From Dean Nordt

Both Baylor University and the College of Arts & Sciences have been dealing with the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic for more than six months now. I will resist writing about the pandemic in great detail here, since the situation changes daily and whatever I write today will be outdated tomorrow. But, I want to provide you with a brief overview of how we have responded to the crisis, then discuss some of many recent accomplishments in Arts & Sciences that have taken place — which are all the more remarkable because they happened during the most unusual of circumstances.

Dean Nordt

After the pandemic hit the United States with full force this past spring, Baylor University quickly changed over to online education following spring break in March, and we finally made it to the end of the Spring 2020 semester. Our students completed the term, and the usual number graduated. A lot of credit must be given to our faculty and staff who made this remarkable online shift over a period of just one week, and to our students who persevered under such difficult circumstances. In addition, we were able to balance institutional debt as a consequence of sending everyone home in the middle of the semester, which has put us on stronger financial footing during the current academic year.

Getting through this past summer was an extraordinary accomplishment as well. We again went entirely online with our classes, but instead of decreasing, our enrollments were three times higher than in any previous summer. That helped keep our students on track academically, because many of the usual summer activities (e.g. internships) were either nonexistent or in short supply. Our faculty and staff stepped up to the plate once again, taking on more students and more sections than usual to get us through the summer.

Preparing for this fall was the biggest challenge of all, but we have ended up with a record-breaking freshman class of 3,700 students! The projections nationally were that most educational institutions would suffer a 10-20 percent enrollment shortfall this fall, but Baylor beat the curve. Our faculty and staff pitched in to make this happen, with the help of some exceptional recruiting activities. It also helped that the safety measures put into place by Baylor for the fall semester were second to none, including COVID-19 testing prior to arrival on campus and a program of random testing that is taking place each week this fall.

During the first two weeks of the fall semester, Baylor’s COVID-19 cases increased noticeably, but through rigorous contact tracing and cooperation from our students, the spread finally stabilized. As I write this, the positive cases of coronavirus are extremely small, and none have ever been traced back to contacts in the classroom. It appears now that we will make it to Thanksgiving, which was one of our main goals all along.

The Spring 2021 academic calendar has been revamped to respond to COVID-19 concerns. Our academic start date will be one week later than usual, we will eliminate both spring break and Diadeloso, and finals will begin a week earlier than usual. If the fall semester is any indication, I am confident we will get through the spring semester successfully.

In the midst of all these changes, our Arts & Sciences faculty and staff have continued to produce admirable accomplishments, and the College has implemented some important changes as well. Here’s just a partial list:

  • We just completed and have begun implementing the new Arts & Sciences five-year strategic plan, which is called A&Spire to Illuminate. As the name implies, this plan is the College’s response to the Baylor academic strategic plan Illuminate, and it covers our goals regarding mission, transformational education, research and human flourishing.
  • We have begun the second year of implementation of our new Arts & Sciences Unified Core Curriculum, which other academic units within Baylor have now adapted as their core curriculum as well. The unified core provides a shared foundation of knowledge drawn from the rich and diverse liberal arts tradition, develops skills necessary for both the completion of an academic degree and for personal and professional life beyond Baylor, and inspires moral, intellectual and spiritual virtues in our students.
  • This is also the second year for another important part of the College of Arts & Sciences –– the Office of Engaged Learning. Engaged learning refers to learning beyond the classroom, and includes elements such as civic engagement, internships, study abroad, undergraduate research and major fellowships and awards (such as the Truman, Goldwater, Fulbright, Rhodes, Marshall, and Gates Cambridge Scholarships). Our new office with its expanded staff is providing more students with the opportunity to access these valuable learning experiences.
  • Thanks in part to the gifts being received in Give Light, Baylor’s current $1.1 billion philanthropic campaign, the College of Arts & Sciences has been able to add endowed faculty chairs in biology, environmental science, physics, chemistry and medical humanities. These endowed chairs help us attract some of the nation’s top scholars and teachers, and give our students incredible new experiences in both classroom instruction and research.
  • The 2019-2020 academic year also broke a record for the amount of research grants received by Arts & Sciences faculty in a single year — approximately $10 million. These grants allow our faculty to play even more of a role in helping to solve society’s grand challenges.
  • Three Arts & Sciences faculty members have been selected for the 2020-2021 class of Baylor Fellows for their excellence in teaching: Holly Collins (French); N. Bradley Keele (psychology and neuroscience); and Marius Mitrea (mathematics).
  • This past spring, three Arts & Sciences faculty members received the designation of Master Teacher — the highest honor granted to Baylor faculty members for sustained excellence in teaching: Robert F. Darden III (journalism, public relations and new media); Anne-Marie Schultz (philosophy and Baylor Interdisciplinary Core); and Charles A. Weaver III (psychology and neuroscience).
  • In addition, Four Arts & Sciences faculty members were among those chosen to receive Outstanding Faculty Awards for the 2019-2020 academic year. These include: Sara Alexander (anthropology, tenured teaching award); Scott Spinks (Spanish, non-tenure track teaching award); Kenichi Hatakeyama (physics, scholarship award); and Howard Lee (physics, non-tenured tenure track scholarship award). Congratulations to all these outstanding faculty!
  • Finally, Dr. Kevin Gardner, chair and professor of English, is the first American to win the Betjeman Society Award –– an international award given for his outstanding scholarship into the works and legacy of acclaimed British poet Sir John Betjeman.

The outlook is bright for both Baylor University and the College of Arts & Sciences. We thank you for your support, and invite you to join us as we prepare for an exciting future –– educating men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community.

– Lee Nordt