The Waco Tribune-Herald: Baylor makes strides, but falls short of top-tier research goal

May 9, 2012

Baylor 2012: A Decade of Change by the Waco Tribune-HeraldArticle reprinted with the permission of The Waco Tribune-Herald.

By Cindy V. Culp

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

This is the fourth of a six-part series examining the successes and failures of Baylor University's 10-year growth and visioning plan known as Baylor 2012.

During the past decade, Baylor University made the leap from being a school known for its classroom teaching to one where research is also a recognized part of the mix.

Professors have had more than twice as many articles published in major journals. Research expenditures increased 70 percent to $14.2 million last fiscal year. As a result, the school now is deemed to have "high research activity" by a widely recognized classification system.

But for all of that progress, Baylor has not become the top-tier research institution officials envisioned a decade ago when they launched a strategic plan known as Baylor 2012. In hindsight, most everyone concedes that goal was never within reach during the plan's 10-year frame.

Still, many at the university think the efforts initiated as part of the vision positioned Baylor to become one of the nation's elite research universities. Vaulting to the next level will take at least another decade, they acknowledge.

But the university now has the operational and physical infrastructure needed to attempt that next step, they said.

"I think we're just starting to hit a critical mass phase," said Truell Hyde, Baylor's vice provost for research.

One of the first things Baylor did to increase its research activity was to hire more professors. That was key because the university needed more faculty to give professors time for research.

Baylor professors were teaching four courses per semester, on average.

That was far more than professors at leading research universities, who typically teach just one or two classes at a time.

Baylor adopted that model, with most tenure-track faculty now teaching two classes per semester, said Elizabeth Davis, Baylor's executive vice president and provost. In the sciences, some professors alternate between teaching one class and two classes at a time, she said.

To pull that off, Baylor hired 80 new faculty members during the first two years of the vision plan's implementation. That accounted for more than 40 percent of the 189 faculty positions created during the entire vision period.

In all, Baylor's faculty increased 27 percent during the decade. It now numbers 886.

Baylor also increased faculty pay, which officials said lagged behind peer institutions. That helped recruit and retain professors, including some leading researchers, Davis said.

As a result, faculty payroll has grown nearly 81 percent during the decade, from $92.4 million to $166.7 million.

"Baylor, to its credit, put its money where its mouth was and invested in what was necessary to move the faculty forward," Hyde said.

The university also spent a considerable sum upgrading facilities. It issued $247 million in bonds to finance the construction of new buildings and renovate existing ones. The crown jewel was the $103.3 million Baylor Sciences Building, the largest single construction project in the school's history.

Building infrastructure

At the same time, Baylor also beefed up its organizational infrastructure. When Hyde's office was created in 2001, he was the only employee.

The university didn't have an office in charge of helping faculty find external research funding. No one was available to help professors secure patents, negotiate licensing agreements or navigate other legal questions related to discoveries. Baylor didn't have compliance staff to help professors ensure their research was done in accordance with state and federal law.

The university now has all of that and more. Among the new programs are several that offer internal funding for research, including projects done by new professors or undergraduate students.

"Our job is simply to help the faculty be successful," Hyde said of the programs.

Another ingredient in Baylor's research push was the expansion of advanced studies.

The university has increased the number of doctoral programs from 14 to 24 and increased the number of Ph.D. students by 41 percent.

Both exceed the goals in the Baylor 2012 plan.

Graduate student enrollment has grown 11.1 percent. The plan called for a 25 percent increase.

Advanced studies programs are essential to any university's research presence since students must produce research, Hyde said.

In Baylor's case, the expansion was particularly helpful since many of the newly created or expanded programs complement the university's research focus areas. The new Ph.D. program in electrical and computer engineering, for example, fits perfectly with the goals of the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative, he said.

The BRIC is the first project at a research park Baylor is launching with Texas State Technical College. About $45 million already has been invested in the project, which will contain a mix of laboratory space, training facilities and high-tech companies.

Baylor officials say the park signals how serious the university is about becoming a national research university. They also are confident it will help faculty members secure more outside funding for research.

That is a key hurdle Baylor faces as it tries to improve its national standing, Davis said. The university likely needs to triple or even quadruple external financial income for research before it can be considered a full-fledged research institution, she said.

