. Kind mother. In the plain sense, an alma mater nurtures with mother’s milk and tender caress. She provides the language of a mother tongue, deeply-rooted belonging, and safety from harm. Through extemporized, knee-dandling explanation and elaborate family mythology, an alma mater also prepares daughters and sons to shoulder the audacious weight of adult life. Steady discipline and hard correction are within an alma mater’s ken as well; they portend trouble, but are borne of care against calamity. When we are fortunate enough to have had such an estimable mother, we rightly remember and revere her.
Is it not remarkable that a fundamental human relationship, transformed into an epithet of maternal Roman goddesses and adapted by Christians to praise the Virgin Mary, should be used to describe one’s college or university? Yet we commonly call our universities alma maters and adopt fiercely loyal familial views of them.
A stranger, once discovered to be an alumna of one’s university, becomes if not a sister, at least a sort of distant relative worthy of attention. Hundreds of thousands annually “come home” to their alma maters for extravagant reunions featuring feasts, parades, tale-telling, and of course football. Alumni adorn their homes with college emblems and memorabilia, sometimes creating spaces resembling the household altars of ancient Rome, replete with latter-day Lares. More publicly, homage is paid to alma maters through insignia affixed to cars, embroidered onto apparel, and even tattooed onto bodies. Familial reverence reaches perhaps its greatest measure in magnificent endowments and bequests; to our alma maters we pay not only lip service, but give generously, even sacrificially.
How may we account for this unique power of colleges and universities? Why do they command intense loyalty? What underlies the allure, real or imagined, of participation in this particular cultural institution? Should the modern university play so commanding a role within American life? Under what circumstances do universities deserve the exalted place we accord them?
These questions underlie my recent reading and writing, and I share them with you because they bear on our work together. The questions are addressed to a broad cultural phenomenon; the answers carry implications for us in the Honors College.
Here is not the space for a book such questions invite. However, the answers I see assure me that our academic community deserves the labor of love and loyalty we offer it. Among other reasons why this is so, we aim for greater goods than self-perpetuation and embrace a wider society than mere institutional membership. Put simply, yet yielding to the profoundest mysteries of our faith, we pursue ends and share a community elevated through charitable participation in the triune life of God. Herein we find ample cause to embrace our work diligently, exhort our students hopefully, and extol our college confidently.
Here are additional items of which to take note:
• Did you know that this year is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core? I hope you’ll take time to explore BIC’s silver anniversary website, Celebrating 25 Years of BIC
, full of information about the origins of the program, profiles of key people, oral history interviews, and a timeline. In honor of this anniversary, please know you’re welcome to attend BIC’s annual homecoming lecture by Baylor Regent Kristina “Krissy” Doerner Guidi
, planned Friday, October 16 at 2:45 p.m. via Zoom on the topic, “My Journey Living the Examined Life at Baylor and Beyond – Pursuing Excellence but not Perfection
• Prospective student recruitment events are taking new forms this year in order to accommodate realities standing in the way of travel, campus visits, and large gatherings. Even as we move Distinguished Scholars Day, Invitation to Excellence, and Getterman Scholars programs to Zoom forums, the need for extensive volunteer support remains great. Erin Stamile
, our enrollment management coordinator, will rally help for our upcoming events. Please respond to inquiries from her as quickly and positively as your schedules allow.
• Institutional Research has released new faculty research tools. Faculty Insight, available to individual faculty, provides personalized profiles drawn from Digital Measures data. It includes fascinating word clouds of research-related key terms, lists of scholars pursuing similar work, and suggested funding sources. Faculty Expertise Portal provides a public-oriented presentation of research productivity. Links are available here. Dashboards for the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core
, Great Texts Program
, and Honors Program
reflect 26 books, 114 articles, and 25 book chapters published by HC faculty in the last three years (and fine work beyond those tallies has been done as well).
• The American Council on Education (ACE) has selected Baylor for participation in its well-regarded ACE Internationalization Laboratory
. Designed to guide universities through a comprehensive process of review and goal-setting around internationalization efforts, the lab will present multiple opportunities for faculty contribution. If internationalization of such things as curriculum, scholarly collaboration, and student recruitment are areas in which you have interest—and if you would like to participate in the lab—please let me know.
• To whom would you turn for expert answers about Vikings? National Geographic turns to Davide Zori
, associate professor of history and archaeology in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core. In a feature article
, “Scientists raid DNA to explore Vikings’ genetic roots,” Davide’s research and insights as part of the Mosfell Archaeological Project in Iceland, for which he served as field director, are tapped. Well done, Davide!
All the best,
Douglas V. Henry | Dean
Honors College | Baylor University
baylor.edu/honorscollege | 254.710.7689