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Faculty faith, learning strong in Baylor 2012

March 25, 2003

By Hannah Lodwick

Baylor 2012's Imperative III concerning faculty recruitment and retention already has begun to change Baylor in subtle yet effective ways. The imperative aims to recruit faculty from a variety of backgrounds in an effort to achieve high levels of scholarship in both teaching and research. Administrators currently work toward hiring faculty for next year, offering positions to professors from well-known institutions like The University of Notre Dame, Oxford and Boston College.

'A world-class faculty is essential because that's exactly what Tier One means,' said Dr. David Lyle Jeffrey, distinguished professor and senior vice provost. 'All universities which are top-ranked in the U.S. are there because the faculty have distinguished records not only for teaching, but also for research, and this changes the contour of their own discipline.'

The imperative emphasizes hiring faculty with strong teaching abilities and a commitment to the Baylor's Christian mission. This unique standard served as one reason Dr. Mark Long, assistant professor in the Baylor Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, decided to come to Baylor.

'Baylor was the only school who had a doctorate program in politics and religion,' Long said. 'The balance between faith and learning is critical. I believe education divorced from a moral context is a dangerous thing.'

After Sept. 11, Long considered working for the CIA in counterterrorism, but he said he felt he could make a lasting contribution at Baylor.

'I had worked in counterterrorism before as an intelligence analyst,' Long said. 'I thought I should do my duty to God and country. It was a tough decision.'

Although the way in which faith and learning integrate in the classroom varies according to the discipline, Jeffrey said the subject of faith has relevance even in topics like physics.

'What we look for at Baylor is teachers who are alive to the theological potential of their discipline,' he said. 'We think students at Baylor should be able to ask hard questions in any disciplinary context. We're looking for faculty that are really comfortable in their own skin, who are relaxed about these things and who have an ongoing, curious mind.'

Jeffrey said Baylor uses several methods to attract and retain prominent faculty. Besides the incentive of higher wages, sometimes the university offers research endowments, more prestige or smaller classes.

'What we can offer is the Baylor distinctive,' Jeffrey said. 'Baylor is a very special place with a warm, caring, Christian community of faculty and students. There are very few institutions which can do anything like us in terms of providing an atmosphere congenial to research and to a Christian quality of life and real undergraduate teaching.'

This attention to teaching and research plays a large part in Imperative III. Despite some concern that focus on research will remove professors from the classroom, President Robert B. Sloan Jr. said it actually will help students.

'The knowledge base changes so rapidly that you can't be a good teacher if you're not familiar with and or engaged with the newest forms of research in the field,' Sloan said in an interview with Baylor Magazine. 'You're after the learning experience. It's that experience that is enriched by different modes of teaching.'

An important attribute administrators look for in new faculty is the ability to conduct research. Long said he would feel stale if he couldn't keep up with new developments in his field.

'I would have nothing new to offer,' Long said. 'I want to grow and develop and offer others the same thing.'

Jeffrey agreed. He said that in his experience, the most popular professors actively conduct research.

'People who get excited about the things they are teaching are better teachers,' Jeffrey said. 'The body of knowledge is not static. To have teachers who are cut off from research means that you are learning a body of knowledge that is already much more dated than it needs to be.'

A different aspect of Imperative III involves recruiting faculty from diverse backgrounds. Figures released for fall 2002 show that 3.6 percent of Baylor's faculty is black or Hispanic. Ramona Curtis, director of human relations, said in a previous Lariat interview that the key to a diverse faculty involves training.

'We are making strides, but when you look at recruiting you try to get quality no matter what color,' Curtis said. 'The best way to do it is to develop our own students for faculty positions.'

Jeffrey said Baylor tries hard to represent minorities because of its Christian commitment, not because of quotas. He said that last year Baylor hired more people from diverse ethnic backgrounds than ever before.

'Baylor is definitely way ahead of its historic performance in hiring minorities,' Jeffrey said. 'Student diversity here is way ahead, too. I think Baylor students aren't aware of just how much better off we are that way than, say, Texas A&M or even Rice.'