From the Dean
I have often been asked how COVID-19 has affected Baylor University. It’s true that many things on campus needed to adapt to the realities of the pandemic, but as we begin a new academic year, I think the more important questions I get now are about the future. Specifically, in what ways do I think Baylor will return to pre-pandemic practices, and in what other ways will the changes we made remain in place? These are complex questions to answer, but I am fairly certain there are some changes that are all for the better.
At the onset of the pandemic, our faculty made an incredibly quick transition from in-person to online teaching. They survived and then thrived. The University stepped up by providing considerable resources toward improving the platforms for an excellent delivery of online instruction.
As a result, teaching at Baylor will become even more effective as online tools — to which current students are more accustomed — are strategically incorporated into the traditional classroom setting. Faculty often speak of how this experience improved the methods and practices of teaching and also improved ways for teachers to better utilize their time. While we have returned to predominantly in-person instruction on campus, we also will continue to offer a small percentage of courses online when they can be taught effectively, strategically and in ways designed to help students complete their degrees on time.
Summer School and Minimesters
Because certain courses can be taught effectively online, we are able to offer more courses in the summer and in “minimesters” during the weeks between traditional semesters. These online courses give our students an advantage by helping them stay on track for graduation and by offering them a broader range of courses, saving students time and enabling additional opportunities such as study abroad trips or the addition of a minor.
Before the pandemic, summer enrollments at Baylor had declined over the years. One reason for that trend was that students could return home and conveniently take online courses offered by other schools. We further learned that our students would enroll at Baylor if we offered online summer courses. We made the change, which has proven effective for many reasons, including enrollment increases and consistency in our educational experience.
We all know that in-person meetings are essential in some situations. However, we are planning to intersperse in person with virtual faculty meetings in the future, which allows us to have more meetings when needed. For example, we will now have some of our Arts & Sciences department chair meetings in person, while others will be held online. Chairs can log into the meetings from anywhere, saving them travel time across campus.
Another COVID-19 precaution included shifting our advising appointments with students to virtual meetings. We were already in the process of converting many student files to an electronic format, but the pandemic caused us to accelerate the process.
The need for our students to drop by an office just to deliver a signed form is no longer necessary, and the electronic communications between advisors and students are actually very helpful. While there will always be times when our advisors need to meet in person with students — and will continue to do so — there are other times when a virtual meeting is more convenient and just as effective for everyone.
To me, the most amazing observation about the way we responded to changes during the pandemic was the degree to which our faculty found ways to continue their research. This challenge was particularly acute where teams of researchers work together in close quarters. Scheduling efficiencies became the norm, which in some ways led to greater productivity. National professional conferences went online during the pandemic, too. My guess is that funding for a variety of national public health concerns will become available in the near future, and our faculty will be equipped to be part of those important conversations. Incredibly, we actually generated more research expenditures in 2020-2021 than during the previous year.
Our enrollments in the first year of the pandemic, and now in its second year, have increased considerably. This is in part because Baylor handled the pandemic so well, and because word is spreading about the mission-driven education we offer. No institution is perfect, but we work very hard on behalf of our students to support a holistic experience — from the educational to the personal.
One of our most important priorities in Arts & Sciences has been to keep in touch with our alumni, friends and benefactors. We found it to be more convenient — both for me and for our team — to meet with these groups online in certain situations. While there is nothing like an in-person visit, the frequency of contacts with our alumni base has increased because of the convenience of online communications. We’ve even found that some of our alumni actually prefer to meet virtually. I’m also glad to report that both Baylor and the College of Arts & Sciences had an incredibly successful year of fundraising in support of our $1.1 billion Give Light philanthropic campaign.
I have only touched upon a few of the changes brought about by COVID-19, but it seems to be true that there is a silver lining. In many ways, Baylor and the College of Arts & Sciences were compelled to change things that needed changing. The pandemic experience has taught me that when you see change on the horizon, you should act quickly — although prudently — rather than having to make needed changes under duress.