Season 5 - Episode 508
Baylor’s attainment of R1 research recognition represents a team effort that played out over a two-decade span. In this Baylor Connections, Larry Lyon takes listeners inside that journey. Dr. Lyon, Vice Provost and Dean of Baylor’s Graduate School, shares how initiatives like Baylor 2012, Pro Futuris and Illuminate helped Baylor advance on a path to research preeminence while remaining committed to its Christian mission.
Derek Smith:Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research, and student life. I'm Derek Smith, and today we are talking about Baylor's R1 journey with Dr. Larry Lyon. Dr. Lyon serves as Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School at Baylor; a Baylor graduate and a longtime faculty member in the Department of Sociology. He was appointed as Dean of the Graduate School in 1998. An early advocate for the pursuit of research growth at Baylor, he's provided leadership throughout a number of purposeful moments in the life of the university that led to Baylor's exciting R1 attainment in December. Growth within the Baylor graduate schools played a key role in that. Over 100 programs across campus are involved with the graduate school, and they enroll over 5,400 students. That represents continued growth over the years, even an 11% growth, over 2020, 2021. There's been a lot of exciting things that have taken place in the graduate school that have paralleled what's taken place at the university, and helped drive it. And Dr. Lyon, it's great to talk to you about that today. Thanks so much for joining us on the program.
Larry Lyon:My pleasure, Derek.
Derek Smith:Well, I got to ask you, I think the obvious question for a lot of people, when we heard we had achieved R1 recognition in December, how did you react? What, what did you feel, and what did it mean to you?
Larry Lyon:Yeah, I remember that morning very well. I had just gotten to work and was checking my emails, and got a couple of emails saying that the new Carnegie Foundation list for R1, while provisional, was online. So I started looking for it, trying to find it, and I got an email from my boss, the Provost. And Nancy Brickhouse said that she had heard that we had made the list and was it true? Could I confirm it? Then I really tried to find out. Obviously, I had some additional motivation. I contacted Meaghann, Wheelis in Institutional Research. She's our mathematical model builder, and she had been following our progress toward R1 all of these years. And she looked at the data and said, "Yep, it looks like we crossed that line, Larry." And she had some connections with Carnegie; she said, "Yes, we are indeed on the list." It's a provisional list, but we're so solid, we crossed the line so easily that we're not going off of it. It's done. I contacted the Vice President for Marketing and Communications, Jason Cook. I said, "Jason, I've got some good news for you. We're R1. And I got some bad news for you. It's three years earlier than you had planned for it. So we got to start telling people in a hurry." I told everybody down the hall in the graduate school. We wanted to celebrate somehow, so we went over to McMullen-Connally where the faculty and staff eat for lunch, and had a celebratory lunch. And while we were eating, the president sent out the email to all the faculty and staff saying we made R1. And I could see that the heads pop up all throughout the dining room, and start whispering to each other. And they recognized the graduate school was there, and the faculty came over and congratulated us. And it's not like when Scott Drew won the national championship, but in academic circles, it was pretty celebratory. It was a special time for us.
Derek Smith:Well, that is a great comparison. When you think about a national title, something that's been worked towards by a lot of people at a team effort for a long time, that's one comparison. If someone from outside higher education came up to and said, "Dr. Lyon, I heard Baylor is R1," what does that mean? How would you describe it to them?
Larry Lyon:Well, the easiest answer is that it means that we are now among a select group of universities doing the highest level of research. But that would be true for any university who became R1. But for Baylor, and especially when people of the Baylor family ask about that, I tell them that it means our founders were right. Almost 200 years ago in our charter, we talk about, they talked about a university, fully susceptible for enlargement and development to meet the needs of all ages to come. That's a lot of hubris. They thought back in 1845 that they could create a university like that. And yet today almost 200 years later, that's what we're doing. We are producing a Baylor that is growing, that's developing, that's responding to the needs of our society and to our world. And it's really rather remarkable, maybe even providential that we can hold true to the founding vision of Baylor almost 200 years later. That's what it means to me.
