The Best for Undergraduates

February 12, 2003

Undergraduate education occupies a central place in Baylor's 2012 Vision. As has always been the case, the commitment to undergraduate education is the foundation upon which Baylor envisions itself and imagines its future. 
In recent months, a few have suggested that undergraduate education at Baylor is slipping in quality, weakened by a malaise, an indifference to intellectual priorities and a lack of commitment to outstanding classroom teaching.
These assertions paint a picture that is distorted and based on mere opinion and anecdotal claims rather than factual evidence. Such a picture seriously misrepresents our faculty, students and academic programs.
Academic concerns are the top priority at Baylor. The quality of the faculty lies at the heart of these endeavors -- faculty who are intellectually outstanding, who see learning as an adventure, nurture a sense of discovery for a lifetime in themselves and also in students, support the University's mission and make significant contributions to our academic and local communities -- and beyond them, to the world.
The 2002-03 new faculty have outstanding intellectual credentials, rivaling and perhaps surpassing any I have seen at Baylor:
• This year the College of Arts and Sciences, Baylor's largest academic unit, recruited 27 new tenured and tenure-track faculty whose academic training came from such universities as Cornell, Yale, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Michigan, Emory, Oxford, Kentucky, Stanford, Georgetown, Michigan State, Toronto and Liepzig.
• Every one of these faculty members, without exception, has outstanding academic credentials. Nearly all of them have published in peer-reviewed journals, and several have won awards for outstanding teaching. 
Baylor's reputation as a quality teaching university that cares for students, employs rigorous standards and places tenured and tenure-track professors in the classroom, even in freshman classes, is a hallmark of its undergraduate program. Critics claim that doctoral and master's level students, rather than professors, increasingly teach our undergraduate classes. They also assert that part-time instructors are increasingly prominent. The realities portray a different picture:
• The number of full-time faculty members increased by 11.4 percent in fall 2002, from 697 in 2001 to 777. During this same period, the number of part-time faculty declined from 116 to 110.
• The number of graduate students teaching academic lecture courses has remained flat during the last three years. In fall 2000, there were 56 graduate students teaching. In fall 2002, the number of graduate instructors was 59. Graduate students taught fewer than 5 percent of all academic courses in 2000, and this number is approximately the same in 2002-03.
Baylor's reputation as a quality teaching university is related to its small class sizes that allow professors to work closely with students. Critics have proposed that this is now an increasingly rare scenario and classes with more than 50 students are predominant. The facts refute this: 
• In fall 1998, the average undergraduate class size was 31.6 students; today, the average has decreased to 29.4.
• In fall 1998, 13 percent of classes had 50 or more students; today, that percentage has dropped to 11.2 percent.
• In fall 1998, 35.5 percent of undergraduate classes had fewer than 20 students; that percentage of small classes has grown today to 38 percent. 
• In fall 1998, the ratio of students to faculty was 18.8 to 1. In fall 2002, the ratio dropped to 16.7 to 1. The goal is to reach 12.5 to 1. 
Both the intellectual creativity and academic reputation of our faculty are important to the quality of our programs. Here again are the facts:
• Since 1998 in the College of Arts and Sciences (and I suspect in other units as well), the number of books and articles by our faculty published in high-quality, peer-reviewed journals has more than doubled.
• Since 1998, the dollar amount of externally funded grants has more than tripled.
Several key initiatives taking place within the University show an increasing commitment to undergraduate education: 
• the newly created Honors College, located in the heart of our campus; 
• a writing-across-the-curriculum program, which will have a significant impact on undergraduate education; and 
• the expansion of freshman seminars, which already have had tremendous success on a limited basis.
A university education is more than the conversation taking place in our classrooms. It extends to the rich cultural opportunities provided beyond the classroom borders. During October 2002 alone, we welcomed to campus Shelby Foote, Ernest Gaines and "From the Top," the popular National Public Radio classical music program. We hosted a national conference on China and announced a teaching agreement with Horton Foote. In early November, we hosted the Pruit Memorial Symposium, which explored the intersection of faith and economics. In these endeavors, we are connecting students to the national level of the arts, politics and theater, as well as to the national level on economics.
Building on a strong heritage provided by faculty, both in the past and at present, our undergraduate program increasingly is dynamic and robust. The 2003 Princeton Review finds Baylor students to be very satisfied with their classes, with 94 percent of the students surveyed saying their classes are stimulating and 93 percent saying their professors are accessible.
I do not know the motivations that underlie our critics' impressionistic judgments, but the evidence does not support them.