A Decade of Distinction
As the Baylor University College of Arts & Sciences begins its second century, the College can look back on significant growth and positive changes over the last 10 years.
One of the most far-reaching academic changes made in the College of Arts & Sciences over the past decade involved the reevaluation and transformation of the College’s core curriculum — those common courses that all Arts & Sciences students must complete to graduate.
For many years, the College’s core curriculum has played an integral part in Baylor University’s consistent “A” ratings for its general education program from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). However, the Arts & Sciences core had not been changed or evaluated for multiple decades when the dean of Arts & Sciences, Dr. Lee C. Nordt, initiated what would become a seven-year revision process in 2012.
“Since change in our culture and our world is continual, we can’t simply rest on our laurels. We must periodically review our essential academic skillsets and core curriculum, with the goal of assessing what we teach, and why.”
Dean Lee Nordt
“Since change in our culture and our world is continual, we can’t simply rest on our laurels,” Nordt said. “We must periodically review our essential academic skillsets and core curriculum, with the goal of assessing what we teach and why.”
During the revision process, a number of subcommittees and task forces researched and proposed changes to the Core, which were all articulated and given final approval by the Arts & Sciences Council of Chairs and Baylor’s provost by 2018. The new unified core debuted in the Fall 2019 semester, overseen by Dr. Lauren Poor, the first director of the Core.
Soon after the revised Arts & Sciences Core was implemented, other Baylor academic units began mapping on to the new Core to varying degrees. And despite the changes made to the Core, Baylor remains one of only 23 colleges or universities nationwide to receive “A” ratings from ACTA.
During the past decade, the College of Arts & Sciences has placed a high priority on having long-range strategic plans in place. In 2012, after the Baylor Board of Regents adopted Pro Futuris, the University’s strategic vision, Nordt appointed a task force to come up with a strategic vision for the College of Arts & Sciences. The resulting Arts & Sciences plan, called A&Spire, was adopted in 2014, and its provisions lined up with the key elements contained in Pro Futuris.
After Baylor adopted a new strategic plan, Illuminate, in 2018, the College of Arts & Sciences used input from its faculty and administration to craft its own new strategic plan, A&Spire to Illuminate, introduced in the fall of 2020. This new Arts & Sciences strategic plan is tied to the four pillars and five academic initiatives contained in Illuminate, and details specific steps the College will take to assist the University as a whole in achieving Illuminate’s long-range vision.
Academic quality and growth
In 2010, the College of Arts & Sciences was made up of 26 departments, spanning disciplines that can be broadly classified as sciences, arts, humanities and social sciences. Two of these departments — Communication Sciences and Disorders and Family and Consumer Sciences — were moved into the new Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences when it was created in 2014, leaving 24 departments in Arts & Sciences.
The number of departments in the College of Arts & Sciences increased to 25 in June 2015, when the film and digital media program within the Department of Communication was elevated into the Department of Film and Digital Media.
Since 2010, the Baylor Board of Regents has approved the creation of three new doctoral programs in Arts & Sciences — a PhD in history in 2010, a PhD in environmental science in 2014, and a PhD in anthropology in 2020.
Well before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, the College of Arts & Sciences introduced online courses to supplement classroom instruction and to make it easier for students to graduate on time. The first seven online courses were offered in the summer of 2015, and the number has increased every year since then, although the large majority of Arts & Sciences courses are taught in person on campus.
In December 2020, the College of Arts & Sciences and Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business offered the University’s first “Wintermester,” allowing students to catch up on degree requirements between the regular fall and spring semesters by choosing from a small selection of online courses without having to be present on campus.
By 2020, there were more than 20 active endowed chairs and professorships in the College of Arts & Sciences. The most recent additions are The James Vardaman Endowed Professorship of History (2018) and The Michael E. DeBakey MD, Selma DeBakey and Lois DeBakey Chair for Medical Humanities (2020).
One of the most important goals in the Arts & Sciences strategic plan over the past decade has been to increase student retention — the percentage of freshmen who return to the University as sophomores the following year. The College has been successful in this effort. In the Fall 2010 semester, 81.6 percent of Arts & Sciences students had returned to the University from the previous fall to study. That retention rate increased to 90.4 percent by the Fall 2020 semester.
In the past decade, the number of incoming Arts & Sciences freshmen who are considered “high-ability students” as a result of standardized test scores has seen a marked increase — from 22.6 percent in 2010 to 42.7 percent in 2020.
