessels to a learning model that places everyone - students, faculty and administration - within a learning community." It has become increasingly evident that active learning is essential for both student and professor. No professor who is herself not in a continuously curious, experimental approach to her science can long be effective as a senior contributor to a learning community. One who is continuously experimental, involving her students intimately as she works, brings her students alongside and up to speed, so that they have the necessary momentum to carry the relay forward. Successful students in the 21st century will not be spectators; they will necessarily be athletes-and, for those who teach, player-coaches in their turn.
Consider two recent Baylor students. Lisa Olson ('98) started working with molecular biologist Chris Kearney in her second year, working in his lab throughout her junior and senior years, and recording the results of her own research in her Honors Thesis under Dr. Kearney's direction. The quality of this research gave her momentum to become a Goldwater Scholar and Howard Hughes Fellowship winner, and was one of 8 persons (4 of whom were already MD's) accepted into the Genetics program at Johns Hopkins. She rightly believes that participating directly as a co-researcher with Dr. Kearney was the decisive factor in her further opportunities.
Or Michael Henry ('03), a senior physics major who has been awarded a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation to pursue graduate work at M.I.T. Henry is only the second Baylor student to receive such a fellowship in 15 years, and his success was directly related to his deep research involvement within CASPER - the Hypervelocity and Dusty Plasma Lab of Dr. Truell Hyde. Henry's undergraduate research led directly to shared authorship of a professional journal article with Dr. Hyde, published in the prestigious journal Advances in Space Research. He says rightly, "I owe a huge part of my success to Dr. Truell Hyde and Dr. Lorin Matthews. My work with CASPER was the most rewarding and valuable experience I have had at Baylor, or anywhere for that matter."
Success of this order for our students is absolutely dependent upon their being taught research by doing research. Research, like creative thinking in any sphere, can only be taught as one practices it, and that in the modes closest to the foremost new developments in the discipline.
I acknowledge that some disciplines may appear to permit the body of knowledge taught to remain static - I suspect that one might adduce classical languages or history, or paleontology. Yet even here, empirical discovery and interpretative innovation from the guild as it currently flexes and debates may be indispensable to relevant teaching. In linguistics, for example, innovation now is so frequent that for more than a decade scholarly reporting has had to be done almost exclusively by electronic means: print publication is far too slow. Innovation may appear less frequently in business and law, yet in each of these the current perspectives of actual practitioners may be required regularly to prevent ossification or mere theoretical abstraction ill-suited to prepare students adequately for the real world of business and legal affairs.
What sets off a serious university from many a college or purely technical school, is a closer intimacy with cutting edge research and the creation of a learning environment in which overarching theoretical questions and even established boundaries between disciplines - however long habituated by tradition or mere administrative convenience - are in perpetual, dynamic and creative flux. By definition then, a true university is less settled, more innovating and challenging than its informationally oriented predecessors, especially the smaller colleges.
II. Teaching Culture
Different universities, moreover, have different personalities. Chicago, Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley, Oxford, Cambridge: persons familiar with these institutions recognize in each of them a characteristic style, tone, and outlook. Some differences may be a function of class, ideology, religion, or perhaps even dominance either of a certain orientation to technique (e.g., MIT, Cal Tech) or a certain theory (Chicago, Notre Dame). These institutional personalities, in turn, tend to create a particular teaching culture. Such is true also of colleges: Sewanee is recognizably different from Reed College, or Trinity (TX), or Texas Lutheran University.
Teaching culture at Baylor has, in the past, perhaps, had some things more in common with these distinguished colleges than the leading universities I have mentioned. The more prestigious universities may have been openly admired (one thinks of our Baylor-in-Oxford program, for instance), but until recently imitation has been more or less tentative. Yet even our historic admiration for these distinguished universities is tacit acknowledgment that Baylor has long been moving away from the general cultural ambiance of liberal arts colleges and smaller, more insular universities. We have become less tentative. This movement began under President Abner McCall and accelerated under President Herbert Reynolds to a point at which, in the years between 1991 and 1997 Baylor had made a decisive shift in teaching culture - away from almost exclusive dependence upon the older classroom lecture instructional model, in which emphasis is on the transmission of information, and toward the present community learning model in which research is in intimate and instrumental partnership to teaching in many parts of the university.
