Whatever one thinks about the Baylor 2012 Vision, many would agree that the ones most affected by its implementation are the students -- and they are making sure they're part of the process.
Following a student rally in early September, the Baylor 2012 Student Development Council and the Student Government sponsored a question-and-answer session for students Sept. 23 at Miller Chapel. President Robert B. Sloan Jr., provost David Lyle Jeffrey and chief financial officer David Brooks spent two hours answering questions about financial implications, tuition increases, hiring procedures, institutional image concerns, religious expectations and more. Dr. Eileen Hulme, vice president for student life, could not be present because of a death in the family.
"It is your experience that is at the heart, soul and purpose of Baylor University," Dr. Sloan said in opening comments to a group of about 40 students.
Student body president Jeff Leach welcomed the group, saying, "Today marks the first of many meetings between administrators and students ... . They care about what we have to say."
Several students asked if the tuition increase is affecting student applications, especially among minorities. Dr. Sloan said that minority numbers for this year's freshman class are more than 25 percent, compared to about 22 percent last year. Brooks said the number of applicants overall had increased since fall 2002 -- when flat-rate tuition went into effect -- which he attributes to the increased scholarship monies available because of the new tuition structure. He also said the median income of applicants' families had decreased, an indication that the University remains accessible to families across the economic spectrum.
One student asked if financial donations to Baylor would be affected by recent events in the men's basketball program and concerns about Baylor's leadership. Dr. Sloan said that although a few donors have withdrawn their support, he added, "There are many who have said, 'This is what we want,'" and have started to give. "Right now, we are $7 million ahead of last year," he said.
Provost Jeffrey addressed questions about hiring practices and the tenure process. Faculty candidates are asked only to "affirm the first things of faith," he said, adding that Baylor does not have a "narrow view" of Christianity. This year's applicants were of the "highest caliber and quantity than ever before," he said, and he believes that is expressly because of the 2012 Vision and the University's commitment to "intellectual excellence."
Baylor's practice of hiring faculty who are primarily of the Judeo-Christian faith was questioned. "The highest quality candidates available who care about the environment that we are trying to create at Baylor are from those groups," Dr. Jeffrey said. "We are a Christian university ... . Students need freedom to ask questions about faith. We are trying to find faculty members who are thoughtful about Baylor's Christian mission."
In light of the recent no-confidence vote in Dr. Sloan by the Faculty Senate, students asked about faculty dissension. Dr. Sloan, who already has met with the executive committee of the Senate, said he will meet with faculty members throughout the year to try to address their concerns. Dr. Jeffrey said that working with faculty members would be his "No. 1 priority this year as provost."
One student asked how the administration planned on addressing students who are comfortable with their homosexuality and if they will have a voice at Baylor. Dr. Sloan said that the University holds to the "mainstream" Christian belief that homosexual behavior is immoral. He added that he anticipates Baylor will continue to be "a community where questions can be asked and people can seek help on moral issues," but said he doubts that a gay and lesbian community on campus will ever be equated with a racial or gender status.
Student forums such as these are invaluable, Leach said later. "It gives students a chance to receive vital information straight from the mouths of administrators, and gives students a way to voice concerns and ask questions," he said. More forums are being planned, as well as smaller meetings with four or five students talking to administrators.
Students were invited to submit questions before the session at the Student Forum table in the Bill Daniel Student Center or electronically on Baylor's Information Network. Questions submitted that were not addressed in the session will be sent to administrators and answered as soon as possible, Leach said.
To view the forum in its entirety, visit BaylorTV.com