A Transformative Academic Community

November 8, 2017
Dr. Thomas Hibbs, Honors College Dean
Thomas S. Hibbs has served as dean of the Honors College at Baylor University since 2003. In addition to is administrative duties, Dr. Hibbs is a distinguished professor of ethic and culture and teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses.

Home to the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core (BIC), Great Texts Program, Honors Program and University Scholars Program, the College is committed to providing a transformative academic community and educating students with a view toward loving truth, kindling faith and cultivating virtue in friendship, study and service to Christ and neighbor.

Q: Before coming to Baylor, you served on the faculty of both Thomas Aquinas College and Boston College. How did your experience in these roles prepare you for leadership in Baylor's Honors College?

A: These two institutions – while both Catholic – are quite different from one another: Thomas Aquinas College (TAC) is a small great books program, where there are no majors and the faculty, called tutors, are obliged to teach across the disciplines. Boston College (BC), a fairly large private school, is a Top Tier research university.

TAC gave me an opportunity to teach in one of the most rigorous interdisciplinary, primary texts undergraduate programs in the entire nation. The Honors College at Baylor offers an analogous education in the context of a major research university and with greater attention to non-Western cultures. TAC is also attentive to the intimate connections between academic life and student life—something to which we are similarly attuned in our Honors Residential College (HRC).

I loved my time at TAC. It was wonderful, after fairly specialized doctoral work, to broaden my horizons in such a rich curriculum. I was in the classroom 14 hours a week at TAC and taught not only great books seminars but Latin and Mathematics [Euclid's Elements] as well. But I was interested in having more time for research and publication, so the move to BC came at a good time for me.

At BC I gradually became involved in administration. I was undergraduate director of one of the largest undergraduate philosophy programs in the country with more than 300 majors. I was also involved in graduate admissions and, later, department chair of a large (more than 30 full-time faculty lines) and distinguished faculty. The Philosophy Department at BC also contains a popular interdisciplinary core program called Perspectives, which provided continuity with the work I had done at TAC.

The varying strengths and different emphases at these two schools provided a good preparation for the work we do here in the Honors College at Baylor—offering interdisciplinary, primary text education to undergrads while expanding student opportunities for research and inquiry.

Q: With the recent Inauguration of President Livingstone, there has been a lot of conversation about Baylor working to become a "Tier 1 University" and an "R1 University." What part does the Honors College play in this academic strategic plan for the University?

A: In comparison to other Top Tier and R1 schools, Baylor is under-represented in the area of graduate education. So one of the primary foci for Baylor in the coming years will be the growth of graduate programs.

Honors College faculty members, many of whom teach in doctoral programs at Baylor, are highly published. Indeed, a number of them are internationally known scholars in their fields. They have received distinguished fellowships from National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Loeb Classical Library and the Humboldt Foundation. So the Honors College contributes directly to the type of scholarship and mentoring of graduate students characteristic of R1 and Top Tier universities.

At such universities, undergraduate research is also prized. Indeed, the profile of the average undergraduate at these universities looks very much like the profile at Baylor of the average Honors College student. We recruit faculty who are equally committed to scholarship and teaching; in this, we seek to fulfill the goal of Pro Futuris "to attract, develop, retain and reward a diverse and outstanding faculty… committed to excellence in teaching, research, and creative expression."

One of our chief goals is to prepare students to become scholars and leaders in whatever fields of endeavor to which they might find themselves called. Thus, we prepare students for admission to the best medical, law and doctoral programs. We also seek to identify early during their time at Baylor, students who are likely to be competitive for national and international fellowships. We have nurtured a healthy number of students who have secured Fulbright, Marshall and Truman scholarships. Our capstone courses and senior thesis projects provide students with opportunities for reflective appropriation of their education and for extensive research.

Q: What does Baylor's Christian mission look like in the context of the Honors College?

A: Pro Futuris begins by noting an alarming fact about the history of Christian higher education in America, a history characterized by a "relentless retreat from Christian commitment… on the part of the nation's oldest and most prestigious universities." The Honors College seeks to counter this trend in a variety of ways: by inviting students into the reading of great texts and to a life of inquiry about the most important questions; by bringing the wisdom of the Christian tradition to bear upon a host of contemporary questions; by fostering reflection, conversation and prayer about vocation; and by offering opportunities for service on campus, in our local community and across the globe.

The official Honors College vision statement is this: "Through a transformative academic community of integrated teaching and learning, beauty and wisdom, the Honors College at Baylor University educates students with a view toward loving truth, kindling faith, and cultivating virtue in friendship, study, and service to Christ and neighbor." The formation of whole persons is about living wisely, as Pro Futuris notes. Such a deeply personal project is indelibly communal and its proper setting is the collegiate community, which nourishes friendships among those who pursue shared intellectual, spiritual and leisure activities. For these reasons, the Honors Residential College is central to all that we do. In and out of the classroom, the Honors College contributes to a variety of goals of Pro Futuris, especially those concerning a "transformational education" that instills in students a "desire for wisdom, understanding of calling and preparation for service in a diverse and interconnected global society."

Q: The Honors College offers multiple rigorous programs that contribute to the academic prestige of the University. What would you say is the overarching mission of the Honors College and how do these interdisciplinary programs work together to accomplish it?

Having addressed the vision question above, let me add just a few observations. We are large, with over 1,000 students and four different programs (Honors Program, Great Texts Program, Baylor Interdisciplinary Core and University Scholars Program). The College also now houses the Crane Scholars and Philanthropy and Public Service Program, both of which introduce students to research informed by a Christian vision. No Honors College in the country encompasses that many programs and the programs have different criteria for admission.

Given our size and diversity of programs, we can find a place for virtually every student who wants to be in the Honors College. We also have more full-time faculty slots (35) than at any other Honors College and that is over and above the many faculty members from across the University who generously teach honors classes and direct honors theses. Thus, the opportunities for students to be mentored by superb faculty are enormous. We have also raised nearly $15 million in endowed scholarship funds.

All of this means that the Honors College at Baylor has an impact on students that is both intensive and extensive.
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