We often lift up thanks for our campus situated on the edge of the Brazos River, but the campus never shone so gloriously as it did on August 31 when we grandly opened our stunning McLane Stadium. In vibrant images broadcast on national television to tens of millions of households across the globe, we flung “our green and gold afar.” Viewers beheld firsthand the spectacular beauty not only of McLane Stadium, but of our campus and community as well.
This is truly a new era for Baylor. By bringing Baylor football back to campus, we have strengthened the bonds of community here on the Brazos. In doing so, the University has created a magnificent “front door” through which we will welcome tens of thousands of alumni and friends. We eagerly look forward to the annual Homecoming festivities (October 30 to November 1), when far-flung members of Baylor Nation will return to their beloved alma mater for the nation’s oldest Homecoming celebration.
By virtue of generous philanthropy provided by so many alumni and friends, especially the lead gift by the Drayton McLane Jr. family, McLane Stadium stands as a shining example of Baylor’s partnership with our warmly welcoming home city. Early on, the City of Waco generously provided a landmark $35 million gift for stadium construction. The $266 million facility, which stands as the largest project ever built in Waco (and indeed the entire Central Texas region), has already done much to power the dynamic growth along the Brazos River and throughout downtown Waco.
Just prior to our McLane Stadium opening celebrations, we welcomed the largest incoming class in the University’s history. More than 3,600 students have now begun the next phase of their life journey. These young men and women have come from every state in the nation (except Delaware) and from 47 nations around the world. The growth of our student population this year follows years of steady enlargement of our student body. Combined with similarly strong incoming classes in recent years, this year’s class of new students—one of the most academically prepared and diverse in our long history—has lifted Baylor to its seventh consecutive total enrollment record. We give thanks that demand for a transformational Baylor University education stands at an all-time high.
As the state’s oldest continually operating institution of higher education, Baylor has flourished in remarkable ways over its 169-year history while remaining true to its founding mission. Ours is a heritage rich with exemplary and ennobling leaders who provided inspirational foresight to this treasured institution. This year, we are observing the 150th anniversary of William Carey Crane’s installation as Baylor’s fourth president. We celebrate our steadfast dedication to the University’s cornerstone values by honoring a man who, during his long tenure, selflessly embodied the essential character of Baylor.
In contrast to our 16,000-plus students today, when President Crane’s service as Baylor’s leader began in January 1864, the fledgling University had an enrollment of a mere 25 students. The Civil War had converted many current (and potential) students into enlisted soldiers; indeed, the University’s buildings were actually occupied by Confederate troops. Many colleges in Texas closed during this period. President Crane was fiercely determined that Baylor would not be among the casualties.
A classically trained scholar, religious leader and tireless worker, President Crane relentlessly led efforts to pull Baylor back from the brink of financial disaster. In January 1869, Crane personally saved the struggling institution from possible oblivion by raising approximately $300, including $100 of his own resources, to repurchase the campus from a sheriff’s auction.
Today, we celebrate President Crane’s legacy, in part, through the William Carey Crane Scholars Program. This highly popular initiative supports gifted Baylor students interested in exploring connections between faith and reason. But the Crane legacy is much larger. It lives on in the hearts and minds of Baylor students, the ultimate beneficiaries of his profound service to the University. To put it mildly, much has changed since the mid-19th Century, but the eagerness both to learn and to serve continues to animate the lives of our 16,000 students. And the desire of all of those who, in turn, serve our students is that—as future alumni—they will be thoroughly prepared for faith-filled careers, vocations, ministry or post-graduate education.
In Hebrews 13:16, the Apostle Paul writes: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” At Baylor, we strive to live out the Pauline admonition on a daily basis through acts of kindness, generosity and service. I have no doubt that the knowledge of our culture of encouragement was instrumental in The Chronicle of Higher Education once again including Baylor in an elite group of “Great Colleges to Work For.” Of the 42 national universities accorded this honor, Baylor is one of only two institutions in the large university category (10,000 or more students) to achieve recognition in 11 of the 12 categories identifying best practices and policies.
What makes this honor especially meaningful is this: The designation is based on input provided by our own faculty and staff. For that, we give heartfelt thanks. We celebrate with them the joy of the Kingdom work to which we have been called. We are deeply appreciative of the strength and character of Baylor’s faculty and staff professionals who sacrificially devote their time and talent to carrying out Baylor’s Christian mission.
Recognizing that our physical surroundings are vital to fostering a sense of community, we energetically seek out opportunities to enhance campus facilities, as well as our beautiful campus grounds. Time and again, those opportunities have been provided as a result of generous gifts from alumni and friends.
In that exemplary spirit of generosity, Baylor alumnus and physician Thomas J. Rosenbalm provided a major gift this summer to fund significant renovations to historic Fifth Street. Of particular note is a signature fountain to be named in memory of Dr. Rosenbalm’s parents, the late Clarence and Claudia Rosenbalm. The redesign will include both aesthetic and infrastructure improvements to Fifth Street from the Bill Daniel Student Center down Fifth Street to the circular drive in front of McMullen-Connally Faculty Center. The fruits of this timeless gift will be enjoyed by the Baylor family for generations to come.
At its May meeting, Baylor’s Board of Regents endorsed a final set of detailed goals to advance the high-level aspirations articulated in our strategic vision, Pro Futuris, over the next five years. These goals represent the product of extensive input from across campus, as well as feedback from the Board of Regents, and will inform the way Baylor focuses its institutional resources and energies in the years to come.
A prominent theme running throughout these goals is increasing the accessibility of a Baylor education. I am pleased to report exciting progress in our Baylor Bound program, through which we are developing access-enhancing agreements with community colleges. We launched this program last fall in a landmark agreement with McLennan Community College here in Waco. We have now added both Tyler Junior College in beautiful East Texas and Blinn College in historic Brenham to that ever-expanding program. In addition to simplifying the process for students seeking to transfer to Baylor, this forward-looking initiative significantly helps potential Baylor students by paying lower tuition levels at a community college prior to transitioning, as juniors, to our University.
Baylor has long prided itself on keeping a Baylor education within the reach of those who aspire to obtain it, whether they hail from affluent metropolitan areas or from the “forks of the creek.” We are a delightfully diverse Christian community, and the Baylor Bound program represents a powerful tool both to strengthen that diversity and to widen the circle of potential students.
Additionally, Baylor’s Board of Regents has recently approved a revised Guaranteed Tuition Option (GTO), another major initiative within the context of our five-year goals. This option provides students (and, of course, their parents) the opportunity to lock in a four-year tuition rate, thus eliminating uncertainty about future costs.
These programs build on the great value and distinctive nature of a Baylor education, while aggressively addressing deepening nationwide concerns about student indebtedness and educational affordability.
Our students truly are the life of this University. We are striving, with fervent prayer, in both our daily work and in our long-term planning to create opportunities to care for our students effectively; to foster their spiritual growth; to generate endowment to support their education; to implement programs that will help them graduate in a timely manner; and to prepare them for their vocations in life and service.
Thank you for your faithful, generous support of our students and, more generally, for Baylor University. With deep thankfulness for all you have done and, by God’s grace, will do in the future, I remain, yours sincerely,