A Higher Standard of Learning

By Julie Carlson

Baylor education students instruct Waco elementary, middle and high school children by using the latest teaching methods. Students from Truett Seminary serve as youth and music ministers at area churches. Baylor researchers look for ways to improve various quality-of-life issues that face individuals, as well as the community: from improving water quality to aiding in family literacy. The University's theater and music productions provide top-notch entertainment, like that found in larger metropolitan areas.

There is no question that the Central Texas community benefits from Baylor's many academic departments. Baylor 2012, the University's 10-year Vision, calls for developing new academic programs and initiatives in selected areas, and Waco will continue to profit from these additions in tangible ways.

"The kind of researchers Baylor will have on faculty and the kind of students who will be in the classroom will be people who are exciting components of the wider community," Provost David L. Jeffrey says. "They will bring a sense of understanding and appreciation of ways that Waco can make contributions to the life of America."

Some of those exciting faculty and students will be found in the newly created Honors College. Dr. Thomas Hibbs, formerly chair of the philosophy department at Boston College and known for his critiques of popular culture, received the appointment to serve as dean.

"The type of students who enroll in Honors College programs become bored if the pace isn't tough. They thrive on conversation with equally bright peers. They ask difficult questions and perhaps can absorb a little more material in the same amount of time than other students," Jeffrey says. "In the Honors College, we plan to get them working together and to run them as hard as they will run."

Within the Honors College, students can choose from four tracks: the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core (BIC), in which students connect ideas to social issues; the Great Texts Program, in which students explore classic writings; the Honors Program, in which students think and write at a level usually associated with graduate-level work; and University Scholars, where students customize their degree programs.

An office of national and international scholarships will be a part of the College and will assist Baylor students in applying for Rhodes, Fulbright, Marshall, Truman, Goldwater, Rotary and other prestigious scholarships for post-baccalaureate study.

Hibbs believes the Honors College, with its four concentration areas, will be a leader in promoting interdisciplinary education. "Bringing these premier programs together under a single college will highlight interdisciplinary learning and teaching," he says.

"Most universities offer lip service to the idea of interdisciplinary education, but the specialization, entrenched structures and conservative tendencies of university departments work against its realization. The Honors College is a serious attempt at institutional reform aimed at realizing cross-disciplinary learning, and if we can do this, we can create a remarkable intellectual community at Baylor, something much discussed but rarely achieved in the modern university."

Baylor 2012 also calls for the creation of a School of Communication, which will include the journalism, speech communication and telecommunication programs. "Establishing a School of Communication is important because information and information skills are vital in a high-tech-oriented culture," Jeffrey says.

"Baylor's capacity to contribute to telecommunication and journalism training and to criticism of media practice is an important feature of Baylor's larger contribution to contemporary and future culture."

One distinguishing component of such a school will be an emphasis on public speaking and rhetoric. Jeffrey believes this feature will attract students from a variety of academic programs.

"Knowing how to communicate orally in an effective manner is important to a number of professions," he says. "Certainly law, ministerial and education students must have this skill, but it is increasingly clear that business students should be capable of a high order of oral communication."

Strengthening its graduate programs is another priority for the University. To that end, Baylor 2012 calls for the number of graduate students to increase by 25 percent, with the number of doctoral students growing by at least 30 percent.

"Universities build strong academic reputations at the undergraduate and graduate level by building strong graduate programs," says Dr. Larry Lyon, dean of the Graduate School and professor of sociology. "The universities that are listed as top tier undergraduate universities by US News & World Report have, on average, 40 percent of their students enrolled in graduate education. We average about 12 percent."

To help achieve its goals, Baylor will create at least 10 doctoral programs in the social sciences and humanities, including a new PhD in philosophy and three others from areas such as history, classics, social work, nursing, economics, sociology of religion or political science. These programs and a new interdisciplinary center that focuses on religion and ethics will join existing doctoral programs and professional programs, new facilities, interdisciplinary research centers for the environment and health science and efforts in research administration. The stronger undergraduate programs will enable the eight doctoral programs in science and mathematics to become more productive in doctoral output, research and external funding.

"Typically, in higher education, you will not have the academic environment that produces new ideas without large and strong graduate programs," Lyon says. "Since we believe that ideas formed from a Christian perspective are important, Baylor must become a creator of knowledge, as well as a transmitter of knowledge. To do that, we must enhance graduate education."

Jeffrey believes that the Baylor 2012 goals for academic programs will enable the University to contribute significantly to the country's intellectual, political and cultural energy.

"Baylor is not a little, sleepy liberal arts college," he said. "Baylor has come of age and has become a significant player in the world of ideas and research."