July 17, 2002
One of John Kent's favorite courses at Baylor was also his first -- a 9 a.m. MWF freshman seminar class about global economics. And while Kent, now a senior, admits he is no morning person, he made it a priority to get to class, cup of coffee in hand, simply because he hated to miss anything.
"I really wanted to hear what was being talked about that day," says Kent, who credits the course, offered through the University Scholars program, with being the standard by which he now chooses his classes. "I really have not been in another class that has been so fully participatory."
Providing this type of experience to the majority of its students is the goal of Baylor 2012's first imperative -- establishing an environment where learning can flourish. This strategy emphasizes writing- and speaking-intensive courses, including increasing the number of students who are reading and discussing some of the world's great texts. Another important component of the imperative is providing a student-faculty ratio of 13 to 1, down from its current 18 to 1.
A University-appointed task force found that 63 percent of Baylor students, despite knowing the value of good writing, avoid courses with significant writing assignments. Compared to that, research at Harvard University shows that 74 percent of its seniors write 10 or more papers a year, says Dr. Wallace L. Daniel, dean of Baylor's College of Arts and Sciences.
"We must engage students to become lifelong writers, able communicators," Dr. Daniel says. "We are working now on developing a proposal for transition to a more writing- and speaking-intensive curriculum. The initiative is being taken at the department level and also at the College level."
Debuting this fall will be a great texts program in Baylor's new Honors College, the University's 10th academic division. The works of Homer, Plato, Augustine and Shakespeare, as well as portions of the Bible, are among the texts being considered for the program, says Dr. Scott Moore, assistant professor of philosophy and program committee member.
Some students already have been exposed to these texts. University Scholars were required to take a two-semester sequence beginning in fall 2001. Honors program students will be required to take these courses this fall. A great texts major of 30 hours and a minor of 18 hours also will be added this fall. In addition, a strategy for expanding the great texts program to all degree plans is being considered, Dr. Moore says, although such a change would be several years away.
"We recognize that these are tough books. What they do is raise the intellectual climate on the campus, something that faculty have wanted for some time," Dr. Moore says. And, although students often express concern about diving into works that might be both lengthy and old, the relevance to their lives surprises them.
"They realize there's a reason why people have been reading these books for 2,000 years," Dr. Moore says. "There is something that speaks to the present moment."
Adjusting the ratio of students per faculty member also is key to achieving the imperative. To address that, Baylor will create 237 new, tenure-track faculty positions, an increase of approximately 35 percent, within the next 10 years, says David Brooks, vice president for finance and administration. At the same time, efforts to retain current students, while admitting fewer new students, will serve to reduce the undergraduate population.
The benefit of such a change is obvious, as Kent came to appreciate in his 14-student, freshman seminar class. In that setting, even the quietest individuals were comfortable sharing.
"You can never be hurt by the exposure to new ideas," Kent says. "You live your day differently if you have a greater picture with which to explain it. That's what these type of classes do."