Faith and Learning at Baylor:Reflections by Dr. Michael Beaty

Mike Beaty

Michael Beaty joined the faculty at Baylor in 1987. A graduate of Ouachita Baptist University and Baylor University, Dr. Beaty earned his Ph.D. from Notre Dame. Dr Beaty is currently the chair of Baylor's Philosophy department.

As we enter the fall semester of 2013, and acknowledge with gratitude Baylor's new vision, Pro Futuris, it is appropriate to pause to honor Donald Schmeltekopf, Provost Emeritus. In what follows, I hope to show that he is the single most important figure in creating the conditions that have made Pro Futuris possible. Let me begin with two important quotations from Pro Futuris:

We hold firm to the conviction that the world needs a preeminent research university that is unambiguously Christian where such a commitment does not imply a lack of scholarly inquiry, but rather requires scholarship and creative endeavors at the highest levels.

Baylor's most distinctive characteristic is its identity as a research university with a strong Christian commitment.

And two quotes from Baylor 2012:

Baylor's Christian identity should give shape and identity to the University's entire educational mission undergraduate, professional, and graduate.

Baylor will make its influence felt in the academic world and in our larger society as an institution informed and motivated by its Christian identity. Such influence requires a depth of scholarly excellence and a volume of scholarly output that is found only in schools with first-rate graduate programs.

Pro Futuris is built on Baylor 2012, and as we celebrate its vision we can be confident of its coming success and vigorous with respect to our planning because of the lessons learned from and the achievements of Baylor 2012. I believe the single most important person in the success of Baylor 2012 is former Provost Schmeltekopf, and this can be seen in both in his many achievements at Baylor University as provost and in the most salient features of his successes.

Dr. Donald Schmeltekopf arrived at Baylor in the summer of 1990 as Vice Provost for Academic Affairs. Previously, he had been the provost of Mars Hill College, a much smaller Baptist university in North Carolina. In June of 1991, Don assumed the title of Vice President for Academic Affairs of Baylor University, and in 1994, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. Soon after he arrived in 1990, he asked to meet with me. We met at a small table in a nook in Bill Daniels Student Center. As he explained his situation to me, he spoke of his good fortune in being able to spend a year getting to know Baylor and its people. Provost John Belew and President Herbert Reynolds had encouraged him to do precisely this. Don indicated his intention of meeting with a large number of faculty, administration and staff during the course of the year, in an effort to become more knowledgeable about Baylor, its history, aspirations, practices, and the like. I was surprised to be on his list, and I asked Don what he wanted to know from me.

Primarily, he wanted to know what I thought constituted a Baptist or a Christian university. My answer had two parts. First, since Baptists are Christians, then what is common to Christians everywhere should be central to Baylor's identity as a university. Second, since Baylor is a Texas Baptist university, Baptist perspectives on the Christian faith and practice should also influence Baylor's identity as a (Christian) university. I referred to this effort as the integration of faith and learning, a phrase made familiar by Arthur Holmes in The Idea of a Christian College and in a number of related documents and essays. Don asked for a reading list and I gave him some things to read. Over the course of the year (1990-1991), Don and I met three or four times, often at the Harrington House, to discuss the idea of a Christian/Baptist university and the phrase faith and learning.

Faith and Remebrance small

I remember that one of his central convictions, early on, was that members of a Christian university ought to worship together. I, too, thought this was an important practice for Christian universities, and we discussed the obstacles in place at Baylor: we had no building designed for worship on campus capable of holding all or most of the community; there are limitations of the required chapel for students; historically, Baptists have been disinclined to have a university Chapel (for instance, like the one at Duke University) because of our commitment to local church involvement, etc. However, I insisted that worshiping together could not be the essential defining feature of a Christian university and its integration of faith and learning, even when the obstacles to worship on campus are overcome. The essence of a university is its teaching, learning, and scholarship. If the integration of faith and learning is to be a defining feature of any seriously Christian university, then the phrase must be understood as an intellectual endeavor. In short, he needed to understand and embrace the intellectual component of faith and learning.

