From Baylor’s founding in 1845, the task of spiritual development and the cultivation of character has been central to its mission. In keeping with this historic mission, Pro Futuris affirms that within a context of “intellectually informed faith and religiously informed education, the University seeks to provide an environment that fosters spiritual maturity, strength of character and moral virtue.” Underwriting this vision is the conviction that “both intellectual and spiritual pursuits are not only partners in the quest for truth, but essential to the growth and development of the whole person.”
To begin, we must understand what a virtue is and how it might be cultivated. A virtue is an excellence of character that enables one to strive towards well-being and happiness—to flourish as a human person.This life-long process of growing into virtue takes time and requires supporting structures, practices, mentors, and relationships. Character formation is an art, not a science: there is no simple technique for becoming virtuous. Yet we can grow into the virtues just as we grow into skills and disciplines—through practice.
At a deeper level, character formation involves schooling our desires and emotions to become the right sorts of desires and emotions. We are what we love, inasmuch as our choices and actions are shaped by those things that claim our attention, wants, and desires. While we seek to cultivate moral virtues like justice, courage, and self-control, we likewise seek to grow into habits of mind—intellectual virtues like humility—that help us better pursue knowledge and truth.
Further, we must recognize that, for Christians, character formation is rooted in the person and purposes of Jesus Christ and is the result not just of human effort but of grace—the ongoing renewal of our persons through the work of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the aim of all Christian calling is found in Romans 8:29—“to be conformed to the image of God’s son.”
Given Baylor’s historic mission, the Vice President for University Mission in conjunction with Baylor’s Spiritual Life and Character Formation Task Force and the Institute for Faith and Learning annually offers faculty members the opportunity to participate in the Character Across the Curriculum initiative, designed to foster and reward innovative approaches to character formation in the classroom.
Each spring, undergraduate and graduate faculty members are invited to submit proposals for redesigning existing courses with the aim of fostering “spiritual maturity, strength of character and moral virtue” through creative pedagogies and innovative assignment design. Proposals can be submitted for redesigning regularly taught courses or for designing new content for an existing course the applicant has not previously taught.
Six Baylor faculty members from various disciplines are selected to participate in a cohort that meets monthly in the fall semester as they engage in learning and conversation about course redesign. They continue to meet as a learning community during the spring semester while the course is being taught to share ideas, questions, and best practices. To support course development, participants receive $1,500 for redesigning a course they regularly teach or $2,500 for creating new content for an existing course they have not previously taught.
“This opportunity has challenged me to think of helping the student grow to his or her maximum potential not only as a special educator but in all areas of life. My project specifically requires me to work with students to identify an area of growth which they will monitor all semester. Just taking a few minutes to talk with them about how they want to grow as teachers and as adults in general has brought us closer together. I see them as more as individuals than I ever have before, and similarly I think they see me as more invested in their individual growth and needs. Overall, I now see the classroom as an opportunity to build relationships and help students achieve any of their life goals.”
“Character Across the Curriculum has transformed my approach to setting course objectives, challenging me to articulate objectives explicitly in the language of the virtues, strengths by which students can progress towards their intellectual and moral goals. It has also challenged me to articulate writing assignments in terms of the virtues (and the course objectives) and give students a more capacious imagination of their written work. Thinking about course objectives and assignments in this way has given me and my students a more cohesive, integrative framework in which to learn and work.”