Teaching at Baylor UniversityNov. 2, 2003
Dr. David Lyle Jeffrey
Provost and Distinguished Professor of Literature and Humanities
Editor's note: Provost David Lyle Jeffrey delivered the following speech at the annual fall faculty meeting in Jones Concert Hall Aug. 21, 2003.
It is appropriate, even necessary, that as provost and servant to the faculty, I should make some initial comment on current academic direction at Baylor. There is much to talk about, to reflect on together. Today I must restrict myself to our primary concern -- teaching. In subsequent faculty meetings, as I have opportunity to gain a firmer prospect, I hope to address other issues. It is fitting, for any number of reasons, to begin with teaching -- Baylor faculty members are justifiably proud of their accomplishments in the classroom. But recently we have heard suggestions from some within the faculty that teaching among us is in decline. Naturally, I regard such a contention as a matter of grave concern; consequently I have looked into the record closely.
Let me confess that I was unprepared for this particular critique. In the past three years I have been part of numerous annual pre-tenure reviews in my own department in which the teaching performance and development of younger faculty was subject to close and thoughtful examination. This scrutiny, as all of you know well, is normative at Baylor.
Every candidate for a tenurable position here is required to offer a teaching demonstration or lecture. Each such teaching performance is evaluated by senior faculty in the 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 tend to hire third rate academics. Any suggestion that newer hires are poorer teachers, or less commited to their teaching, thus implicates the judgment of tenured faculty as well as the administration. Therefore, I am doubly happy to have discovered that our tenured faculty have done a much better job hiring new teachers than some have given them credit for.
Permit me to report my initial findings in relation to seven questions which have recently been raised, both from within the faculty and beyond:
Q. Is teaching of faculty with active research agendas, especially newer faculty, inferior to that of the senior faculty for whom teaching is their almost exclusive focus?
A. Not according to our students. In a review of teaching evaluation statistics, students rated teachers of all categories extremely highly, averaging better than 5.0 on a six-point scale across three groups -- those we have recently categorized "A", tenured researching faculty, and as-yet-untenured faculty (by definition those hired during the last five years). While we had not before summer 2003 tried to distinguish among student evaluations in this way, in early July I asked our institutional analysis statisticians to run the numbers for the most recent semester for which evaluations had been fully tabulated (at that point, the fall semester for last year). We are happy to make this data available to anyone who wishes to see it in detail, but summarily, it turns out that our most recently hired faculty do as well or better as our most experienced faculty, and that on every question pertaining to teaching performance.
Thus, the extremely good student evaluations of Baylor teaching, reported by such external sources as The Princeton Review (94 percent of students surveyed find their classes stimulating and their teachers accessible), are confirmed by our own regular internal assessment. At this point I have been able to discover no indication whatsoever of any recent diminishment in teaching excellence. To the contrary, it would seem that teaching at Baylor continues to improve. To cite but one example, 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. Significantly, I believe, sociology is now also one of our most productive research departments.
Q. But is Baylor still hiring that special "Baylor type" of teacher?
A. Yes -- and no. When one looks into the rich variety represented by our senior faculty, one quickly perceives that there isn't any one "Baylor type," and possibly never has been.
It will be apparent 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 performance, 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 disciplines altogether.
Less than ever is teaching in the modern university to be uniformly associated with the classic lecture hall format. Even in the College of Arts and Sciences, as 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 subject matter can long be very effective as a 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 intellectual athletes -- and, for those who teach, player-coaches in their turn.
Q. But is research really all that important to undergraduate students?
A. In some disciplines it can be definitive of future success. 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 she was one of eight persons (four of whom were already MDs) 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 MIT. Henry is only the second Baylor undergraduate in 15 years to receive this eminent fellowship, 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 his professor, 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 heavily 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 two decades scholarly reporting has had to be done almost exclusively by electronic means: print publication is far too slow to keep up with developments. Innovation may appear less frequently in business and law, yet in each of these the current perspectives of actual practitioners may be required regularly as a corrective to the textbooks.
What sets a serious university apart 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 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.
Different universities, however, do have distinct 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, CalTech) 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, Furman 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 a great deal in everyday Baylor practice is tacit acknowledgment that this university has long been moving away from the general cultural ambiance of liberal arts colleges and smaller, more insular universities. This movement began under President Samuel Palmer Brooks a century ago, and has accelerated under recent administrations to a point at which, during the years between 1991 and 2000 Baylor can be seen to have accomplished 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 curriculum. Present with us today are younger faculty members whose student research with their professors at Baylor, shoulder to shoulder, is precisely what has made it possible for them to have had such post-graduate and career development as to make them ideal recruits to the Baylor faculty team today.
But they have returned, in many cases, to a bigger Baylor. 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 raised. 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 collegiate atmosphere for which there is now so much understandable nostalgia. There are few among us who would wish Baylor to lose its winsome 20th century personality. Yet equally, we want to offer the quality and type of education which will allow our 21st century students to continue with us in this ongoing process of regeneration.
