Session Four - 'What Does It Mean to Support Baylor's Mission?'

  • News Photo 1306
    Dr. Owen T. Lind
  • News Photo 1289
    Dr. Ralph C. Wood
April 22, 2003

Baylor University faculty members examined "The Baptist and Christian Character of Baylor" during a two-day colloquy April 10-11, honoring Dr. Donald D. Schmeltekopf, provost and vice president for academic affairs, who will retire in May.

The presentations at the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center offered differing perspectives on the various dimensions of Baylor's faith mission and its integration into the teaching, scholarship and service endeavors of the university community. Selected faculty members presented their positions on the session topic, followed by short papers in response and open discussion.

This session can be viewed by linking to Part one can be seen here.To see part two, click here.

'What Does It Mean to Support Baylor's Mission?'

The colloquy wrapped up on April 11 with the session "What Does It Mean to Support Baylor's Mission?" With Dr. J. Mark Bateman, associate professor of educational administration and executive dean, serving as moderator, the discussion focused on how faculty members interpret the concept of supporting the university's mission, particularly the emphasis on scholarly activity and the integration of faith and learning.

Dr. Owen Lind, professor of biology, began the session with his paper, "Converging Journeys...and Beyond," with much of his presentation focusing on the history of scholarly research at Baylor. Lind arrived at the university in the mid-1960s when faculty was expected to teach and conduct little research. In fact, a memo from the President Abner McCall detailed that chairman approval was needed for "outside employment such as consultation, research or business or professional enterprises."

Lind said over the four decades he has taught at Baylor that this mindset has changed; the new directive states that new faculty now is expected to engage in scholarly activity, an approach he agrees with. However, he was not so positive about hiring qualified faculty who possess "the requisite scholarship capacity and Christian commitment to staff a university of this size."

"I and many others are concerned that the overly rigorous application of a degree-of-religious-activity-test will offend and turn away competent and committed Christian scholars," he said.

However, Lind closed with the thought that with the rapid advances in the sciences, Baylor must at least make the attempt to become a Christian leader in the forthcoming era.

"We must have the wisdom to recognize that scientific knowledge alone is not going to produce a better world," he said. "Those values held by Christians in general and Baptists in particular...are equally essential to human progress."

Dr. Ralph Wood, university professor of theology and literature, who followed Lind, discussed why he agrees with the requirement that faculty be active members of a church or synagogue and how the administration can make Baylor a church-serving institution.

In answer to the criticism that a religious faith undermines academic freedom, Wood stated that the charter change protected Baylor from takeover by fundamentalists and secured its freedom.

"Baylor is uniquely free to serve the church precisely because we have no cause to fear the church," he said.

However, by "the church," Wood does not mean the Southern Baptist Convention or the Baptist General Convention of Texas, but rather the church catholic.

"We faculty have the right to expect our president and provost and respective deans to make sure that Baylor serves the Kingdom of God in its largest ecumenical reach, not in the small denominational sense," he said. "My way of putting this matter is to describe Baylor as 'a Christian university in the Baptist tradition' and not the other way around."

Wood called for a more ecumenical faculty as well as abandoning the requirement that only Baptists can teach in the religion department and the rule that non-Baptist religious organizations can not meet on campus.

But having a committed Christian and Jewish faculty is not enough to proclaim its Christian convictions, Wood said. To show that it is a serous Christian university, Baylor needs more outward and visible signs, in the form of religious art and architecture, including a grand sanctuary on campus.

And he agreed with the charge that these commissions would pull money from new academic buildings and scholarships. "The very 'uselessness' of such a sanctuary would be precisely the point. It would be dedicated to nothing other than the glory of the God of our redemption."

Three faculty provided responses to Lind and Wood's presentations. Dr. Marjorie Cooper, professor of marketing, stated that only a consensus of core values will deliver a reasonable consensus in supporting Baylor's mission. She went on to say that pursuing faculty who possess uncompromising faith will actually provide the university with better scholars.

"Those who have committed their lives to Christ, the infinite mind of the universe, ought to be the most creative, insightful and stimulating of scholars," she said.

Dr. Byron Newberry, professor of engineering, took the view that while support of Baylor's mission is necessary, how one demonstrates that support can be difficult to discern and that disagreement with how the mission can be achieved is neither wrong nor harmful.

"I believe the most avid proponents among the Baylor faculty of Vision 2012 are enthusiastic supporters of the mission of the university. But I also believe that the most vigorous critics among Baylor faculty of Vision 2012 are enthusiastic supporters of the mission of the university," he said.

Truett Seminary theology professor Roger Olson concluded the session by stating that both Lind and Wood made valid points, but he had some concerns about some aspects of their proposals.

While Olson believes Baylor should strengthen its ecumenical ties, he also said that he values being Baptist and preserving the university's Baptist heritage and identity. In agreement with Lind, Olson stated that spiritual concerns should not intrude on science's hard evidentialism. Science may conduct its experiments at a Christian university as it does anywhere else, but science should not be naturalistic - believing that nature is all there is and that science can answer all important questions of life.

"It excludes belief that science is an end in itself; rather it is a servant of humanity created in the image of God," he said.

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