Faith and Learning Placed at Center of Baylor's Identity

Numerous initiatives began to emerge that reflected the centrality of faith and learning within the Baylor community. Some appeared, blossomed, and flourished for a few seasons and were replaced by others. Some initiatives seemed like evergreens, for they continued to grow healthily in Baylor University's rich soil.

Hiring for Mission

Don recognized as more important than any other single initiative, the hiring of faculty for mission. The Christian university simply could not take a laissez-faire approach to faculty hiring. Don understood that one of the constants in the narrative of secularization in higher education was that when colleges and universities failed to hire for mission, the institutions rapidly began to distance themselves from their historic religious roots and founding religious bodies. In his judgment, two things were required. First, Baylor needed to have a mission statement that was clear and persuasive in its content. Thus, in 1994, the Baylor Board of Regents approved a new Baylor mission statement that reflected the faith and learning orientation being advocated with the faculty. Second, this mission statement needed to become an essential component of the interview process for new faculty members, especially in the Office of the Provost. Don Schmeltekopf, along with the others who participated in the interviews, wanted to know if the prospective faculty members would be supportive of Baylor's integrated religious and academic mission. Thus, Don made sure that the Office of the Provost played an increasingly active role in faculty searches and academic hires. This action transformed the faculty hiring process at Baylor.

Lilly Fellows Network

In the fall of 1991, Baylor University was one of twenty-five colleges and universities that were invited to join the Lilly Fellows Network for the Arts and Humanities as charter members. The letter inviting Baylor to participate came to then President Herbert Reynolds. He was enthusiastic about Baylor participating in this new venture and assigned Don the task of shepherding our involvement. And Don did. By 1993, he had been appointed a member of the Network Board. He soon organized a national conference of the Lilly Fellows Network that met at Baylor University. While there were many benefits of Baylor's association with the Lilly Fellows Network, one of the most important was the way in which joining it brought us into regular contact with a much larger network of Christian colleges and universities. This network moved us outside the more narrow confines of Baptist colleges and universities and into a broader ecumenical network that included a cluster of Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Methodist schools. Two Baptist universities were invited to join the network -- Baylor and Furman. For the first time, I think, Baylor began to work closely with a wider network than Texas or Southern Baptist colleges and universities, including Catholic universities such as the University of Notre Dame, Boston College, Fordham University, and Loyola Marymount University. Don was one of two Baylor representatives to the network from its founding until his retirement in 2003, attending both national and regional conferences, and bringing at least one national meeting to Baylor.

Faith and Learning Faculty Breakfasts

Don began other important initiatives. The first began in the fall of 1991. Now Vice President Schmeltekopf invited ten members of the faculty to meet for breakfast once every three weeks to discuss a variety of issues under the rubric of Faith and Learning. The group read and discussed a number of substantial essays or chapters of books during the semester. For five years, Don welcomed a different set of ten or more faculty to breakfast for stimulating discussions about Baylor as a Christian university in the Baptist tradition. Over fifty faculty members participated in these rich conversations.

Conferences on Faith and Learning for Texas Church-Related Colleges and Universities

In the spring of 1992, Don welcomed administrators and faculty from Texas church-related colleges and universities to Baylor for a conference on the nature and aspirations of Christian higher education. Not only did many Texas Baptist institutions participate, but also Lutheran, Methodist, Church of Christ and Catholic schools. Representatives from both TCU and SMU participated. This first meeting inspired Don to establish an annual faith and learning conference during the spring semesters for the church-related schools of Texas. Each of these meetings brought distinguished Christian scholars to the conference, and each received funding from the newly established Lilly Fellows Network. The initial conferences were all held at Baylor, but later ones met at various Christian universities across the state, from Texas Lutheran to Abilene Christian.

