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At Home on the Hall

June 24, 2013

"I never had a Christian professor -- at least not one who admitted it. I also never darkened the door of a faculty member's home during my college years. The same for [my wife] Ann," said Dr. Walter Bradley, Distinguished Professor of Engineering, in a 2003 interview as he was poised to become Baylor's first Faculty-in-Residence in North Village, Baylor's first new residential hall since LBJ was in office. "Ann and I decided that God was calling us to a career in academia to be for our students what no professor ever was for us."

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Nearly a decade later, faculty members now live alongside students in residence halls all over campus, as Baylor's rich heritage of professors who invest in their students is bolstered by the immediacy of living in close community.

With the growth of Baylor's Faculty-in-Residence program -- now 11 professors in 10 communities, with plans to introduce several more over the next decade -- the university is being more intentional than ever about getting faculty and students into closer proximity so that more frequent and more meaningful interactions can take place. These interactions build fruitful relationships for students and affirm that Baylor is fulfilling its mission to create servant leaders.

Beginnings

The push began with the Bradleys 10 years ago and expanded when Drs. Doug and Michele Henry were named Faculty Master and Associate Master for the newly built Brooks Residential College in 2007.

"A Faculty Master is integral to the residential college model," says Terri Garrett, associate director for academic initiatives for Campus Living & Learning. "The leadership they offer is significant because of the way in which they live in the community, while also providing direction and continuity for students through the implementation of traditions and events aimed at the development of community and academic excellence."

In this era of large public institutions fighting the unsavory labels of "degree mills" or "diploma factories," college faculty around the world are hired and promoted almost entirely based on their research activity. It isn't at all surprising that faculty by and large aren't interested in living among students. The current system isn't really designed for that purpose.

But it wasn't always this way, explains Dr. Jeff Doyle, dean for student learning and engagement. For the first few centuries of United States' higher education, the faculty played the roles of teachers, disciplinarians, social organizers and character-builders at universities until the German model became more widespread during the Industrial Revolution and faculty more often donned the hats of scientists and researchers. With the advent of world wars and developments such as the space race with the Soviet Union, the United States felt the need to keep up with other world powers and prioritize science and research. As a result, professors had less time to work with students outside of the classroom.

"At a lot of schools, the Faculty-in-Residence program is run by the housing department," says Doyle. "At Baylor, Academic Affairs really understands the importance of faculty engaging with students outside the classroom. We have never seen this elsewhere, but our executive vice president and provost, Dr. Elizabeth Davis, interviews every Faculty-in-Residence finalist. Not every faculty member wants to be involved in this opportunity, but those who do apply have been outstanding. For instance, when we had selection pools with three searches this spring, we had very deep, rich interviews with people who really care about students and how the university shapes them, so it has been a smooth process integrating some of Baylor's most student-focused and friendly professors into these opportunities."

Davis, BBA '84, says she wants to know first-hand why the applicants apply and how they see the program being integrated into their own lives. She is amazed at their "selfless and generous spirits."

"It's an incredible experience for our students to be able to watch and learn from these faculty members," Davis says. "If our students can observe our faculty excel in their classroom and in their scholarly pursuits while also living out their Christian commitments in various ways, then those students will have good examples and points of reference as they consider how they want to approach their vocations and personal lives after they graduate."

An intentional effort

Universities are beginning to realize the lack of faculty involvement in students' lives in the system that has been created. In the past dozen years, at least 30 U.S. institutions have begun residential colleges on their campuses.

Faculty living among students "is a trend, but it's a very intentional choice to make," Doyle says. "Some very selective, prestigious universities have made that choice because that's important to them, while maybe some other schools have put a higher priority on the size of their swimming pool or other things focused primarily on student satisfaction instead of student learning or formation. We've invested in enriching the environment for mentoring and character-development through the Faculty-in-Residence program."

Dr. Todd Buras, the Honors Residential College Faculty Master in Memorial and Alexander halls, is among those convinced that faculty have a critical role to play in trying to create a truly transformative education for students. He describes what it is to be formed as a whole person as similar to what happens when someone is part of a family.

