Living Out the Vision

Provost Nancy Brickhouse, B.A. ’82, Ph.D.
Provost Nancy Brickhouse, B.A. ’82, Ph.D.

Baylor’s plans to hire nearly 20 endowed chair faculty within the framework of the Illuminate strategic plan are bearing fruit: The University has recruited six outstanding veteran faculty members to fill endowed chair positions in the last year (meet those faculty beginning on page 16). Endowed chairs provide funding for research interests, labs and support positions beyond what the University offers. These funds are provided by generous donors who have a passion for a particular area of study or to support the priorities of the University. Five more positions are currently open, with recruitment underway. These prestigious chair positions expand the playing field as Baylor vies for top national researchers and teachers — and the University’s ambitions don’t stop there. In the years ahead, Illuminate calls for 100 net new faculty hires in five years. 

The University continues to seek faculty whose research, teaching and faith commitment align with the University and demonstrate the highest levels of integrity and impact. Provost Nancy Brickhouse, B.A. ’82, Ph.D., shares the pathway to recruiting faculty and pursuing preeminence as a Christian research university.

Most people, when they hear “recruiting” think of sports. Is there any comparison between athletic recruiting and academic recruiting?

Athletic Director Mack Rhoades and I may have more in common than people think on the surface. We’re both in the talent business. But, it’s not just the talent business — it’s about fit to our institution.

That’s what these endowed chairs are all about — being able to attract the very best talent to carry out the initiatives of Illuminate and operate at the highest levels of their fields. And at Baylor, we’re looking for faculty who will carry our Christian mission, be responsive to our students and bring a complete package of excellence when it comes to the life of our university.

Mack and I both like to win, too, and we’re blessed that Baylor is winning a lot in the classroom and on the field.

The faculty Baylor recruits for these positions are at the top of their fields and likely enjoying a good setup wherever they are. What does it take to attract individuals like these to Baylor?

As we talk to people, many are attracted by our Christian mission. But we also have to show them that we have the infrastructure that can enable them to do their work. They’re interviewing us as we’re interviewing them — it’s a two-way street. As they talk to people and learn about Illuminate, they see a plan that we are living out.

It’s important that we demonstrate the alignment we have at Baylor. It’s pretty special that, from the Board of Regents to our faculty to the President, we all know the priorities of the institution and what we need to do. Institutional change isn’t just about big, strategic decisions but also about the hundreds of daily decisions made throughout the organization. Cumulatively, these are the decisions that move Illuminate from planning to implementation. 

How much does Baylor’s R1 attainment help?

It shows them that we are not just talking but we are actually getting it done. Being at an R1 university will provide further support to the success of the endowed chairs here. And as they go out and recruit students and other faculty, R1 makes Baylor even more attractive. Our faculty will be better able to compete for great students that will enable them to do their work at an even higher level.

What role do endowed chairs play in recruiting?

When you hire at the highest levels, these individuals bring people with them. They’re talent magnets, sort of like having a great coach. They have a network and they’re able to recruit from other institutions to be a part of what we’re doing at Baylor. Talent attracts talent — from collaborators to new faculty members to the best students.

To what extent does it seem to faculty that they have to make a choice — either a top research university or a Christian university? What does it mean that Baylor is demonstrating you can have both?

A lot of great researchers are in a bind. They feel that, to be professionally successful, they need to go to a secular institution that can support their work at the highest levels. What we see is that, if you offer them a Christian university that provides these same benefits, it’s very enticing. We’ve talked to many faculty who have told us that their faith motivates their work, but they can’t be explicit about that at other institutions. Here, they can be.

The next stage of Illuminate sets the framework for 100 new faculty hires in five years. How will students feel the impact of that growth?

Students will feel a big impact. More and more undergraduate students want to get started in research right away as freshmen, and those opportunities will become more real. Graduate students will benefit by being able to work with the very best in their field, faculty who are committed Christians. Baylor is a destination — for students and for faculty. We are blessed to be able to create more tremendous opportunities for them as we add to our faculty ranks.