Baylor University is abundantly blessed with hallowed traditions. From Oct. 22-24, Baylor Nation gathered on our beautiful campus for Homecoming, one of our most venerable traditions. During this historic weekend, our Baylor pride and community spirit abounded as thousands of alumni and friends celebrated this excitement-filled weekend. In addition to providing a magnificent opportunity for a sentimental journey back to campus, our Homecoming Weekend also afforded our alumni and friends the opportunity to come more fully to know our wonderful students.
We love our students, each and every one. Their numbers speak volumes about our University's ever-growing reputation, both nationally and globally. Baylor's fall enrollment includes a record number of students (16,787) and of undergraduates (14,189). Our freshman class--3,394 strong--is one of the most academically qualified entering classes in our 170-year history. We are also deeply thankful that diversity among first-year students remains strong. Minority enrollment among Baylor's freshman class is 34 percent. Speaking of numbers, nearly 31 percent of the freshman class reports a legacy connection to Baylor (up from 28 percent last year).
The extended Baylor family enjoys the religious liberty firmly preserved by the Founding Fathers and repeatedly upheld against myriad challenges over our country's history. In the vibrant area of student life, our foundational freedoms enable the University to affirm values that have been at the core of Christian life literally for centuries. One aspect of that affirmation is Baylor's enduring support for traditional marriage, which became the subject of news coverage when we updated the articulation of the University's sexual conduct policy.
Contrary to what some stories erroneously reported, Baylor's policy remains unchanged. Our policy continues to state that Baylor will be guided by the biblical understanding that human sexuality is a gift from God and that physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity. In the application of our policy, we rely on the historic Baptist expression of marriage as the uniting of one man and one woman. Baylor's articulation of this policy simply required updating. Previously, it had been labeled a "Sexual Misconduct Policy." This was odd. We do not identify other policies similarly--for example, we have no "misspending" policy. Upon careful and prayerful review, both the administration and the Board of Regents thought it wise to make language changes to the existing policy, which also included the elimination of an extensive (but woefully incomplete) list of prohibited sexual behaviors and crimes against human dignity.
Against the backdrop of a deeply hurting world in which the practice of faith is being assailed on all sides, now more than ever we are committed to pursuing opportunities and exploring venues that permit us to hold high the banner of religious liberty around the world. This past July, for example, I joined a bipartisan group of religious leaders, public intellectuals and scholars, representing a wide variety of faiths, in urging Congress to develop a national strategy addressing the tragic global crisis in religious freedom. Hand-delivered to Senate and House majority and minority leaders, our letter urged that U.S. foreign policy seek specifically to protect and advance the cause of religious freedom globally.
More recently, on Sept. 18, I had the privilege of participating in a Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C., co-sponsored by Baylor, The Catholic University of America and Georgetown University's Religious Freedom Project, with the generous support of The Knights of Columbus. Held in anticipation of Pope Francis's historic visit, the summit addressed the international crisis in religious freedom, which is imperiling individual lives in so many countries. We do well to continue to work and pray for the freedom of conscience of all persons everywhere.
Chief among the many dimensions of Baylor life for which I am deeply grateful is the outpouring of financial support by our alumni and friends. Often sacrificial in nature, this spirit of generosity has greatly advanced Baylor's mission and helped establish our University as one of the nation's most broadly supported institutions of higher education.
This remarkable level of philanthropy has literally transformed Baylor's storied campus. Stretching across approximately 1,000 acres along the Brazos River, our beautiful campus skyline now features sparkling new facilities, ranging from the already-iconic McLane Stadium to the Beauchamp Athletic Nutrition Center and to the recently dedicated Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation, a landmark project made possible through the generosity of many individuals and organizations.
Coming from gifts of all types and many sizes, this invaluable and broad-based support has allowed Baylor's Board of Regents to deepen our commitment to access and affordability, while maintaining the distinctiveness and high quality of a Baylor education. In setting tuition and fees for the 2016-17 academic year, our Regents voted this summer to increase undergraduate tuition by 4.5 percent, rather than a planned 5 percent. This represents the lowest percentage tuition increase in more than 20 years, thereby keeping Baylor's tuition and required fees lower than those of peer private institutions in Texas and of most private universities around the country.
As we look with eager anticipation to increasing private support for our beloved University in the weeks and months to come, I am pleased to welcome Dave Rosselli to our leadership team as vice president for university development. A strong and committed Christian, Dave comes to us from the University of Southern California. He brings a wealth of talent and experience to Baylor, with more than two decades of demonstrated leadership, strategic planning and effective execution of development-related activities.
As an active policy-making body that maintains legal authority for the University's well-being, the Baylor Board of Regents recently has stepped forward to provide critical guidance by retaining the Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton to conduct a thorough and independent external investigation into the University’s handling of reports of alleged sexual violence. While I am deeply saddened and indeed angered by the underlying circumstances that made the Regents’ decision necessary and entirely proper, I am confident that this comprehensive external investigation will help us all understand both where we are strong and, more importantly, where we need to improve.
We are all painfully aware of the deeply disturbing news related to sexual and interpersonal violence on college campuses nationally. In humility, we lay claim to the mantle of a Christian community that loves and cares for each and every individual. In this fallen world, you should rest assured that our commitment to prevent and investigate evidence of that tragedy on our own campus--and to support those who are victims--was reflected nearly two years ago in the strong investment we made in our Title IX office.
Ably led by Title IX Coordinator Patty Crawford, Baylor's Title IX office is fully staffed and actively engaged. Supported by a robust campus marketing and educational campaign, Title IX reporting and response structures have been strengthened; police officers and investigators have been trained; student leaders have been prepared to intervene and assist fellow students; and faculty and staff training materials have been developed. Ensuring a very high degree of safety on our campus is one of the most important ways we fulfill our fundamental promise of a caring community.
The issues facing a major university with a clear Christian calling are highly complex. It is always wise--both during periods of somber reflection and times of jubilant celebration--to keep our institutional mission statement firmly in mind: "The mission of Baylor University is to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community."
Since Baylor's founding in the mid-nineteenth century, our University's faculty has been unwaveringly committed to guiding students in understanding the whole of creation and humanity's role in God's handiwork. So, too, Baylor faculty members seek assiduously to guide students in understanding their greatest potential-- academically, spiritually, socially and professionally. By doing so, Baylor has made a lasting and profound difference in the lives of our students and in expanding the Kingdom.
In abundant gratitude for the bounty of care and support from Baylor alumni and friends across the globe, and with high expectations for Baylor's future service to a troubled world, I remain as ever Yours sincerely,
President and Chancellor
A version of this letter was sent by email Oct. 8, 2015, to all Baylor alumni for whom the University has a valid email address. To ensure that your contact information is up to date, please visit baylor.edu/alumni.