Each year, dozens of Baylor Arts & Sciences undergraduates are initiated into the University’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious academic honor society. The Baylor chapter is considered one of the outstanding chapters in America.
Also during the past decade, Arts & Sciences students have been among those continuing the tradition of taking part in Baylor’s Model United Nations, Model Organization of American States and Model Arab League teams, which are directed by Arts & Sciences faculty and give students valuable experience in diplomacy and leadership.
A major focus of the College of Arts & Sciences is to provide all Baylor students with opportunities for engaged learning — learning beyond the classroom. During the past decade, the College has taken steps to significantly expand those opportunities and make them available to more students across the University.
During her 39 years at Baylor University, Arts & Sciences associate dean Elizabeth Vardaman mentored innumerable Baylor students and assisted hundreds of them in obtaining prestigious national scholarships, research and teaching fellowships, internships and other engaged learning opportunities. Before her retirement in the spring of 2019, she played a key role in helping create the College’s vision for the Office of Engaged Learning (OEL). The new Office began operations in June 2019 with Dr. Andy Hogue serving as the founding associate dean for engaged learning.
Working from a suite of offices in the Draper Academic Center, the seven members of the OEL have already achieved incredible success during their first two years. Through assistance provided by the Office, many undergraduate students in Arts & Sciences have been able to take advantages of opportunities to do research in the sciences, humanities and social sciences. Each year, more students are seeking research opportunities that often prove valuable in applying for graduate school and in professional careers.
Since the opening of the OEL, a school-record number of students have applied for a dozen major scholarships, and Baylor students won a number of these prestigious awards including the Marshall, Mitchell, Goldwater, Rangel, Schwarzman, Boren, Rotary and Critical Language Scholarships. In addition, in 2020, Baylor joined the list of top American universities admitted by the Winston Churchill Foundation as a Participating Institution for the Churchill Scholarship. And in the University’s very first year of participation, Baylor senior Emily Schultz won this prestigious scholarship.
Underscoring the importance that Arts & Sciences places on engaged learning, the College of Arts & Sciences Board of Advocates created and endowed an engaged learning scholarship in 2018, providing students with the funding needed to take advantage of outstanding research opportunities each summer.
College of Arts & Sciences Advisement (CASA), the office that offers academic advising for all Arts & Sciences undergraduates, had greatly expanded its scope and effectiveness over the past decade. In that time, CASA has grown from an office with five staff members to one that can rely on 16 advisers to better serve students.
While CASA once served only sophomores, with a few exceptions the office now advises all Arts & Sciences freshmen, sophomores and juniors — approximately 3,300 students in all. CASA advisers also have begun providing graduation plans for Arts & Sciences juniors to ensure their timely progress toward graduation.
One way the quality of Baylor Arts & Sciences faculty can be reflected is by the large numbers of teaching honors and awards they receive. Since 2010, nine of the 11 winners of Baylor’s Collins Outstanding Professor Award — which is voted on by Baylor seniors — have been Arts & Sciences faculty members. In addition, seven of the 11 recipients of Baylor’s Cornelia Marschall Smith Professor of the Year Award since 2010 have come from Arts & Sciences, and 12 of the 18 winners of the Baylor Centennial Professor Award during this time were Arts & Sciences faculty.
The designation of Master Teacher is the highest honor bestowed by Baylor University for teaching. Only 29 faculty members have been given Master Teacher status since the award was established in 1982. During the past decade, six Baylor professors have been named Master Teachers, and four of those six — Corey Carbonara, Robert Darden, Anne-Marie Schultz and Charles A. Weaver — are Arts & Sciences faculty members.
Baylor University has committed itself to the goal of achieving R1 research university status by a vigorous effort to increase both faculty and staff as well as internal and external funding to expand research.
In an interview in the Spring 2020 issue of Baylor Arts & Sciences magazine, Dr. Nancy Brickhouse, provost, said, “We just can’t get [to R1] without Arts & Sciences. The College…has a number of departments that are great role models for the University in terms of how R1 departments should be run. I think that Arts & Sciences has a good idea of what R1 looks like.”
Rising to the challenge set down by the University and its president, Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D., the College of Arts & Sciences has significantly increased its research efforts over the past decade. Arts & Sciences external expenditures for research have increased more than 200 percent — from approximately $3.2 million in Fiscal Year 2010 to $9.9 million in Fiscal Year 2020.