Creation of the Institute for Faith and Learning

In 1997, Don sponsored the creation of the Institute for Faith and Learning. First, David Solomon, Mike Beaty, and Scott Moore urged Don to institutionalize the faith and learning project at Baylor. After all, there were now a number of initiatives that were being sponsored out of the Office of the Provost that were faith and learning initiatives. "How can one be sure these initiatives will continue, under a new provost or president?" we asked. Solomon suggested that Baylor create a center or institute that brought faith and learning together as an academic enterprise, citing the Institute for Irish Studies as a rough analogue (but pointing out that Notre Dame had a large number of centers and institutes to achieve particularly important ends). Don then assigned Beaty and Moore the task of putting together a proposal that would be vetted by the provost, then President Sloan, and finally the Board of Regents. Beaty presented the proposal to the Academic Affairs committee of the Board of Regents prior to its approval in the spring of 1997.

Other Significant Achievements
Creation of the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core (BIC)

In the late 1980s, President Reynolds appointed a large committee (about 40 faculty and administrators) to examine the core curriculum at Baylor. Reynolds wanted to revise the core in substantial ways. The committee met for a couple of years and then produced a long report but recommended that no revision be attempted at that time. Don read the report soon after his appointment as Vice Provost. In the summer of 1991, Don appointed a twenty-five person faculty committee. Its aim was to strengthen the humanities at Baylor by developing an optional core curriculum. Robert Baird chaired the committee. After three years of study and faculty preparation, the new core was not only approved by the faculties of Arts and Sciences, Business, Engineering, Music, and Nursing, but was open for student enrollment in the fall of 1994. The program became known as the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, initially reporting to the provost but subsequently moved within the newly created Honors College.

Creation of the Great Texts Program

In the fall of 2000, Don and President Robert Sloan wanted to expand the opportunities for undergraduate students to read primary texts. They asked Scott Moore to survey existing great books programs throughout the country and to develop a proposal that would address Baylor's needs and students. Moore's proposal was given to a faculty committee, chaired by Maurice Hunt, which brought a recommendation to the College of Arts and Sciences. The Arts and Sciences faculty unanimously approved the proposal for the new Great Texts Program, and Don appointed Scott Moore as its first director. Today the Great Texts Program's eleven full-time faculty members and numerous affiliated faculty from throughout the university teach dozens of sections of Great Texts courses each term.

Creation of the Honors College

When Don came to Baylor, there was a University Scholars program (directed by Bruce Cresson) and an Honors Program (directed by Wallace Daniel). The creation of BIC and the department of Great Texts were was a significant additions to the work of the humanities at Baylor. It also occasioned the creation of an important new addition to academic life at Baylor -- the Honors College. The Honors College was now comprised of four programs: University Scholars, the Honors Program, the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, and the Great Texts Program. Its founding Dean was Thomas Hibbs, who came to Baylor in 2003 from Boston College where he had been the chair of the philosophy department. The Honors College now has approximately forty full-time or affiliated faculty members.

Baylor 2012, a Strategic Vision for Baylor University

Robert Sloan became president of Baylor in 1995. Soon after he took office, he appointed Stan Madden as Vice President for Marketing and Communications. Both Madden and Schmeltekopf believed that Baylor needed to craft a ten-year strategic plan that would provide vision and direction for Baylor's future as a Christian university, since now Baylor aspired to be not only a successful undergraduate teaching institution with fine professional schools, but also a first-tier research university. In time, President Sloan embraced the idea of a university-wide effort to articulate a vision. Don was given primary responsibility for the academic aspect of the vision. He embraced this responsibility with enthusiasm, and began to organize the effort to develop and articulate an inspiring and substantive academic vision.

Graduate Education at Baylor

Although graduate work, especially at the master's level, had existed for many years at Baylor, it was not by any means an institutional priority. The prevailing view of administrations at Baylor regarding graduate work was that if a department wanted to support serious graduate education, it would have to do so within the existing resources for both faculty and funding. Given Baylor's current commitment to faith and learning and to the importance of Christian scholarship, Don appointed a blue ribbon committee to study graduate education at Baylor, and to make recommendations about how to improve it and thereby enhance Baylor's standing as a research university. The report constituted a significant re-envisioning and reconfiguring of Baylor's commitment to graduate education. Soon after Sloan and Schmeltekopf received the report, a new Dean (Larry Lyon) was appointed and charged with developing new doctoral programs. During Don's tenure as provost, seven new doctoral programs were developed. Several others were moving toward realization when he retired as provost in 2003. Today Baylor has twenty-three doctoral programs compared to the seven it had when Don became provost. Indeed, Baylor has developed a significant niche in graduate education, namely, the service of church-related colleges and universities across the United States. Many of our graduate students come from these institutions and many are recruited by these schools to be on their faculties.

