'Baylor Experience' changed for student body president

April 30, 2009

By Bryan Fonville

Many people talk about the Baylor experience: what it means to be a student at Baylor. For some, it's their involvement in student organizations. For others, it's the classroom experience and relationships with professors. And for others still, it's the athletics program, the beautiful campus or the Christian environment.

My Baylor experience changed significantly one year ago when I became student body president.

When I started at Baylor I was a shy and insecure freshman simply looking to survive in the unknown world of college-life. I was much more worried about making friends than aspiring to become student body president.

Things change. I've changed. And so has Baylor.

As an incoming freshman, Baylor was a place where I could find myself, as the Baylor TV commercial says. As a second generation Baylor Bear, I remember growing up and hearing my mom share stories about her college experience, about the amazing relationships she had with her professors and about the unique Christian environment.

Baylor is still all those things But, the road we've traveled has had its highs and lows, twists and turns, gains and losses.

The most recent phase of our university's journey has presented struggles that have divided the Baylor family, a high turnover rate in the university's upper administration and continued skepticism regarding Baylor's future and Vision 2012.

My graduating class -- the Class of 2009 -- has seen more than its fair share of the struggles. For us, our time at Baylor will be bookended by interim presidents: Underwood and Garland. In 2005, we saw the triumphant arrival of Dr. Lilley, only to later see the fall of a president who was supposed to rally the university community around Baylor 2012.

In our four years, we've seen larger-than-expected increases in tuition. We've seen faculty outcry to unfair tenure policies regarding Baylor's new emphasis on research. And, we've seen a less-than-cordial relationship between the Baylor Alumni Association and the Board of Regents.

Baylor walks a unique and narrow path in the realm of higher education. Few institutions will commit to academic excellence within a Christian environment, often choosing one and sacrificing the other.

Baylor's intentional commitment to both has often caused obstacles and challenges throughout our history.

My experience this year has shown me that only through honest conversations and open processes can Baylor continue to maintain that special commitment and achieve its mission.

As student body president, I've seen a lot. But it's what I want to see that intrigues me more.

I want to see a unified Baylor family rallying behind a common vision, rooted in Baylor's rich history of tradition, teaching and service. I want to see a student-centered university experience, where administrators are committed to providing the best educational experience at an affordable price.

I want to see constituency leaders involved in the process and willing to speak out, even when it's unpopular. And I want to see a Board of Regents willing to be more transparent and inclusive in their decision-making.

My student experience has been set during a historic time for Baylor. And even with the bumps in the road, I wouldn't trade my Baylor experience for anything in the world, because Baylor is too unique and the educational offering here is too special.

Baylor serves a greater purpose in this world, and it's up to all of us to preserve and continue that mission.

We all have a stake in this university's future, whether it be as a student, alumnus, teacher, administrator or regent. We all want to see a better Baylor, and it will take each one of us to continue to build a better Baylor.

Bryan Fonville is a senior economics and finance major from Garland and the outgoing student body president.

This column appeared in the April 30 edition of The Baylor Lariat.