As scholars at a Christian institution, Baylor's faculty members have a dual calling -- to pursue high quality teaching and research and, pre-eminently, to follow the commands of Christ. In an effort to combine these two callings, the Jubilee Initiative came about as the result of an idea formed in the School of Social Work and the biology department.
The initiative proposes the creation of an interdisciplinary research center, where Baylor faculty, staff and students who are researching or teaching classes related to poverty can go to discuss ideas and build on them. Valuable to the scholarly and global community, the project combines the best ideals of Baylor.
It's appropriately named after the Hebraic Year of Jubilee as described in the Old Testament, says Jon Singletary, coordinator of the Jubilee Initiative and director of the Center for Child and Family Ministries in the School of Social Work. This jubilee year, which occurred every 50 years, was regulated by unique rules meant to address the needs of those who were living in poverty.
"Baylor is a school that sees poverty-related research as its mission," Singletary says. "We aren't just a school living out traditional disciplines in traditional ways. We've come together to say, 'Here are some elements that the Gospel calls us to address -- care for people, meeting the needs of people, lifting up the needs of the poor, and we've made a research agenda out of that.' Our Christian vocation is central to our work, not just through quality teaching, quality relationships and quality service, but scholarship."
Although the initiative receives primary support from the School of Social Work, the idea germinated across campus in the Baylor Sciences Building. In early 2005, Chris Kearney, associate professor of biology, proposed that Baylor start a poverty-related research center similar to some he was familiar with at other universities such as Syracuse University, University of Kentucky and Columbia University.
The thought was a result of research for a talk Kearney gave on the meshing of science and Christianity. "Today science and technology are mainly available to the First World, but these technologies could be available to the Third World if somebody could make them inexpensively," Kearney says. "I thought, 'If Baylor could get together all its professors, we could have a formidable thing to offer.'"
By March, Diana Garland, dean of the School of Social Work, and several other social work professors, including Singletary, began to imagine a model where professors and students from all disciplines would share ideas and research on poverty. Two months later, they drafted a proposal and submitted it to Randall O'Brien, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, who liked the idea. The proposal included six initiatives, the first three of which have already been completed.
"The initiatives are to lay out specific activities that the proposal identified as helping us achieve the goal of pointing out how central poverty work is in the University," Singletary says.