The 67 tenure-track faculty hires that stepped into Baylor classrooms in late August arguably are the most impressive incoming class in the University?s history, not only in numbers and ethnic diversity, but in academic scholarship and international reputation.
Baylor has attracted scholars from Westminster Abbey, the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences, Notre Dame, Oxford, Loyola and the Russian University of Droozbia Narodov in Moscow, to name a few. They came with a plethora of publications and citations, with considerable grant funding and one, in the School of Education, even came with his own research lab. They are well-educated, well-read, well-rounded and, to a person, well-versed in Baylor 2012, and they are here to do their part in helping Baylor ?develop a world-class faculty,? the Vision?s third imperative.
The further expectation of this imperative is that several of the faculty will ?especially exemplify the integration of faith and learning in their disciplines and in interdisciplinary or collaborative activities.? Some at the University thought it would be difficult to find top-quality faculty members with this combination of beliefs and abilities. Just the opposite has proven to be true, says Dr. Donald D. Schmeltekopf, provost and vice president for academic affairs, who interviewed more than half of the 230 candidates who applied for faculty positions this year.
Place on the move
?I would say nothing was as helpful in recruiting this year as Baylor 2012,? Dr. Schmeltekopf says. ?Candidates were resonating with two things: an institution that had such strong aspirations and an institution that was deeply committed to being a Christian university.
?They want to be in a place that?s on the move,? he says. ?But the other thing is, they want to be in a place where there is a community of Christian scholars together who care about ethical issues, about how the disciplines relate to larger issues in society, people who don?t separate facts from values.?
Dr. David Lyle Jeffrey, senior vice provost and Distinguished Professor of Literature and Humanities, was involved actively in recruiting and hiring this year?s faculty class. Dr. Jeffrey has visited with almost every candidate, and he says he believes many in the Baylor community consider the quality of the new hires ?really remarkable.?
?There?s clear evidence that Baylor 2012 dramatically improved the quality of the folks applying to Baylor,? he says. ?It was quite clear to me in several cases that these people would not normally have been candidates at Baylor. They are the kind of people who normally would have been looking for jobs at Ivy League or major name schools. They were Christians who were attracted because of the clarity of the Vision statement.?
Challenges to address
Although Baylor has a strong start out of the gate with this fall?s faculty recruits, achieving the third imperative comes with challenges and concerns. The primary one discussed around morning coffee in the Bill Daniel Student Center is how to balance teaching and scholarship. At a university historically known and valued for its teaching, where small teacher/student ratios have been trumpeted, moving toward an equal emphasis on scholarship has created concern among some faculty members.
These concerns cover the spectrum, says Dr. Darden Powers, professor and chair of the physics department. Faculty members wonder how research productivity will be evaluated in different academic fields, he says. Even though the University has given professors hired before 1991 ? when the emphasis on research was initiated with new hires ? the option to choose between a teaching or research emphasis, Dr. Powers says he still hears concerns: ?They?re wondering, if they stay as teachers, how will they be treated? How will they be looked upon?? he says.
Dr. Jeffrey is aware of these concerns, but he emphasizes the value Baylor places on those faculty hired before 1991, 47 percent of whom, incidentally, already have chosen to be classified under the research (scholar/teacher) profile. ?I don?t want them to imagine that just because what they have been called to do ? and what they?ve done so well ? is different in some measure from the expectation of faculty now being hired, that theirs is in any sense an inferior contribution to Baylor. That just isn?t true. It is central to who we are. We couldn?t be where we are and where we?re going without everything that they have done and continue to do.?
Furthermore, the University expects recent hires, more focused on research and the dissemination of new knowledge, to continue that tradition of excellent teaching. ?We expect the quality of teaching they do to be no less than the quality of teaching that has always been done at Baylor,? Dr. Jeffrey says.
Dr. Powers brings to this discussion his experience at the California Institute of Technology, where he did his graduate work. There, the combination of scholarship and teaching was the rule, not the exception. Professors taught one course in the fall and one in the spring, with Nobel laureates among the faculty, he says. ?The teaching was some of the best I?ve seen in my life. It was just fantastic. Those people out there were outstanding teachers and outstanding researchers. But you always sort of sensed their major responsibility was scholarship, not teaching,? he adds.
This both/and approach is what Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr. believes is possible. ?The knowledge base changes so rapidly that you can?t be a good teacher if you?re not familiar with and/or engaged in the newest forms of research in the field,? he says. ?You?re not simply after more classroom lecturing. You?re after the learning experience. It?s that experience that is enriched by different modes of teaching. What we?re talking about enhances that.?
Dr. Maurice Hunt, professor and chair of the English department, agrees that without research, professors will present ?hothouse? ideas, those hatched in an enclosed area and unchallenged by outside reading. ?There?s a limit to what you can imagine as a solitary individual,? he says.
For the faculty candidates Dr. Schmeltekopf interviewed this past spring, the very question of how they planned to balance research and teaching seemed to puzzle them, he says. ?The consistent response of candidates was that that?s a false dichotomy. They didn?t see the two as competing or contradictory. The best teachers in the classroom are the people who are doing active research and are contributing to their field in publications,? he says.
