When Baylor graduates leave their alma mater to enter the workforce, they're competing with graduates from some of the best universities in the nation. Even though that reality may not hit them until a few months into the job search, it's a fact that was very much on the minds of those who shaped Baylor 2012, the University's 10-year Vision.
"Our graduates are competing now, like it or not, with the world's best-prepared students," says Dr. David Lyle Jeffrey, senior vice provost and provost-elect. "They need a distinctive edge, a competitive advantage."
Addressing that issue is Baylor 2012's fifth imperative, which seeks to initiate outstanding new academic programs in selected areas including establishment of a School of Communication Studies, building up the newly formed Honors College and further emphasizing graduate education.
"The benefit for our students in our going to the next level in all of these domains is an enhancement of market value and career upward mobility because of greater recognition for their degrees," Dr. Jeffrey says.
The creation of a School of Communication Studies, which will include Baylor's journalism, speech communication and telecommunication programs, is on the not-too-distant horizon, he says. Currently, writing is taught in various programs on campus -- journalism, English, theater and the business school -- but "it's not focused, necessarily, in the way it could be," he says.
"How do we take the best of what we've got, mix it up and combine it to do something that will really benefit our students?" he asks. "There is quite a strong need, relative to our Christian mission, to produce a kind of communications training that is more intellectual in its content and, in some cases, more fully professional in its manner of delivery."
The field of journalism is one in which Dr. Jeffrey says he sees great potential for growth -- especially in today's information age. "The world in which the journalist operates changes so rapidly now that, in a sense, if you don't have a firm grounding that is intellectual and a high degree of orientation to flexibility and change, you won't be able to adapt rapidly enough."
Broadening future journalists' academic backgrounds to include more of a liberal arts orientation would be a step in the right direction, he says.
Last fall, the University hosted Peggy Wehmeyer, the first national religion correspondent for a major television news network, and hired William Murchison, former Dallas Morning News columnist. Both Wehmeyer, distinguished guest lecturer, and Murchison, the Radford Professor of Journalism, have encouraged the University to consider expanding the academic curriculum in the journalism program, Dr. Jeffrey says.
The University also would like to seize the opportunity to fill a gap in the media industry -- coverage of religious news. "It's quite clear that religion has been a comparatively unreported item in national culture. We would hope to be part of a solution to that problem," he says.
Another means of raising the intellectual thermostat on campus was the establishment in Februrary 2002 of the Honors College, which includes the Honors and Great Texts programs, University Scholars and Baylor Interdisciplinary Core (BIC). In January, the University was in the midst of a nationwide search for an Honors College dean.
"The Honors College is all about great, foundational teaching from the classics in several disciplines -- a conversation with the greatest minds that have ever been -- allowing people inculcated in those rich texts to bridge from the past, in its greatness, to the present and to where we're going," Dr. Jeffrey says. "This project seems to be at the heart of Baylor's traditional goals as an educational institution, but what the Honors College does is ratchet up our pedagogy to meet the challenge of our present educational environment."
Within the umbrella of the Honors College, students can choose from four tracks: BIC, where students connect ideas to social issues; the Great Texts Program, where students explore significant writings; the Honors Program, where they are challenged to write and think more at the level of graduate students; and University Scholars, where students customize their degree programs.
"I expect that the Honors College will attract some of the finest students in this country," Dr. Jeffrey says, "and I think it's going to produce some of the finest graduates in this country."
The integration of these tracks, not only academically but physically in their location on campus, will benefit the entire student body, says Dr. Wallace L. Daniel, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
"It's going to create intellectual synergy among those four programs by having them relate to each other, play off each other, form community with each other. It will provide a focus for Baylor that has not previously existed," Dr. Daniel says. Because the Honors College resides in the renovated Morrison Hall, in the center of campus, the community formed there can extend to other areas of campus, he says.
"We segment everything off -- our social life, our academic life, our religious life, our personal life. I'm not saying everything has to be academic, because I don't think it does," he says. "But I do think that the more we do to break down these barriers, the more we fulfill our mission as a university."
Enhancing graduate education is another priority for the University, says Dr. Larry Lyon, dean of the Graduate School and professor of sociology. Within the decade, the Vision calls for the number of PhD programs to increase from the current 14 to at least 20, and the number of graduate students to increase by 25 percent of the student body, with the number of doctoral students growing by at least 30 percent. The new graduate programs include one in philosophy and three others from areas such as history, classics, social work, economics and political science.
"For Baylor to be all that it can be, we have to be an intellectual center that produces new ideas from a Christian viewpoint," Dr. Lyon says. "No school has ever done that without strong, expansive graduate programs."
The key is finding the faculty members for the school, and that comes with a price. "Graduate education is a very expensive proposition," he says. "But we ought to do it because ideas matter, Christianity matters."
Faculty members with active research agendas are what will help strengthen various graduate programs, he says. "The idea of combining faith and learning -- of being a Protestant research university -- is allowing us to attract faculty that we could not have attracted in any other way," he says. "The one thing we're offering is a chance to build something that's never existed before. That can be exciting, and the people who are excited about it are the people we want."
A trend Dr. Lyon sees across the country is a move toward interdisciplinary doctoral programs. For example, biology, physics, geology and economics could combine to solve environmental issues, he says. "Maybe the advantage that Baylor has by getting into graduate education later is that we can build the interdisciplinary nature of graduate programs from the start," he says.
Nor is he worried about Baylor's late start in strengthening graduate programs. "I want to see people ... saying something different -- that there is a center for graduates studying intellectual thought, informed by a Protestant Christian tradition. That's when I'll know we've been successful," he says. "If people automatically look to Baylor for informed opinion on issues, then we've arrived. Then, we're a player sitting at the table in these national conversations."