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Editorial: Reasoning against affiliation appears faulty in light of Baylor's research

Jan. 26, 2010

Claire Taylor | Lariat Staff

As word that Baylor University is in talks with Baylor College of Medicine to pursue a closer affiliation spreads throughout the academic community, opposition is mounting at the medical school.

Although both universities have made it clear that any closer affiliation would not equate a merger, an online petition from some of the students, faculty, staff and alumni of Baylor College of Medicine clearly states their opposition to either idea. In their view, Baylor's religiously-oriented mission permeates the academic culture to the point of being a danger to the college's scientific progress and degrading its reputation.

"We cannot overlook the restrictive influence that this potential merger would have on BCM, a leading biomedical research-oriented college," the petition reads. "While we respect everyone's right to religion...we believe that science and medicine must be separate from religion, and urge you to reject any such merger."

While it is true that Baylor has a mission grounded in religious beliefs, it is both narrow-minded and presumptuous to insinuate that our Christian heritage makes us any less of a prestigious institute or assume that our faith will hinder the medical school's reputation. In fact, Baylor College of Medicine is already affiliated with a number of other institutions, including St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital and The Methodist Hospital -- both of which are faith-based institutions.

Despite these facts, many who signed the Baylor College of Medicine petition, which has 534 signatures thus far, left comments suggesting that the mission of a religious-affiliated university and a biomedical research-oriented college can only clash in the long run.

"It would be the beginning of the end for the Baylor College of Medicine," one commenter posted. "It would really be a great loss for American science. The proud institution would lose the brightest minds, students and at the end reputation. Merging with the Baylor University is not the answer."

However, what they fail to account for is the fact that although Baylor is a Christian university, it is also a nationally acclaimed teaching institution and an emerging research community with educated faculty from around the world, as well as top-of-the-line training facilities. The Carnegie Foundation has classified Baylor as a research university with high research activity receiving more than $40 million in active research grants. Many of Baylor's bioscience programs have earned an international reputation, including the premedical program. According to the Baylor Web site, the acceptance rate of Baylor students into medical schools is much higher than the national average.

While remaining committed to its Christian mission, Baylor has continued to progress in the realm of research, especially scientific, with a keen eye for our perception and reputation in the broader academic world.

The idea of a religious affiliation hindering scientific progress at this university is a faulty argument, at best. Though funding for research was a past concern, Baylor researchers are no longer prohibited from seeking out and accepting federal or state funds to further their work.

Just last week the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas awarded Baylor a $200,000 grant to be put toward research on new cancer treatment agents. The institute wouldn't have provided these funds to a university that isn't regarded as a serious presence in the research fields.

Baylor also remains on the cutting edge with first-rate facilities and equipment. Just this semester a new professor joined the physics department, bringing with her the equipment and knowledge necessary to start a Scanning Tunneling Microscopy lab. The lab will be equipped with the tools to show actual atoms and molecules on surfaces.

Baylor's mission may be one grounded in a religious faith, but this mission is certainly not its only one. Diversity of education for students, innovative research and a firm commitment to society are all things Baylor strives for on a daily basis. Our Christian mission makes us unique in the academic and research worlds, but it does not hinder us, and a strengthened affiliation with Baylor College of Medicine will not impede the progress or damage the reputation of either entity.