The "Top American Research Universities" list published by Arizona State University, for example, requires schools to have at least $40 million in annual federal research monies to be considered. Baylor's federal research dollars are less than one-fourth of that.

Adding faculty

The university also needs to hire more professors, particularly in the sciences, Davis said. In addition, Baylor needs to increase its tally of faculty awards, fellowships and memberships.

One measure used in rankings, for instance, is how many faculty members are members of the National Academies -- the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine. Each of those bodies has between 1,700 and 2,200 members who are considered the most accomplished in their fields.

Baylor's only member is physicist Marlan Scully, who recently agreed to phase out his work at Princeton University and move his research labs to the BRIC.

He is also a professor at Texas A&M University and likely will retain faculty appointments at other places in addition to his role at Baylor.

Despite the remaining challenges, Baylor has made important strides, Davis said.

One reflection of its improvement shows up in the classification system developed by the nationally recognized Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

In 2006, Baylor was deemed a research university with "high research activity," placing it in the second tier of the foundation's rating system for research institutions.

A total of 99 schools fall into that category, including Boston College and Wake Forest University.

In Texas, a number of universities have that classification. They include Southern Methodist University, the University of North Texas, Texas Tech University and the University of Texas campuses at Arlington, Dallas, El Paso and San Antonio.

The top level is reserved for universities with "very high research activity." One hundred and eight schools have that title, including Harvard and the California Institute of Technology.

Texas schools in that category include Rice and Texas A&M universities, University of Houston and the University of Texas at Austin.

"It just can't all of a sudden happen," Davis said of a university's climb toward top-tier status.

"The right things have to be in place and there has to be a commitment to continue to move in that direction. And remember, everybody's moving," she said, in a reference to other schools.

Terry Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education, said most universities sought to increase their research presence in recent decades. Rightly or wrongly, public perception of universities is often tied to the research they do and resulting discoveries, he said.

"Universities are acutely aware of this," said Hartle, whose Washington, D.C-based trade group represents all types of colleges and universities.

Getting more funding is particularly challenging right now, Hartle said. The bulk of research money comes from the federal government, which decreased grants in recent years.

The good news for Baylor is it now has the infrastructure necessary to have a shot at funding, Hartle said. If it can get a few large grants, chances of winning more improve because of a "snowball effect" with funding, he said.

"In scientific research, quality begets quality," Hartle said. "But you have to build the first floor before you can get to any of the rest of it."

Slow process

But Hartle cautioned that the type of growth Baylor is aiming for should be thought of in terms of decades. Schools such as the University of Virginia and Duke University show institutions can indeed increase research activity enough to move up in reputation and academic rankings. But it doesn't happen quickly.

"It's a slow build," Hartle said. "Identifying priority areas is key."

Some critics of Baylor 2012 said Baylor's refusal to hire professors who are not Christian or Jewish hamstrings the university's research efforts.

Max Shauck, who taught at Baylor for nearly three decades and brought in millions of research dollars for his work on alternative aviation fuels and aircraft pollution, said the religious emphasis is what eventually caused him to leave a few years ago. He is now doing the same kind of work at the University of Houston.

When he was hired under former Baylor president Herbert Reynolds, Shauck said, he was upfront about the fact he didn't go to church.

Reynolds responded by saying there was still room at the university for him, as long as he didn't disparage religion in the classroom, he said.

After Robert Sloan became president and Baylor 2012 was launched, the university's atmosphere changed, Shauck said.

Although he was largely left alone -- likely because he brought in research money, he said -- he no longer felt at home. When the University of Houston made him an attractive job offer, he left.

Through the years, Shauck said, he heard a number of scientists say they would not consider coming to Baylor because of the religious faith emphasis. Unless the university reconsiders its hiring stance, it likely will find it difficult to attract scientists in all the disciplines it needs to become a top-tier research university, he said.

"They're going to decrease the potential pool of good research people and decrease it substantially," Shauck said.

Hyde, Baylor's research provost, said Baylor may lose out on some scientists because of the school's Christian commitment, but it also draws professors who could choose to go anywhere.

"Maybe the pool is small, but we're one of the only games in town," he said. "If you're a Christian research university and a Christian research university that is really concerned about the quality of teaching, you get people coming to the university who are turning down Ivy (League schools) and coming to us from all over the world."

Read other Waco Tribune-Herald stories on Baylor 2012.

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