To suggest that teaching culture is only now in transition at Baylor is thus to mislead: the transition has been going on for quite awhile. To put this in another way: Baylor has grown. For quite some time it has been in structure and size a true university, having much more in common with other mid-sized universities (Vanderbilt, Rice, Notre Dame, Rochester) than with Trinity (TX) or Sewanee. Yet only recently, perhaps, has Baylor sought consciously to enter into a teaching culture more fully competitive with these excellent mid-sized universities.
As we have grown, concerns over a possible loss of college scale intimacies, comfort levels, and modes of classroom as well as informal transaction have, quite naturally, been expressed. This is entirely appropriate. After all, Baylor has managed to maintain, despite her increasing size and complexity as a university, a good deal of the smaller college atmosphere for which there is now so much understandable nostalgia. I am myself at one with all those who would have Baylor maintain as much of its winsome 20th century personality as possible, though consistently, I hope, with the quality of education our 21st century students require for lifelong success.
Q: How shall we combine these goals?
A: In part, by hiring more teachers, and by giving teachers greater opportunity to teach from the cutting edge of their disciplines. As with other excellent mid-sized universities, this implies smaller classes and, in some cases, two teachers working with a body of students that might well have been managed by one in the past. Class size at Baylor has fallen steadily since 1998 and teacher to students ratio with it. In academic year 2001-2002 average class size was 31.3. In 2002-2003 that number fell to 29.4. Faculty to student ratio likewise fell during those same years from 19:1 to 16.7:1. Under 2012, these statistics will come more closely to resemble class sizes and student to faculty ratios at our peer institutions.
III. What Are We Facing?
The fact remains that we have not only twice the enrolment we had in the 1960's, we are charged with preparing graduates for a world of work in which knowledge is less static than it has ever been. The extraordinary evolution of the free world's knowledge base (that is, its dynamic relation to research), the globalization of both work-force and marketplace, the hypercomplexity of systems and instability of traditional borders between the realms of knowing all call upon us to foster an active and diversified teaching culture. The teaching we produce needs to be resilient, toughened to withstand the world as now it really is, yet at the same time humanly tender, affectionate and caring for those we are preparing for that world.
As individuals, students need as much productive time in contact with mentors they admire as they did 25 years ago. Yet for their admiration for those mentors to be sustained even 10 years from now, the mentors themselves need forms of engagement with the evolving knowledge base. Such engagements are time consuming. Thus, teaching load reduction is not some sort of carrot held out to actively researching faculty as an amelioration of their working conditions; it is an indispensable requirement of their vocational integrity, in particular as they seek to respect the covenant we all of us together make with our students concerning the pertinence and worth of a four-year undergraduate investment.
Q: Will all teaching at Baylor be done by such researching faculty?
A: No. As I have already hinted, there are many study areas where the necessity of such a model is less acute. This will continue to be the case. As a result, the considerable cadre of wise and worthy teachers whose covenant with Baylor, formed in years past, has continuing and honorable apropos. These faculty members are highly qualified. In many instances, their contribution is indispensable to the corporate effort. As we should expect, many of these most experienced teachers are also amongst our most renowned. If some have begun and forged careers in a teaching culture in which research was not normative, let it not be imagined for a minute that they necessarily work any less hard than the most prominent of our researching teachers. It is merely that their workload is shaped almost exclusively by classroom teaching. Students, moreover, continue to identify both types of professors as among their favorite and most effective teachers: the Collins Outstanding Professor Award, for example, has alternated almost perfectly since its inaugural recipient Joe Cox in 1994 - one year Rachel Moore, the next Christopher Kearney; one year Robert Packard, the next Blaine McCormick.
This year, Rachel Moore, close to retirement, was recipient of the statewide Piper Award , while Alden Smith, Chair of Classics and an active researcher, won a National Award for distinguished teaching in his discipline.
Q: Are our recent hires really poorer teachers than we have had in the past?
A: Not at all. Eleven of last year's appointments had earned distinguished teaching awards at their previous universities, and, at the end of their first year at Baylor, student teaching evaluations confirm their excellence. Dean Larry Lyon, a Baylor graduate and veteran faculty member of 28 years, regards our recent hires as "the best Baylor has ever recruited," and Dean Wallace Daniel, a distinguished teacher as well as administrator for 32 years here, has said that "Baylor has always had many great teaching professors, but across the board, teaching at Baylor is better now than it has ever been."
