The History of the Baylor University College of Arts & Sciences

The College of Arts & Sciences –– the largest academic unit of Baylor University with 475 full-time faculty and more than 6,600 students –– celebrated its centennial in 2019.

The fields of study contained within the 25 departments within the current College of Arts & Sciences, including English, foreign languages, religion, political science, the fine arts, history, mathematics and the sciences, made up almost all of Baylor University’s curriculum in its first decades.

Just before the observance of Baylor’s 75th anniversary with the celebration of its Diamond Jubilee in 1920, the Baylor Board of Trustees decided to formalize a new, more modern academic structure for the University. On March 21, 1919, trustees divided the University into six academic units –– the College of Arts & Sciences, the College of Fine Arts, the College of Medicine, the College of Pharmacy, the College of Dentistry and the School of Education.

Under this new alignment, the College of Fine Arts housed the disciplines of choral and instrumental music, as well as public speaking and expression. The remaining disciplines that were not included within the fields of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy or education were placed in the College of Arts & Sciences. This arrangement lasted for two years, until Baylor trustees in 1921 dissolved the College of Fine Arts and created the School of Music and Fine Arts, with courses in public speaking and expression transferred to the College of Arts & Sciences.

A dozen deans

Samuel Riley Spencer, a physics professor, served as the first dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. The 11 deans that have followed him included Dr. William Sims Allen, who served as Baylor’s acting president for a year following the death of Dr. Samuel Palmer Brooks in 1931. Four Arts & Sciences deans have left that job at Baylor to accept the presidency of other universities, while three other deans went on to become the provost of Baylor or another university.

Dr. George M. Smith, who served as Arts & Sciences dean from 1955 to 1974, has the longest tenure with 19 years at dean. The current Arts & Sciences dean, Dr. Lee C. Nordt, is the second-longest-serving dean with 14 years leading the College.

Academic highlights

As Baylor’s largest academic unit with the most departments, the College of Arts & Sciences has been in the forefront of many academic milestones during its 100 years of formal operation. It granted Baylor’s first PhD degree –– in chemistry –– in 1954, and when the University awarded its first PhD degree to a woman the following year, that degree –– in biology –– was also in Arts & Sciences.

Two Arts & Sciences professors –– Robert Reid in history and Ann Miller in English –– were the first Baylor faculty members to be given the designation of Master Teachers by the University in September 1982. The majority of distinguished teaching awards presented at Baylor each year, including the Collins Outstanding Professor Award and the Cornelia Marschall Smith Professor of the Year Award, have been won by Arts & Science faculty. And students receiving degrees from the College of Arts & Sciences are the majority of Baylor recipients of prestigious international scholarships such as the Marshall, Truman and Fulbright.

The College of Arts & Sciences has produced a diverse and talented group of alumni over the past century that have excelled internationally in fields including religion and Christian ministry, law and social justice, healthcare, business, education, arts and entertainment, politics and scientific discovery. Baylor Arts & Sciences graduates include two Texas governors –– Price Daniel and Ann Richards –– and three Baylor presidents –– Judge Abner McCall, Dr. Herbert H. Reynolds and Dr. Robert B. Sloan Jr.


  1. Samuel Riley Spencer / 1919-1924
  2. William Sims Allen / 1924-1934
  3. Edward Newlon Jones / 1934-1942
  4. David Andrew Weaver / 1942-1944
  5. James P. Cornette / 1945-1947
  6. Monroe S. Carroll / 1947-1955
  7. George M. Smith / 1955-1974
  8. John S. Belew / 1974-1979
  9. William G. Toland / 1979-1987
  10. William F. Cooper / 1987-1996
  11. Wallace L. Daniel / 1996-2005
  12. Lee C. Nordt / 2005-present