"As a faculty, I think the light has been dawning across the country, and it's been dawning here at Baylor, as the university proclaims in Pro Futuris and in its traditional description of itself, that education really is about formation of the whole person. Baylor is about that, and the Pro Futuris document uses language like 'transformative education.'

"So if a Baylor education is really about formation of the whole person, and formation is an inherently communal project, then Baylor has to take responsibility for building and sustaining that intellectual community that forms those whole persons," he explains. "It's really not enough for Baylor just to give an excellent academic classroom experience. And I think faculty owe it to students to play a leading role in building and sustaining the intellectual communities that form us as whole persons. We have to get in there and take responsibility for it."

Perhaps because of the national trend of emphasis on research over teaching, many universities have had trouble finding faculty who want to engage with students in such a fashion. That's not the case at Baylor.

"Nationally, they say it's just amazing to hear that we have search processes with five applicants for one selection," says Tiffany Lowe, director for Campus Living and Learning. "It takes a university that understands that learning doesn't just happen in the classroom, that it's really the integrated experience of living on a completely residential campus that creates that for students."

A wide range of schools -- including MIT, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, TCU, BYU, Hardin-Simmons, Arkansas, National University of Singapore and Hong Kong University -- have visited Baylor over the past few years to learn about Baylor's Living-Learning Programs, which include the Faculty-in-Residence program.

"People know that Baylor has been building new buildings, that we have these Living-Learning Centers, but they may not realize how this is an additional effort to enhance the students experience on campus," explains Garrett. "We are still trying to create a campus experience in which students thrive and want to live on campus, where students recognize that the best of their college experience can rest solely in them living on campus, because of what we provide. They have the rest of their lives to go off campus and have that kind of experience, but they only have this short window of time to share the best student experience that Baylor has to offer."

"The question is not whether or not students will be formed as whole persons by living in our halls," adds Buras. "It's whether or not they'll be formed toward the end Baylor hopes to achieve."

A worthy investment

In the face of rising higher education costs across the nation, another Baylor Faculty-in-Residence asserts that traditional residential universities like Baylor must trumpet why their structure is and always will be valuable, especially in the Internet age.

"Institutions of more traditional form are going to be under the gun going forward to answer the question of why it costs so much more to do this kind of education," says Dr. Ian Gravagne, who has been a Faculty-in-Residence in North Village for two years and will transition to Faculty Master in Teal Residential College within East Village this fall. "We need to be prepared to say that part of the reason is because our mission goes beyond simply telling students how circuits work.

"Our mission, especially at Baylor, in no small part, is to be the embodiment of Christ in the world of higher education, and to do that, we have to be together. We have to live together, experience together, laugh and cry together, all of those things have to happen together. All the people who support Baylor need to understand that we know that, and therefore, we are strengthening our system of residential experience as much as we can, and as fast as we can."

While some institutions are moving faculty into halls with students as a way to make professors seem more approachable, Garrett says Baylor's goals are broader.

"We are looking to enhance the academic and intellectual community of Baylor by having faculty in the students' living environment as one more bridge that reinforces how we value the academic experience at Baylor, to create for them that seamless learning experience. We're hoping to increase the intellectual climate of that residential community by having faculty members there."

There is a body of research findings that affirm high levels of faculty involvement with students is positive for students, faculty, and the universities themselves. Baylor accumulates information about their Faculty-in-Residence programs through faculty year-end portfolios and student evaluations.

"From an assessment standpoint, we are in the process of developing a plan to do more formal assessment of our Faculty-in-Residence program so we can begin to really examine how our halls and students are different as a result of the program. If the social integration or academic climate is improved within each of those communities, then we can start to look at what it is that those Faculty-in-Residence are doing specifically," says Lowe.

What interests Gravagne is the idea of using the residential structure as a co-curricular educational platform.

"We don't, as an educational institution, strive to merely transmit information to our students in the classroom. We want also to have opportunities and venues to transmit the values of a Christian institution," he says. "In many ways, that kind of objective can happen more effectively and more efficiently in the residential context, in the living room. That's 'living room education,' as opposed to classroom education."

As the campus has expanded and enrollment has grown more than ever, Baylor faces the challenge of making sure that it maintains that highly transformative opportunity for each student it welcomes to campus. Building even stronger bonds between faculty and students can make a valuable Baylor education worth even more.

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