Baylor Then and Now
Dr. Rosalie Beck, associate professor emeritus of religion, made history as the first tenured female faculty member in Baylor’s religion department. In this First Person essay, she looks back on her 35 years at the University.
I heard of Baylor University a few times before applying to begin my PhD here in church history –– the first time as a nine-year-old attending Wednesday night prayer meeting at Bristol Street Baptist Church in Santa Ana, California, when the church secretary didn’t know how to pronounce W-a-c-o when she read the transfer of membership request from a freshman at Baylor. The second time was when I was a 24-year-old celebrating New Year in Dalat, Vietnam, as several of the missionaries stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to listen to the 1974 Cotton Bowl game in which Baylor played. These memories lurked in my mind when applying for PhD work. I saw the Baylor campus for the first time, after my acceptance in 1979, when I arrived to discuss my teaching assistant responsibilities with Dr. Ray Summers, the Department of Religion chair, and Dr. Glenn Hilburn, my mentor. So, my acquaintance with the University has been firsthand, for 40 years.
Physically, the University expanded greatly during my five years as a graduate student and my 35 years as a member of the faculty of the Department of Religion. I have watched Carroll Science Building gutted and rebuilt from the inside out. The Cashion Academic Center and the entire new school of business came into existence during that time. Hooper-Schaefer, athletic practice facilities, East Village, North Village, the Baylor Science Building, the Student Life Center, the Mayborn Museum — all have been constructed during my tenure. Recently a former student commented to me, “I can’t believe it. People actually drive 20 miles an hour around campus. Baylor has changed.”
The physical growth is easy to see. What isn’t easy to see is how the University has changed internally. Known as a fine teaching institution when I joined the faculty in 1984, the University now strives to be a top research institution. Research and publishing are the foundation stones of a top-flight research school, and teaching is not. Scholars, who are often fine teachers, must have time to do their research and writing, and that means they have less time in the classroom, teaching one or two classes a term. The bulk of teaching, especially of freshmen and sophomores, is done by lecturers, who do not have tenure (job security), and by adjunct professors who teach a class now and then and are not faculty members. The lecturers and adjuncts “carry the water” for the University by teaching the thousands of students that provide financial support for departments.
The students have changed over the years, too. When I arrived as a student in 1979 and became a faculty member in 1984, far fewer students walked the lanes and lawns of the schools and college. The majority of students came from a Baptist background with a large sprinkling of Catholic and Methodist students. Not many international students enrolled, and a good percentage of students came from private and homeschooling rather than public high schools. Today, undergraduate enrollment runs at 14,000 with more than 3,000 freshman students each year. A larger proportion of them are not schooled in public educational institutions, and many international students now populate the classes. Fewer than one-half of the student body claim “Baptist” as their religious identifier. The student world has changed.
The role of women in the University has changed radically since 1979. When I arrived, no women held positions in the senior administration ranks, and staff women were paid considerably less for their work than their male counterparts. I was the first woman faculty member in the Department of Religion. Rules for men and women, like when one had to return to the dormitory, differed greatly. And female students received little encouragement to enter the STEM majors. Today, several women hold important offices, from the president to departmental chairs. The University strives for pay equity, and faculty hiring is achieving more diversity. Diversity is vital, so the students can see themselves in their professors and know that their undergraduate and graduate work can open a new world for their work, life and love.
The students were and are the heart of the University for me. Requirements for acceptance to Baylor have gone up, and many bright young people make their way to Waco to study here. Over the years, the students have not changed in important ways. Throughout my tenure at Baylor, the students have impressed me consistently with their commitment to serving others and to being an influence for good in their communities. From 1984 to 2019, my students wrestled with their life goals, which profession to enter, and how to best serve God (if the student was a Christian). They continue to ask the great questions of life as they mature mentally, learn to think critically, and stretch their social wings. A truism of history is that human nature remains consistent through the ages. And I have seen the important issues of life remain central to Baylor students.
These few words do not begin to express the depth of my love for the University and for teaching. They do not indicate how important research and writing are for the future of Baylor. They hint at important social issues dealt with by the University and some issues that are ongoing. My words suggest the centrality of students to my Baylor experience, but are inadequate to describe the gift that my students have been to me over the decades. Before I came to Baylor I had heard much of the Baylor Family, but I did not understand what that meant. I did not comprehend how a school, faculty and facilities could create devotion and loyalty. Now, almost through osmosis, I have become part of the Baylor Family.