Derek Smith:What about in light of what Baylor stands for in higher education? It is unique is that idea of a preeminent Christian research university. I know that's something that drove you and motivated you over the years.
Larry Lyon:It did, Derek, and it still does. The truth is, we have a lot of research universities. Depending on how you measure it, a hundred research universities; do we need another one? Well, it doesn't hurt, but it's not a game changer. But if you want to look at the Christian research universities, and by Christian, I mean proudly proclaiming its faith, its commitment, selectively hiring for people who share our vision. The number of Christian research universities, you could count on one hand with fingers left over. For Baylor to show that at the highest levels of research, can be integrated, can be driven by unapologetic faith commitment is really unique. It's really special. And that's what's behind the idea of a preeminent Christian research university.
Derek Smith:And Dr. Lyon, hoping you can give us a little bit of, I don't know if you call it a history lesson, or a walk down memory lane, but whatever the case, you've seen a number of different phases of the university vision coalesce into R1 attainment over the years. The roots go back, not just to the adoption of Illuminate, but to past strategic visions like Baylor 2012, and Pro Futuris. Could you walk us through that a little bit and how early visionaries helped bring us to a point in recent years that we could really galvanize towards that?
Larry Lyon:You mentioned Baylor 2012, that really is the modern beginning of this march to R1. This is around 2001, 2002, a really radical re-visioning of Baylor was published, and it was called Baylor 2012. It was extremely controversial. It talked about changing Baylor in lots of ways, including more graduate education, more research than we had ever conceived of in earlier times. As I said, this was quite controversial. It was never repudiated. It remained our vision. 10 years later, in 2012, we hadn't got there. We were not what we were, what 2012 asked us to be. We made progress, but not nearly enough. So we had a new vision. It was called Pro Futuris, that was released in 2012. And basically, Pro Futuris restated Baylor 2012. It toned down some of the language perhaps, but the goals were still there to be a great research university among other things. Then you mentioned Illuminate, Derek in 2018. I read Illuminate for the first time, and I remember thinking, 'wow, we got our mojo back.' The proud language is there, the pride, and the feeling that we can accomplish things is back. Illuminate, in many cases, was closer to Baylor, 2012 than it was Pro Futuris in that it was forward looking. And there was this feeling of inner confidence that Baylor can do these things. Let's go out and reach. So it's been about a 20 year journey starting with a controversial vision statement. It was reaffirmed about 10 years later with Pro Futuris. And then in 2018, we have Illuminate restating Baylor 2012, but restating it with a confidence saying, "this isn't a dream, this is a very new a reality, and we can do this."
Derek Smith:Dr. Lyon, you mentioned this was "controversial." People who were around may remember that, but for people who don't, what were some of the objections that Baylor faced, or what were some of the convincing Baylor needed to do for people to see that this was a good path forward?
Larry Lyon:Baylor had seen itself quite appropriately as a regional Baptist teaching university. And we were very good at that. This new vision, vision 2012, recast the university as not regional, but national, and not just teaching, but teaching and research, and not just Baptist, but Baptist and Christian. It redefined what it meant to be a faculty member that you had to have different scholarly criteria met in order to be tenured at Baylor, for example. It meant that Baylor would be expensive, because graduate education and research is expensive, but then, undergraduate education's expensive. It's student life, and small classes, technology to support teaching. That's all expensive, but we do it. Athletics is expensive, but we decided it's worth it. But we never decided that graduate education and research, which was also expensive, was worth it. So there was a legitimate, understandable pushback on thinking about a different kind of Baylor, because the kind of Baylor that we had in 2000 was a good Baylor. We were doing fine. If it had been a bad Baylor, it might have been easier to produce the change. But because we were doing well, to say, "now, let's do even more," there was the fear that teaching would suffer. There was the fear that we would lose our faith connection. There was a fear that we would price ourselves out of the higher education market. There was lots of concerns.
