Almost 100 years ago, Baylor's future president - then-Texas Governor (and Baylor alumnus) Pat Neff - issued a Thanksgiving Day Proclamation in which he lavishly praised our national covenant of freedom. His words from 1924 echo down the corridors of time and ring true in this, the year of our Lord 2016:
"We should remember on this occasion that on this continent...a civilization has been developed that has preserved and fostered the ideal of individual liberty. Let us not forget that Providence established on this continent a form of government in harmony with this ideal of individual, civil, and religious liberty..."
Well said. As Americans, we are deeply thankful for our fundamental freedoms--secured though the American Revolution, thereafter enshrined in our beloved Constitution, and bravely defended by courageous patriots who made the ultimate earthly sacrifice in defense of the sacred cause of liberty.
Remaining steadfast in our Christian faith, which serves as the gracious fount from which so many blessings flow, at Baylor we celebrate America's culture of freedom that has allowed generation after generation of Baylor Bears to remain faithfully Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana.
Among the many things for which we give thanks are the soaring accomplishments of Baylor's nationally ranked football program under Coach Art Briles' inspiring leadership. The past season was one of exhilarating excitement, including the second visit to campus by ESPN's College GameDay and a dramatic 49-38 victory over 10th-ranked North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 29 in Orlando, Fla.
The University's other athletic programs offer a welcoming portal into our campus, beckoning thousands of new friends and supporters across the nation into the ever-growing green-and-gold fold. A turbo-charged school spirit--and a high standard of excellence with integrity--infuse each of our 19 varsity programs. This is emphatically the case with basketball, as coaches Kim Mulkey and Scott Drew are guiding their respective squads through another promising season as nationally ranked teams.
From its humble beginnings in rustic Independence during the bracing days of the Republic of Texas, Baylor has always been characterized by the unifying values of family and community. Fittingly, our campus serves as second home to our students. The myriad social and cultural activities enriching our campus support Baylor’s central commitment to providing a transformational education and--as the "Informed Engagement" section of Pro Futuris describes--to offering a distinctive voice to local and global conversations about critically important issues. Baylor continually strives to serve as a gathering place where education goes far beyond the classroom in order to transform students' lives.
Acting upon this commitment, in November Baylor hosted The Spirit of Sports, a three-day symposium organized by the Institute for Faith and Learning. The gathering featured more than 120 presentations by athletes, sports chaplains, coaches, journalists, college administrators and faculty members. Together, these luminaries explored--from an unapologetically faith-based perspective--the moral and cultural significance of sports. As part of the symposium, I had the honor of participating in a plenary panel with iconic Baylor football coach Grant Teaff in a lively discussion of "Higher Education and College Athletics."
Another signal event was the Texas Tribune's "Symposium on Higher Education." Held in mid-November at McLane Stadium, the symposium welcomed a veritable "Who's Who" of leaders in higher education for a day-long series of panel discussions on compellingly important topics, including access and affordability, as well as the enduring importance of a college education.
In December, I had the pleasure of taking part in the International Conference on Christian Response to Persecution. The conference took place at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome in connection with the 50th anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council's declaration on religious freedom. The conference's noble aim was to draw public attention to the plight of persecuted Christian communities around the world; promote cooperation among Christian churches in assisting these communities; and encourage active global solidarity with our brothers and sisters. I was honored to serve as an ambassador for Baylor at this historic conference and as an unapologetic advocate for the deeply rooted principles of religious freedom integral to our Baptist heritage.
Baylor's distinctive mission as a Christian research university is lived out in a wide variety of ways. We also are quite eager to pursue new initiatives that build upon our strengths. One such area of excellence is the Institute for Faith and Learning (IFL) under the able guidance of Dr. Darin Davis. I recently reported to Baylor's Board of Regents about a new IFL project entitled "Animating our Faith." This exciting effort will develop a set of initiatives to encourage deeper reflection throughout our campus with respect to Baylor’s distinctive mission as a Christian research university.
Assisting Dr. Davis in the development of these new initiatives will be Dr. L. Gregory Jones, the Ruth W. and A. Morris Williams Jr. Professor of Theology and Christian Ministry at Duke University. Dr. Jones also serves as Senior Strategist for Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School. For nearly two decades, the Institute for Faith and Learning has served as a beacon brightly illuminating Baylor’s Christian mission. We are deeply honored that Dr. Jones, who is renowned throughout American higher education for his scholarship and wisdom, will be joining us in strengthening Baylor's unique place as a keystone institution of Christian higher learning.
All of us connected to Baylor cherish our relationship with the local community. Waco is truly our hometown. Indeed, Baylor and Waco have enjoyed a strong and dynamic partnership ever since the University relocated to Central Texas from Independence in 1886.
Examples of this mutually beneficial relationship abound. A shining illustration is McLane Stadium, the product of historically high philanthropic support not only by Baylor alumni and friends, but by the City of Waco, which generously provided $35 million in funding to support this magnificent project. McLane Stadium has already served as a remarkable catalyst for growth and entrepreneurship both throughout downtown Waco and along the Brazos River. Since its opening in 2014, McLane Stadium--and its expansive riverside grounds--has served as a catalytic venue for numerous community events, including the city’s Fourth of July celebration and an inspirational Palm Sunday event, The Gathering, where approximately 35,000 people gathered together for worship.
Yet another inspiring instance of the powerful Baylor-Waco partnership is the newly designated Waco Mammoth National Monument, whose dedication ceremony was headlined by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and former First Lady Laura Bush. This project began decades ago with Baylor's commitment to study and showcase the two dozen Ice Age Columbian Mammoths discovered at the site. The Mammoth site's long journey to this summit of national designation included numerous stops along the way, capped by a $4.2 million campaign by the Waco Mammoth Foundation (in partnership with the City of Waco and Baylor University). The happy result is yet another jewel in the crown of Waco and Central Texas. Baylor is thankful to be a proud partner in this collaborative effort.
Finally, in November, our inspiring Baylor students once again ventured en masse into the local community to provide a robust variety of services and support as part of Steppin' Out. Armed with shovels, rakes, ladders and brushes, our enthusiastic Baylor Bears gave back to our neighbors who, in turn, support Baylor in so many ways. First held in 1985, Steppin’ Out is one of the largest community service projects on any American college campus. This admirable student-organized program provides our wonderful students with significant opportunities for experiential learning, civic leadership and--above all--Christian service.
During recent Homecoming festivities, the University and the Baylor Chamber of Commerce unveiled a six-foot by nine-foot artistic structure to immortalize our "Eternal Flame" tradition. As a central part of our campus heritage, this tradition honors the hallowed lives of Baylor basketball players and students--forever known as the Immortal Ten--who tragically died in a bus-train accident in 1927.
We are enormously grateful for the generous financial support that made possible this strikingly beautiful work of art. Reflecting more than 300 hours of design and craftsmanship, the 1,600-pound structure combines iron and sculpted steel to create three artistic flames surrounding a center torch, symbolizing the relationship among past, present and future.
Also dedicated during our Homecoming celebrations was the Rosenbalm Fountain on historic Fifth Street. The result of a generous gift by Baylor alumnus (and retired physician) Dr. Thomas J. Rosenbalm, the signature fountain magnificently re-establishes the tradition of Fountain Mall and adds breathtaking beauty to the heart of campus.
Such physical reminders of our proud history are a bountiful blessing to our student body and a proud symbol of our deep-seated commitment to honoring Baylor's past.
In Psalm 95:2, the Psalmist instructs, "Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms." By God's grace, the advent of 2016 is truly a time of gratitude and shared joy. Let us give thanks and praise.
President and Chancellor