Ph.D. in Philosophy

I'll elaborate on only one of the new Ph.D. programs, the one I know the best. The Department of Philosophy began to offer an M.A. in philosophy in the 1950s. The program was quite successful in sending its graduates to fine Ph.D. programs across the country and in providing its students additional in-depth training in philosophy prior to their seeking careers in numerous professions. However, as early as 1993 Don began a discussion with the department of philosophy about its willingness to offer a Ph.D. His principal motive was the importance of the humanities for universities, in general, and in particular, for Christian universities. While Baylor offered Ph.D.s in religion and English, for example, Don argued that the absence of serious philosophical emphasis at Baylor would be, in the long run, detrimental to Baylor and the communities it wished to serve. Schmeltekopf's initial invitation to the department, however, was met with hesitancy by a majority of the faculty. It was an expensive and difficult proposition. After Robert Sloan became president, and the new report that re-envisioned Baylor's commitment to graduate education began to circulate, the department was again approached and encouraged to develop a serious proposal. This time, it responded favorably. The Ph.D. program in philosophy officially began in 2004, though new faculty were hired as early as 1998 when Carl Vaught was brought on as a University Professor, and some graduate students were admitted with a Ph.D. program in sight as early as 2001. By 2007, the department had grown from five full-time faculty to fourteen, with several more faculty members (five) with Ph.D.s in philosophy whose principal appointments were in other academic units.

Shift in Faculty Responsibilities

When Don came to Baylor in 1990, and for several years thereafter, the standard teaching load for Baylor faculty members was twelve hours or its equivalent. Released time was granted mainly for those faculty members who had administrative responsibilities. As the emphasis on scholarship and publication increased, along with a renewed commitment to graduate education, it became increasingly clear that the policy governing faculty responsibilities would need to be revised. Over the course of the 1997-98 academic year, Don worked with the Faculty Senate, academic departments, and the members of the Council of Deans to alter faculty responsibilities in fundamental ways. Effective in the fall of 1998, all newly hired tenure-track faculty members, and all faculty members who worked with graduate students, would be expected to produce published scholarship. While released time for scholarship had been on the increase for a year or so, it now became widespread across the faculty, so that a typical teaching load was two or three courses per semester in the humanities, social sciences, and professional schools, and even less in the sciences and engineering.

Distinguished and University Professors Initiative

One of the criticisms of the faith and learning initiative was that faith and learning are separate spheres, and serious scholars should adhere to this separation. From this point of view, committing to such a project might be institutional suicide. To address this issue, Don developed the Distinguished and University Professor Initiative. The aim was to hire very successful scholars in disciplines critical to the Christian university who were articulate exemplars of the integration of faith and learning. Ralph Wood and Carl Vaught were the first hired (1998), and others followed.

Generalizations Based on These Accomplishments
  • Don helped re-center the Christian identity as an academic enterprise with respect to Baylor's self-understanding and mission.
  • Don elevated Baylor's academic aspirations from being a regionally excellent undergraduate institution with some very fine professional schools to being a nationally recognized research university.
  • Don placed Baylor in conversation and collaboration with a much wider network of colleges and universities.
  • Don developed, sponsored, and personally involved himself in a large number of practical activities that promoted the integration of faith and learning, both at Baylor and beyond Baylor.
  • Don shepherded to fruition a number of important new academic initiatives that enhanced the humanities at Baylor University (BIC, Great Texts, Honors College, Ph.D. in Philosophy, etc)
  • Don both encouraged and helped organize the articulation of a bold new vision, Baylor 2012.
  • Don encouraged and sponsored the recruitment of established scholars as well as new and promising scholars who were inspired to come to Baylor because of 2012.