Session Three - Speakers Praise Provost's 'Dynamic' Role In Baylor's 'Transformation'

April 22, 2003
News Photo 1310Dr. David Solomon presented the keynote address at the Colloquy dinner.

by Alan Hunt

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 to the position paper and open discussion.

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A leading academic at the University of Notre Dame described Dr. Donald D. Schmeltekopf as the most important figure in Christian higher education in the last decade of the 20th century. In his keynote address at Thursday's colloquy dinner, Dr. David Solomon said, "Donald Schmeltekopf, with a few friends, has changed the perception of Baylor in the world of higher education and in the culture at large."

Solomon, who serves as the H.B. and W. P. White Director of the Center for Ethics and Culture at Notre Dame, is a former Visiting Distinguished Professor at Baylor University. In his tribute to Schmeltekopf's "dynamic role" in what he termed Baylor's rise to national prominence in the last decade, Solomon said he accomplished this largely by asking questions where a number of people were gathered together "to talk shop" about Christian higher education. "And if his questions weren't answered, he would ask them again. And sometimes, he would even answer his own questions."

He said Schmeltekopf, in the early 1990s, saw a number of things clearly that many others did not see. "Or at least if they saw them, they wouldn't talk about them," He said, "First, he saw that Christian high education at the university level was in deep trouble. He also saw that Baylor was the only protestant research university in this country that had a chance of becoming a great Christian university. Duke and Vanderbilt, along with the Ivies and the other great universities, formerly Christian, could not come back." Solomon said Schmeltekopf was determined that Baylor should be both a great university and a Christian university - "he wanted to raise both bars at once."

Raising a chuckle in his audience, Solomon admitted that Schmeltekopf "was not, of course, alone in his efforts. President (Emeritus Herbert H.) Reynolds had got the ball rolling, and there was another guy, (President Robert B.) Sloan, I think, who had a hand in this transformation, as well as many other people in this room tonight. But this is Don's night and I think we can forget about the rest of them."

Solomon said Schmeltekopf had a number of virtues that made him perfectly suited as "the right man, in the right place, at the right time" on this issue. "He was stubborn and relentless in pursuing these issues. He refused to be taken in by the kind of soft-minded optimism one encounters so frequently in discussing these issues - a kind of deck-of-the-Titanic optimism, 'it will be OK.'" Solomon said Schmeltekopf dedicated his career to the task of "making this institutional structure capable of sustaining this ideal as a reality." He added, "It's an honor to follow him into battle in this great war of ideas being fought over the soul of the university. He has labored to good purpose in the vinyard of Christian higher education He's weeded the rows, he's chopped away the dead branches, and he's nurtured green shoots, and we are all the better for his efforts."

Other speakers paid tribute to Dr. Schmeltekopf's leadership as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. Dr. Wallace L. Daniel, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and the Ralph L. and Bessie May Lynn Professor of History, described him as "a person who represents a strong sense of place and of being true to one's roots." Growing up in Kyle, Texas, with its small Baptist church, he said Schmeltekopf, "being firmly grounded in that community, has kept these elements at the very center of his life. It is clear that he has a solid connection to that place, to the church, to the land, to the family. It's also clear that leadership requires these qualities - the sense of connection that it nurtures, of embracing tradition and also of being able to feel and to create. To those of us who work with him or serve this university these qualities always stand out." He said Schmeltekopf has consistently demonstrated a great deal of energy and purpose, "These qualities are evident every day - in the many interviews that we have conducted, in his leadership on the council of deans, in planning sessions to strengthen our academic programs, and in enabling others to do their work and to carry out their plans."

During the 12 years Dr. Schmeltekopf has served as provost, Baylor created four new academic divisions - George W. Truett Theological Seminary, the School of Engineering and Computer Science, the School of Social Work and the Honors College; added Ph.D. programs in biology, church-state studies, sociology, philosophy, and mathematics; and established the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core program. In addition, participation in international studies programs has grown significantly, the university's faculty has grown from 580 to more than 750, faculty research and scholarly activity has increased, the University Scholars and Distinguished Professors program was initiated, and faculty compensation has improved to rank in the top half of Big 12 institutions.

Dr. Schmeltekopf earned a BA degree from Baylor in 1962 and holds a master of divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from Drew University. He also did post-graduate study at Princeton University. Prior to joining the Baylor administration in 1990 as vice-provost, he served as vice president for academic affairs, dean of the faculty and provost at Mars Hill College in North Carolina. He has been a program officer for the National Endowment for the Humanities and has served on the philosophy faculty at Union College in New Jersey.

He and his wife, Judy, a graduate of Texas Christian University, have four children: William, Elizabeth, Andrew and Stephen; and three grandchildren.

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