Over the past decade, the College of Arts & Sciences continued its long tradition of engaging Baylor’s students, faculty and staff with some of the greatest minds in the world through lectures and special events on campus. For example, since 2010, the Beall-Russell Lecture series within the College has sponsored campus visits by speakers including historian David McCullough, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, author Isabel Wilkerson and medical anthropologist Dr. Paul Farmer.
Since 2010, Baylor’s Beall Poetry Festival, another endowed event coordinated through the College of Arts & Sciences, has brought more than 40 of the nation’s most accomplished and talented poets and literary critics to campus for poetry readings and panel discussions. A special highlight of the festival came in 2013, when Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney gave a reading before more than 1,000 people in Jones Concert Hall.
In addition, since 2015 the College has sponsored the STEM and Humanities Symposium, which has brought speakers from the sciences and humanities to campus to discuss topics including climate change, global health and the ways that sciences and the humanities can intersect.
Physical facilities and technology
With the help of the University and of many dedicated donors to Arts & Sciences, the College’s academic facilities both expanded in size and increased in capabilities and efficiency between 2010 and 2020.
In the fall of 2013, Baylor University opened the doors to the newly renovated Marrs McLean Science Building. Most of the building is occupied by the School of Education, but the renovation allowed the Department of Anthropology in the College of Arts & Sciences to enjoy a new and expanded home as well.
That same fall, Baylor opened its new East Village Residential Community. One of the residential buildings, Hallie Earle Hall, houses the Science & Health Living-Learning Center, where many prehealth students in Arts & Sciences live and study together and enjoy special healthcare-related programming and events.
Students in the College’s Department of Art and Art History benefited from a major renovation of Baylor’s Martin Museum of Art, completed in the summer of 2018. In June 2019, a comprehensive renovation of the Tidwell Bible Building began. When the renovation is completed in 2021, Tidwell will provide expanded and optimally designed classroom and office space for the Departments of Religion, History and Sociology.
In May 2019, the Baylor Board of Regents approved spending $1.3 million to expand the core facilities for enhancing research in the Baylor Sciences Building. The approved plan will provide for the design, renovation and expansion of spaces that house the BSB’s core instrumentation facilities, as well as improvements to the building’s infrastructure.
During the past decade, the College of Arts & Sciences has made it a priority to upgrade the technological capabilities of its offices, classrooms and meeting spaces. Because of increases in personnel, including a significant growth in research faculty, the number of computers installed in Arts & Sciences faculty and staff office spaces has increased by about 30 percent over the past 10 years.
In addition, Arts & Sciences classrooms have gotten “smarter.” In 2010, 47 percent of Arts & Sciences classrooms were equipped with some form of online computer access and the ability to stream content over monitors or screens. In 2013, the College began a program to increase that number to 100 percent of its classroom spaces equipped with computer technology — a goal that was achieved in 2018. Baylor Arts & Sciences continues to improve streaming capability in its classroom spaces, especially in the wake of changes necessitated by COVID-19.
As Baylor Arts & Sciences has expanded and enriched its academic programs and educational opportunities for students, increased the number and quality of its faculty and staff and added and updated academic structures and technology, fundraising activities have been strengthened to help support this growth.
In fiscal year 2011, Baylor Arts & Sciences raised $5.9 million from its committed donors. That annual fundraising total has more than doubled to $13.4 million for the 2020 fiscal year. In all, between fiscal year 2011 and fiscal year 2020, Baylor Arts & Sciences received $116.6 million in gifts and pledges. This increase in fundraising has enabled the College to make significant strides in the support of academic endeavors over the decade.
The past decade was also a time for the College of Arts & Sciences to honor its past as it looks ahead to its future.
Dr. Vivienne Malone-Mayes, a professor of mathematics in the College of Arts & Sciences, was the first full-time African American faculty member at Baylor. The College and its Department of Mathematics led the effort to honor her legacy with the unveiling of a bronze bust on Feb. 26, 2019, in the Sid Richardson Building. The bust of Malone-Mayes is surrounded by informational panels that detail her life and career teaching at Baylor from 1966 until 1994.
On March 21, 2019, the Baylor University College of Arts & Sciences celebrated its Centennial. On that day 100 years before, Baylor trustees reorganized the University into six academic units, including the College of Arts & Sciences.
Also in 2019, Dr. Roger Kirk, a Master Teacher in psychology and neuroscience, retired as the longest-serving faculty member in Baylor history, having taught for 60 years after joining the Arts & Sciences faculty in 1958.