People Make The DifferenceMay 28, 2009
By Tommye Lou Davis
Associate Dean, Honors College
Associate Professor, Classics
When my grandchildren were very young, they thought of my house as "Waco" but the place where I lived was "Baylor." There is some truth in that misconception. Although I am actively involved in and love being a part of the caring, vibrant Waco community, I am here because of Baylor. Little did I know when I left my home in Little Rock, Arkansas, and came to Baylor as a freshman that I would spend the rest of my life on the Baylor campus. I am grateful that God nudged me in this direction and opened doors that made it possible for me to remain here.
The question posed to me for this article is "What makes Baylor special?" A myriad of images flood my mind, some of which are difficult to put into words because it is the spirit of the place--an intangible--where words fail. Thoughts on the matter are entwined with Baylor friends, favorite classes and professors, the beauty of the campus, the fun of sporting events and the list goes on and on.
One of the foremost reasons Baylor is special is her unique history. Since receiving her charter from the Republic of Texas in 1845, Baylor, the oldest institution of higher education in continuous operation in Texas, has grown into the state's largest private university and one of the largest in the nation. Our founding fathers were men of character and vision. When you read the biographies of the presidents who have led Baylor since her founding, it becomes evident that God has had his hand on this place and that the institution has been directed by men not only of great wisdom and character but also of great vision and commitment to "the Kingdom." It is true that we presently stand on the shoulders of past giants who have shaped our history and protected our mission. The fact that we have remained true to our Christian heritage in the Baptist tradition is an enormous accomplishment and should be a source of great pride for all who care about the institution. I believe that Baylor presently stands as the hope for Christian higher education around the world.
While our history and mission are significant characteristics of Baylor's uniqueness, the number one component for me is the people who have made a difference in my life and the lives of many others. These people come from every branch of the Baylor familyˇ--faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends. As an undergraduate, I had many favorite professors: Roy Butler, Andy Moore, Bob Packard, Bob Reid, Paul Armitstead, Robert Miller, Bob Patterson, and the list goes on. These not only encouraged me to pursue excellence in my academic life but many of them also worshiped with me at First Baptist Church. Their example of faithfulness inspired me and contributed to my spiritual growth. These professors, their spouses, and others like Edith Bond, Velma Dwyer and Mary Russell McCall have had a profound influence on my life. The dedicated faculty and other members of the Baylor of the past made my undergraduate days memorable.
A few weeks after I graduated, I was asked by my mentor and dear friend, Dr. Roy Butler, then chair of the classics department, to teach four Latin classes. In thinking back over my experiences with students, both inside and outside of the classroom, I am blessed with happy memories of former students, many of whom remain good friends to this day. Although there have been major changes in society and culture since that day I walked in to teach my first class, Baylor students have remained people of intelligence and character who care about each other and our world. As in years past, the present crop of Baylor students, undergirded by their Baylor experience, will change our world for the better. I believe they can and will be a part of the antidote for the spiritual and intellectual decay of society. It is a joy and privilege to be a part of the lives of Baylor students. They are a large part of "what makes Baylor special."
Baylor students today enjoy the company of outstanding faculty, as did we in former years. The outstanding reputation of our present faculty offers assurance that the Baylor legacy of great teaching and scholarship continues. The fact that the Carnegie Foundation named Baylor a "research institution" with "high research activity" is a great accomplishment in today's competitive academic climate. The quality of our faculty--their love for students, their commitment to academic excellence, devotion to the life of the mind and their daily pursuit of truth--continues to make Baylor a special place.
Members of the Baylor staff are unsung heroes. These are the people who support the faculty and provide the human infrastructure which allows the University to function effectively. Along with faculty, they often serve as surrogate parents for our students when help is needed or encouragement is sought, and they certainly are another special part of Baylor.
In 2003, I moved into the president's office to serve as chief of staff. It was during this period that my knowledge of and appreciation for Baylor developed at a deeper level. It became abundantly clear how deeply the Baylor family cares about the institution. I came to understand Baylor from a broader perspective. I also became painfully aware that the Baylor network of alumni and friends has grown to the point that there will always be divisions within the family. Just as there are many differing factions in society, the Baylor family has become sufficiently large, diverse and complex that the harmonious days of the "Baylor bubble" have vanished. The divisions within society are reflected in the Baylor of the 21st century. As a Christian institution, it is important for Baylor to be "salt and light"--a witness to the broader secular community--as we debate our differences. The matters that divide us are large and important issues related to culture, ethics and the heart and soul of Baylor.
My grandchildren used to ask me when we would head for the Baylor campus, "Are we going to old Baylor or new Baylor?" What they were really wanting to know is, "Are we turning into the campus on 8th Street or University Parks?" In their little minds the old and new were represented by the buildings on our beautiful campus. I was always touched by the question and its implication at a deeper level. I feel strongly that we have managed to keep the old traditions of Baylor past that were near and dear to us, while combining them with our "new" aspirations to carve our unique niche in higher education as one of the only Christian research institutions left in the world.
The students and faculty, with whom I am privileged to share "faith and learning" on a daily basis in the Honors College and classics department, remind me that Baylor University, as in the past, is truly a remarkable institution. I am thankful to be a part of a university where we are not ashamed to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ while opening our arms to members of other faiths. This, along with our mission to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community, makes Baylor special. As we seek to achieve our calling by pursuing excellence in all areas, including intellectual life of the highest order, may we be ever vigilant and intentional in protecting the mission and character of our beloved University.