Derek Smith:Well, obviously those were overcome in various ways. You've talked about the fact that as Baylor looked to do even more, it was important to do that from that Christian standpoint. What does it mean to you for Baylor to be excellent, recognized as excellent, among higher education leaders as a Christian university?
Larry Lyon:It means everything, Derek. In the history of American higher education, almost all of the finest private universities in the nation started from Christian roots. They began with the sponsorship of the church, typically the denominational church, but as they added their research and the research allowed them to grow in stature and to attract brighter students, and brighter faculty and more donations, and as they grew, they lost their faith. There simply wasn't an exception to this rule. It just always happened. So we had, in 2000, we took our faith for granted. We were a Baptist University. Our students were Baptist. Our faculty were Baptist. We have chapel, we had faith. But history taught that wasn't going to be sufficient if we became a research university. So we had to become more intentional in our faith. We had to ask more questions about faith in hiring. We had to think about ways that our faith could inform our teaching, or inform our research to make sure that the faith didn't disappear as the research got stronger. And we did it. We did something that was without historical precedent. We greatly ramped up the research and graduate capacities of this university, and at the same time strengthened our faith commitment. Now we probably had to to make sure that we didn't lose our faith, that we had to strengthen it, but, but we pulled it off. And lots of historians, quite rightly, would've said, "I don't think you can do that, Larry. No one ever has." Like, I was told that, but forewarned is forearmed, and we knew what had happened before us, and we were able to prevent it from happening again.
Derek Smith:Well, I realize as I ask you this, I'm asking a broad question that you could probably talk about for three or four of these Baylor Connections shows on end. But you saw it up close, you played a leadership role as did others. The graduate school certainly has. How, in a nutshell, did we do that? How did we strengthen our faith commitment while pursuing this, and doing both with purpose?
Larry Lyon:I mentioned the interviewing for our faculty became more deliberate in exploring faith. What do you believe? How do you put your faith into action? We would ask questions, "So you are a Christian. How does the Christianity that you hold to impact your teaching? How do you teach differently because you're a Christian? How do you interact with students differently? What's your view of the university because you're a Christian? Does your faith help you choose research topics, or if not, does it help you interpret the research findings?" These are questions that we typically didn't ask before this time, but now we do. We created the Institute for Faith and Learning where faculty can go in with other faculty and talk about their faith, and talk about their research, and talk about the connections between them. We didn't to have an Institute like that to openly and deliberately explore these kind of relationships until then. It's much easier to talk about it now than it was to do then. This was new territory, and it wasn't clear that it would work, but we did it, and it did work.
Derek Smith:And it's been fantastic to see, as we visit on Baylor Connections with Dr. Larry Lyon, Dean of the Graduate School at Baylor. Dr. Lyon, let's talk about out your area, the graduate school. What role has that played in Baylor becoming R1, and how should people from outside of higher education or outside of that paradigm understand the role that a strong graduate school attracting great graduate students, plays in university?
Larry Lyon:A strong graduate school is absolutely necessary for a strong research university. There's no exceptions to that rule. You can't have one without the other. University research is based upon scholarly faculty. You can't bring in the top scholars without them knowing that they're going to have graduate seminars, and that they're going to have graduate students in their labs. They wouldn't come here otherwise. And bringing in those kind of faculty, are how you strengthen your graduate school. So one hand washes the other. The graduate school gets stronger because the faculty that came in; because the graduate school is stronger and better faculty come in and it produces a virtuous cycle of just getting better and better. I guess we can go to the athletics analogy again. You start winning some games, you can bring in better athletes. You bring in better athletes, you start winning more games, and it continues to feed on itself in a very positive way. Well, that's the way graduate education and university research support each other.