Q. How shall we combine these goals?
A. In part, by hiring more teachers, and by giving all of our 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 the teacher-to-student ratio [has fallen] with it. In academic year 2001-2002 average class size was 31.3. In 2002-2003 that number fell to 29.4, with median undergraduate class size at 24. Faculty to student ratio likewise fell during those same years from 19:1 to 16.7:1. If we are successful with Vision 2012, these statistics will come more closely to resemble class sizes and student to faculty ratios at our peer institutions.
What are we facing?
The fact remains that we have not only twice the enrollment we had in the 1960s, 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 meet 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 here at Baylor.
Q. But surely all teaching at Baylor will not be done by such researching faculty?
A. No, it will not. 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. In certain disciplines particularly, "A"-type faculty will always be required, and hence, hired. As a result, the considerable cadre of wise and worthy teachers whose covenant with Baylor was formed in years past will continue to have continuing and honorable apropos for the Baylor of Vision 2012. 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, studio, laboratory, clinical or practicum teaching.
After all, many of our stalwart senior faculty members have had little choice in this matter. Let me illustrate with one noble example, which must stand here for many. Forty- two years ago Baylor hired a brilliant young PhD from the California Institute of Technology. Despite protests from his CalTech professors, who intended for him a luminous career in major research universities, he chose Baylor because of a definite sense of calling to serve in a Christian academic endeavor. Once here, he was asked to begin building a doctoral program in physics. Dr. Darden Powers went to work. In 1964 he was able to win a large NSF award enabling the establishment of our Vandegraff laboratory, a facility which virtually carried the physics program on its back for years after that. In 1968 the PhD program was approved; one year later the first Baylor doctoral degree was awarded. For more than four decades Dr. Powers has had far heavier teaching loads than he might have had elsewhere, and has accordingly had to forsake many of his best ideas and finest dreams for the research aspect of his career -- all this in order that, in the then-modest circumstances of Baylor, our students might be served as well as possible. He provided leadership in his department, helping to build it to a point at which its achievement relative to its circumstances has been, in my view, extraordinary.
Last year he resigned as chair. We had a search. Three fine candidates were short-listed. The new chair is a much younger man (52). Dr. Bennie Ward did his own PhD at the leading program of his generation, Princeton, and set records while doing it. But he went first to a university which gave him greater means to do his research as well as to teach.
He has had extraordinary success, and is now internationally visible as one of the leading figures in his field. That success, coupled with his own Baptist heritage and an enthusiasm for Vision 2012, has brought him to join the department built up for four decades around Dr. Powers.
This story has many analogues at Baylor. Here is the general point which I would not have us miss: nothing that we are now setting forth to accomplish, no brick laid, equipment wired, colleague hired, or student accelerated to contemporary standards of excellence, would have been even thinkable without the foundation laid down for decades by faculty members such as Darden Powers. That is the foundation on which we build; without it we could not build, and there are literally scores of faculty in this room whose sacrificial labors have laid that foundation down. To you who, like myself, have come recently to a Baylor electric with excitement about the promise of tomorrow, let me say this about your senior colleagues: much honor is their due; each of us is in their debt.
It is clear that great teaching comes in many packages. Our students cheerfully acknowledge their desire -- and their need -- for both older and younger mentors, identifying veterans and relative newcomers alike 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.
Peer evaluators beyond our community see it the same way. This year, Rachel Moore, close to retirement, was recipient of the statewide Piper Award, while Alden Smith (little more than half her age), chair of classics and an active researcher, won a national award for distinguished teaching in his discipline. If, to say so, I may borrow a phrase from the Enlightenment English poet Alexander Pope -- it is abundantly evident that our faculty are "still pleased to teach, and yet not proud to know."
Q. Will we continue to support strong teaching at Baylor?
A. Absolutely; we will look for teaching quality and teaching achievement in every candidate we consider. But this is only one of the ways in which teaching quality is supported at Baylor. One might mention our Summer Teaching Institute, typically subscribed by untenured faculty and ably directed by Professor Tom Hanks and Professor Anne Bowery. And there are other such seminars and programs for mentoring younger faculty. More initiatives, consistent with Vision 2012, are coming.
I want today to announce three of these, each intended to affirm high quality teaching even as we support research.
1) New award honoring great faculty members: Beginning with the present academic year, there will be a prestigious new teaching award for distinguished all-around contribution to teaching at Baylor. Specifically, this award will recognize superlative contribution to the learning environment at Baylor, including teaching which is judged to be of the highest order of intellectual acumen and pedagogical effectiveness, research which is recognized as outstanding by the national and international as well as local community of scholars, and service which is regarded as exemplary in building the character of intellectual community at Baylor. It will carry a monetary prize in the amount of $20,000. The recipient will be chosen from among full time members of the tenure-track and tenured faculty, based upon nominations made by students and faculty, with the winner determined by a committee appointed jointly by Faculty Senate and the Council of Deans and chaired by the vice provost for academic administration. A name for this award, honoring a great name in teaching, will be chosen following upon consultation with Faculty Senate and the Council of Deans, and announced at some point during the autumn term.