Building in flexibility
For its part, the administration is building in flexibility and options to accommodate these higher expectations. Active researchers will be offered decreased teaching loads and the opportunity to pursue sabbatical leave. Professional development to enhance teaching will be available for all faculty. A new position of vice provost for faculty development was created last summer, and Dr. Michael Beaty, professor of philosophy and former director of the Institute for Faith and Learning, was hired. His responsibilities include developing summer teaching and scholars institutes that focus on effective teaching practices and mentoring programs to help orient new faculty.
Another element involved in expectations of the faculty is service ? to the University, academic department, community and church. It is written into Baylor?s mission statement and is viewed as the living out of one?s Christian heritage. Because faculty members often work with students in various service efforts on and off campus, strong relationships are nurtured, creating a family environment, Dr. Schmeltekopf says. ?One of the reasons Baylor is such a strong university is because our faculty has been doing those things and interacting with students outside of the classroom,? he says.
The problem, as he readily concedes, is there are only so many hours in a day. The service component is an oft-forgotten part of the equation in discussions about teaching and scholarship, but it remains important to the administration. ?In most research universities, service is pretty much written off,? Dr. Schmeltekopf says. ?As we increase the expectations for research and publication, we don?t want to do that at the expense of service.?
This becomes yet another reason Baylor is hiring more faculty who will free up time commitments of existing faculty and broaden the University?s base of expertise. In the next decade, Dr. Schmeltekopf says faculty numbers will increase from the current 700-plus to close to 1,000. Including lecturers, visiting faculty and other nontenure-track positions, more than 100 new faces entered Baylor classrooms this fall.
With the emphasis on scholarship comes the increased need to seek grants to fund research, and grants awarded bring with them accountability requirements. It can become a flood of administrative paper-shuffling duties that increasingly takes professors out of the classroom and away from teaching. Balancing these responsibilities will be a challenge, says Dr. Powers, who again speaks from personal experience. When he first came to Baylor in the early ?60s, he was extremely active in research but found he backed off that with increasing administrative responsibilities.
?When you try to retool to become current and competitive in research, you go back into this very intensive climate. That just puts a lot of pressure on you,? he says. ?I think we have to be careful as we move into that that we don?t lose our identification of the past whereby students felt comfortable in going to see their professors and see that their professors personally care about them.?
At the same time, as stated in the third imperative, Baylor is seeking to develop interdisciplinary research clusters. These will serve as bridges among fields where faculty members? work may almost, but not quite, intersect. ?If we draw in two or three people at the interface, they connect,? Dr. Jeffrey says. ?You get an exponential growth in productivity in this interface area.?
The clusters being created now are in biomedical areas, math and physics and in nanotechnology, which links mechanical and electrical engineering, biology, computer science, chemistry, math and physics. Additional clusters will be developed later, and some interdisciplinary efforts already in place may become clusters, Dr. Jeffrey says.
Hiring those who can converse across academic disciplines is of primary importance. ?We want philosophers who know about the sciences and scientists who know something about history and culture and philosophy,? Dr. Jeffrey says.
An example is new associate math professor Klaus Kirsten, who came from the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences in Leipzig, Germany. He is interested in art history and speaks five languages and is well-read in theological and philosophical works including those of Thomas Aquinas. When Dr. Kirsten decided to apply for a position in the United States, he checked the Internet, where he found the Baylor 2012 statement.
?In my opinion, this is a wonderful Vision and achieving what is described there is a great challenge for the whole community,? says Dr. Kirsten, who will help develop the University?s relatively new doctoral program in math.
?The formation of our future world must be guided by academic excellence and by the will to change the world to the better. Integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment into education is of prominent importance in this process, and for that reason, I am very glad to be a member of a Christian university,? he says.
For Dr. Schmeltekopf, the incoming faculty class signals a pivotal point in the Baylor 2012 process, a strong affirmation that the Vision is being achieved. It caused him to reflect on a presentation he gave 10 years ago. In July 1992, he was one of four vice presidents asked to share their dreams for the future of Baylor University with the Board of Regents.
Leafing through the paper he presented a decade ago, he reads: ?The Christian commitments and traditions of Baylor University, together with our unique standing in the evangelical-Christian higher education community, provide us with an opportunity to achieve nothing short of greatness.?
?I said then that Baylor could be to Baptists and the free church community ? the Protestant side of the house ? what Notre Dame is to the Catholic community,? Dr. Schmeltekopf recalls. ?When you look at the landscape of higher education in America, Baylor is the only one that I see that can assume that role.?
It is a compelling assertion. Certainly it was for Dr. Jeffrey, who two years ago sat down with administrators at Baylor and listened to what was then the kernel of Baylor 2012. He says he found it absolutely decisive in his coming to Baylor, a place he admits he had never thought about. ?I had lots of opportunities to do things in other places, and I wasn?t interested in moving. I felt, as we Baptists say, a ?calling? here.
?Baylor someday is going to be at least as famous nationally as Vanderbilt or Notre Dame, and it?s going to have a deserved reputation for greatness as an academic institution,? Dr. Jeffrey says. ?That?s going to happen, and it?s not going to happen by sacrificing our Christian commitment.?