Derek Smith:It really is like the phrase Dr. Kevin Chambliss has said a couple times lately, "Nothing succeeds like success." And it has built on itself for sure. I mean, the graduate school continues to grow; in the last year an 11% growth in enrollment, and really dramatic growth over the years. What do numbers like that represent when you see an 11% growth? Not just in terms of more students coming, but I'm assuming that means more faculty, more programs, more opportunities that are opening doors for those students, not just attracting more students here.
Larry Lyon:Yes, and it also means more tuition revenue to fund our research agendas. A key metric for becoming R1: one of the ways you get to be an R1 university is to produce more and more research doctorates, graduate people, mostly with PhDs. Although Baylor also includes the EdD and the Doctorate of Science. But mostly the more PhDs you graduate, the closer you get to being R1. We got to be R1, among other ways, by increasing our number of PhDs. We're doing about 200 research doctoral graduates this year. 10 years ago, we were doing half that. 10 years before that, half that again. So we've really had an exponential increase in graduating research doctoral students. And without that increase, mathematically, it would've been impossible for us to become an R1 university.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Larry Lyon, and Dr. Lyon, let's look at the last couple of years now, really the last few. You talked about Illuminate and its impact. As we go back to 2017, President Livingstone was inaugurated. She cast a vision for research, saying, "The world needs a Baylor." How impactful have the last few years been? Her statement that we were pursuing this, our official pursuit of R1, how much have those really sparked where we are now?
Larry Lyon:Derek, that was a game changer. I remember sitting in the audience when she said that, and thinking, I had not heard that expansive and eloquent justification of Baylor since Robert Sloan back in 2000. It meant that we need to be all we can be, not just because it's good for Baylor, but the world needs it. We have a bigger mission than just being a good Baylor for good Baylor faculty and students. That we have a mission that can play on the world stage. And it takes a lot of vision, a lot of hubris to think that, and for some of my time here, I think people thought, no, we're just little Baylor in little Waco, and the world stage will move fine without us. Sloan didn't think so. And Livingstone didn't think so. And I saw the connection as soon as she said it. Hey, we might be ready to go again, because people like that are people that can lead us. She gave a justification in that speech for Baylor being R1. Not just because it was a cool metric to have. Not because we could be proud of ourselves once we achieved it. But because we could be a greater service to the kingdom by being a preeminent Christian research university.
Derek Smith:Well now that we've attained that, it's certainly a big milestone, but it's far from a finish line. What are you excited to see as we wind down, Dr. Lyon? What are you excited to see Baylor pursue in the future now that we are R1, and what do you see our impact being with that?
Larry Lyon:Well, you're right Derek. This isn't the end point. Borrowing from Churchill, "This isn't the end, but it is the end of the beginning." We've got a long way to go, but I am so much more confident now that we're going to get there than I have ever been before, because the paradigm shift is complete. That way of thinking about Baylor as a regional Baptist teaching university; that was the old paradigm. It's gone. Nobody thinks of Baylor that way anymore. Now the new paradigm, we think of Baylor as a national Christian research university and that's here to stay. With that paradigm in place, we're on track to be America's preeminent Christian research university. We can get there. If we just keep doing the things that we're doing now, we will get there. It doesn't require another paradigm shift. It just requires staying on the tracks and keep working toward that goal. I am more encouraged about the future of Baylor today than I have ever been in my 40 years at this university.
Derek Smith:Well, that's exciting. That's a great way to put it. And I know you are a Baylor graduate, a long time faculty member in addition to Dean. And I'll tell you, and I'll tell listeners that when Baylor became R1 and as we were getting close, a lot of people started talking. I heard a number of people mention you, and your role in championing this over the years. I know a lot of people are happy for you. I share that, and appreciate you taking the time today to share with us on the program. So congrats. We look forward to seeing the fruits of this and the graduate school and beyond in the years to come. And I thank you for your time today, and sharing with us.
Larry Lyon:Thank you, Derek.
Derek Smith:Dr. Larry Lyon, Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School at Baylor, our guest today here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. Reminder, you can hear this and other programs online at baylor.edu/connections. And you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.