This new award is in addition to all those currently available.
2) Research leave policy: It is time to enhance our present sabbatical leave policy in the light of Vision 2012. Over the last academic year a committee composed of deans and senior faculty members have been assisting the Provost's Office in creating and formalizing some additional policy initiatives with respect to research leave. It is important to note that there is to be no diminishment of existing policies which provide, for example, funded support for qualified faculty to seek a sabbatical for renewal, retraining or refreshment of teaching currency. These additional measures are intended to augment the ongoing need of our faculty for scholarly development and research support.
Baylor intends to inaugurate, beginning this year, a phased-in program of research leave and summer faculty development and research grants. Faculty will be able to make application, beginning later this semester, to their department chair and dean. Consideration of each request will be on its own merits, will be reviewed by a committee appointed by the pertinent dean, and the process for scheduling will be responsive to the teaching requirements and schedule of each department in question. While a full policy will be provided soon, the following features may be noted:
a) Tenured and tenure-track faculty with an active research agenda will be eligible to apply for a one-term research leave, normally after three years of full-time service. These faculty are alternatively eligible for a two-term research leave after six years of full time service. For tenured faculty, maximum research leave is two terms every seven years.
b) Summer faculty development grants, to support start-up research of new faculty in the summer term, as well as summer sabbatical proposals for regular ongoing senior faculty, will continue to be negotiated by the dean through the existing process.
The fully articulated policy will be circulated within two weeks to all faculty. It will indicate a phasing-in period, scheduled over the next three years, after which the normative cycle and full use of this provision will be established by the 2006-2007 academic year. In each of the next three years an allotment of such research leave provisions will be awarded to the faculties, along with budgetary compensation, enabling the deans to announce the availability of these opportunities to their colleagues, and chairs to begin receiving applications and negociating reasonable patterns of probable rotation and course coverage.
3) Faculty classification: It sometimes happens in life that a gesture intended to comfort and assure is perceived as implying something else, even its opposite. This has apparently been the case with the "A/B" profile distinction for the purposes of faculty workload classification. I must take full responsibility for this policy distinction myself, since it was I, at the behest of my predecessor, who drafted it. The intent was to respond to concerns expressed to Dr. Schmeltekopf by senior faculty, many of whom felt themselves pressured unduly by the development of new professional expectations divergent from those in place when they were hired. The sole intent of the A/B classification was to build into the structure a protection and guarantee that the University would continue to honor those terms as much as possible, both in respect of the expectation of more recently hired faculty that they would do research, and also in respect of the ongoing honor and reward of excellent classroom teaching by all Baylor faculty, but especially by those senior faculty whose original covenant with the University had only the most modest expectations of research as part of the normative workload.
President Sloan and I agree that the policy has not achieved its intended purpose in the view of many among our colleagues. Accordingly, I have asked the leadership of Faculty Senate to advise me on ways to begin to reconsider how the purposes of the policy might better be achieved. This process of consultation, along with other issues of concern to Senate, will be at the top of my own agenda during the autumn and on into the spring term. I hope to be able to report on the results of this consultation and other matters at or before our next faculty meeting.
I hope you will agree that nothing in these several efforts undervalues the greatness of Baylor's teaching history. To the contrary, they do confirm that teaching is still the highest of Baylor's academic priorities and that excellence is being added to excellence.
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 Tommye Lou Davis, Owen Lind, 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 -- some of them former students of these same great teachers.
Let me offer a brief further comment on this genuinely symbolic question, for it goes right to the heart of our shared concern for Baylor's future character. I choose the Ann Miller version of it from among many possibilities, because even as it honors a great teacher, the question becomes concrete for me in identifying someone who has become also a dear colleague.
No one, I submit, really thinks for a minute that Ann Miller, Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, could not be hired here at Baylor today. What some, perhaps, find difficult to accept is that no 28-year-old with her order of wit and intellect, grace and sheer passion can be found anywhere in America today without a PhD and published research already in hand. No person of her gifts now wants for fellowships, grants and opportunities. Sadly, this was not the case for earlier generations. Our academic world has changed, and for that we must be deeply thankful. The tragedy for Baylor is not that time has, as it will for each of us, caught up with our recently retired friend. The tragedy is that Ann Miller was, in mid-career, actively discouraged by her senior colleagues from pursuing the PhD 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 fuller record in print of that wealth of trenchant critical reflection of which she has always been 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. To fail in this measure of our obligation to our great foundational teachers would be to fail to honor fully the legacy they have bestowed upon us.
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 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.