Looking at the list of former deans of the College of Arts & Sciences published in this issue of the A&S magazine, I am reminded of how long I have been dean. I have been blessed beyond belief to have served in this important capacity for 14 years. I have been reflecting on this and Baylor’s more recent history during my time as an administrator.
When I accepted the deanship in 2005, I said I would only do the job for five years, so I guess this qualifies as poor time management! However, I am proud to have served in such an impactful role for so long. At the same time, I don’t want to overstay my welcome either, like the 40-year-old designated hitter who can no longer hit a fastball. Change for the sake of change is not good, but at some point change is beneficial because with it comes new ideas and ways of doing things. It is a healthy process.
I think about this a lot — how many more times can I reinvent myself, pull myself up, do it all over again and with all eight cylinders still firing? I have always said that I would do this job as long as it was more important than something else I could be doing. The fact that I am still here means being dean must be very important.
I have also been thinking back to what has happened at Baylor during the past two decades or so. I arrived here in 1996 — 23 years ago — and it is stunning how much Baylor has changed since then in its goals and aspirations (Vision 2012 > Pro Futuris > Illuminate), its students (more of them, and even smarter), its faculty and staff (more of them too, and better than me) and its facilities (off the charts). Baylor would be nearly unrecognizable to anyone who had not visited campus since they graduated 15 or 20 years ago.
It is amazing to me how many great students want to attend Baylor today. As we broaden our vision to become a major Christian research university, I think these students and their parents know how much we still emphasize teaching as we pursue research. Baylor is the ‘one of a kind’ institution that truly integrates mission, teaching and research. I challenge you to name another university doing this now.
When I made the decision to join the faculty at Baylor, it really wasn’t because it was a Christian university. I didn’t even realize that a Christian mission was an integral part of its fabric. Looking back now, I know that part of the attraction for me was indeed that Baylor was a Christian university — but I just didn’t see it at the time. I get it now, and mightily so. It is the entirety of the uniqueness of what we do that gets me out of bed in the morning. Christians change sometimes, too, and we have multiple viewpoints on a variety of issues, but at heart we believe in the central tenets of our faith. Actually, we are Judeo-Christian, which makes sense, taking the long view.
I’ve seen two major athletic controversies during my time at Baylor, both of which still bewilder me. But here’s the thing — name any other institution experiencing similar problems (and there are many examples) that has responded in the constructive, principled way Baylor has. That makes us unique, and how we respond to controversy as a Christian university is at the core of our being. We are all fallen, but we know how to right the ship following moral and ethical principles steeped in our faith.
But still, the positives have far outweighed any negatives during my time at Baylor. For a prospective student to walk the hallways of our state-of-the-art science building, see faculty teaching in a lecture hall, observe undergraduates and faculty working on an experiment in a research lab, meet current students who have just won Fulbright Scholarships, and then look across campus and see a chapel — well, this place is special. No wonder more students want to come here than we could ever possibly matriculate.
Baylor has indeed transformed itself during the past 20 years, and whereas change creates angst, if the change is right and managed well, you are the better for it. Baylor, despite all of the back and forth among various constituencies on the merits of taking this or that pathway, has come out on the other end in a place that was difficult to imagine a few years ago. We followed the guiding light and it worked. We have much to be thankful for.