I have been teaching some of the newer faculty this week, in a faculty development seminar for the Honors College, in which experienced Senior teachers like myself (particularly Distinguished and University Professors) bring the insights of long years of experience to bear on texts to be taught in that program. These are wonderfully promising younger teachers, I can assure you.
But this is only one of the ways in which teaching quality is supported at Baylor. One might mention our annual Summer Teaching Institute, again typically subscribed by untenured faculty and ably directed by Professor Tom Hanks and Professor Anne Bowery. And there are other initiatives coming.
Nothing in these observations or efforts detracts from the greatness of Baylor's teaching history. They do confirm that teaching is still the highest of Baylor priorities and that excellence is being added to excellence. And much more evidence might be adduced to show that fears of a demise of quality teaching at Baylor are without factual foundation.
Q: Will fully qualified teachers be displaced in the classroom by mere graduate students?
A: There isn't much to worry about on this score either. Approximately 5% of Baylor students are taught by graduate students (compared to almost 50% in some universities) and the bulk of this occurs in one department, English. Nor is this teaching necessarily, as some have asserted, inferior: though you may wish to take students teaching evaluations with a grain of salt, in fact the few graduate students we do have teaching score as well in student teaching evaluations as do our regular professors. Graduate students too, in their apprenticeship, are part of our learning community, and insofar as I am able to determine, they are pulling their weight.
Q: Will there ever be another Ann Miller at Baylor?
A: Of course not - nor a Bob Packard, Jim Vardaman, or Ralph Lynn either. Nor Robert Baird, Joe Cox, or Ray Wilson - great individuals are always unique, inimitable in the angularity of their vision and the sparkle of their character. But will there be a new generation of teachers like unto them in sparkle, vision, tenderness, and toughness of mettle? Oh yes, and many such are already here.
Let me offer a brief further comment on this oft heard and genuinely symbolic question, for even as it honors a great teacher and, for me, dear colleague, it goes right to the heart of the issue of Baylor's future character. No one, I submit, really thinks for a minute that Ann Miller couldn't be hired here at Baylor today. What some find difficult to accept is that no one with her order of wit and intellect, grace and sheer passion, can be found at age 28 anywhere in America today without a solid Ph.D. and published research already in hand. No one of her gifts now wants for fellowships, grants, and opportunities. Sadly, this was not the case for earlier generations. The academic world has changed, thank the Lord. The tragedy for Baylor is not that time has, as it will for each of us, caught up with Professor Miller. The tragedy is that Ann Miller was, in mid-career, actively discouraged by her senior colleagues from pursuing the Ph.D. she might with distinction - even then - have achieved. The tragedy is that she had no adequate opportunity to leave to those who never knew her in the classroom a record in print of that wealth of trenchant critical reflection of which she was so capable, for her writing might have enriched students and teachers alike across the whole of the English-speaking world - and that long after her memory has died away from the mind of her last Baylor student.
This is an order of loss, of deprivation, which must not be wrought upon present and future generations of similarly brilliant young teachers at Baylor if we have the capacity to prevent it.
If there is debate at Baylor over the culture of teaching it is, in my view, certainly not a debate between demonstrably good and demonstrably bad education. It is a debate between multiple orders of the good, each meritorious, each in its own way compelling. As the teaching faculty of this institution, our task is to find ways of acknowledging a plurality of goals, a diversity of productive orders of learning. Complementarity is essential to us, and thus it is incumbent upon us to receive each gift of good teaching as fully worthy of our honor and esteem, even as we recognize the potential for still other emerging and competing goods in a rich intellectual environment. Baylor's institutional personality, we may sincerely hope, will always be one in which intellectual rigor and educational pertinence is mediated by personal tenderness and a timeless concern for the spiritual wellbeing of our students. But we need this balance of concern for excellence and commitment to persons directed also toward each other as a community of teachers, administrators, and alumni-that all of us together may be willing to willing to learn - and to grow - toward a future in which light from Baylor may shine at least as brightly as ever it has in the past, and perhaps to shine even further abroad.
David Lyle Jeffrey, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
July 17, 2003