Golden Age Belongs To Future

October 13, 2003

When I was at Baylor as an undergraduate (1960-64), I liked to think of myself as being on the cutting edge of progressive thought about Baylor's future. I agitated for civil rights reforms, argued with Judge [Abner] McCall when he canceled the theater department's production of "Long Day's Journey Into Night" and identified with the views of Ralph Lynn, Haywood Shuford, Dick Cherry and others who wore the progressive mantle at Baylor in those days. Only at Baylor in the early '60s could I have regarded myself as a dangerous radical because I attended Lynn's Sunday school class at Seventh & James Baptist Church and aspired to date a drama student.
I was, of course, an arrogant twerp in those years, but not so different in that regard from most intellectually alive undergraduates. The recent lively disputes at Baylor over the wisdom of the bold proposals embodied in the 2012 document and the University's future brought to mind some of these old struggles in which I participated in the 1960s.
For a Baylor alum like myself, eager for many reasons to see my alma mater do well, these recent years have been heady ones, indeed. At conferences around the country, especially among Christian educators, Baylor's name is on everyone's lips. After a long period during which Christian higher education, especially at the university level, has been largely moribund or, even worse, in decline, Baylor has given people something to talk about -- and a school to root for. 
Under Robert Sloan's leadership, the University has committed itself to excellence -- a hugely overused word in higher education, but the only one that seems fully adequate to capture the vision of 2012. Baylor aims to hire more faculty and more confidently Christian faculty. These faculty members will combine excellence in scholarship with a commitment to classroom teaching. They will be placed in contact with outstanding students and given the tools to do their jobs well both in the classroom and in the laboratory or library. And Baylor has carefully worked out a plan to pay for all of this. To most of us in higher education, it seems like an occasion to celebrate.
It is for this reason that the recent reports of dissatisfaction among various members of the Baylor community took many of us by surprise. One hears that conservatives may be nervous because Baylor isn't hiring enough Baptists, and liberals (or moderate progressives, as Baptist liberals like to be called) are nervous because Baylor has become too intentionally Christian. Most of us, however, are struck by the fact that Baylor is assembling a Christian faculty that is the envy of every other Christian college or university in the country. Some Baylor faculty seem disturbed that the research demands in the future may be greater and complain that this might affect the quality of teaching. But since teaching loads are decreasing while research standards are raised, this criticism hardly persuades. 
I suspect that the real source of dissatisfaction stems from something that is not commonly articulated in this discussion -- the simple fear of change and a kind of nostalgia for "the good old days." Change is difficult and frightening -- especially to those who have an emotional investment in an imagined earlier "golden age."
I loved my years at Baylor in the early '60s, but those years were hardly a golden age. Baylor is a much better university now than then, but it needs to be better yet. More important, it has an opportunity at this critical moment in the history of Christian higher education to become the most significant Protestant research university in the world. Christian universities have been swamped in the last century by the secularism that dominates our culture. Robert Sloan and his administration understand that Baylor is uniquely positioned to reassert the role of the Christian university as a place where true academic freedom thrives -- freedom from the dismissal or oppression of important questions too often practiced in the modern academy. 
When many of us in the early 1960s argued with Judge McCall (and lost) about his decision to close "Long Day's Journey Into Night" and fought for the end of racial segregation on campus, we frequently had to contend with a sentimental resistance to change. It is testimony to the richness and vitality of the University that we survived and grew as a result of those arguments. Genuine love for Baylor and its ideals required -- as we now all understand -- a university free of racial discrimination and free of a crabbed and defensive attitude toward the arts. 
I am disappointed that some of my allies in these old battles are now resisting the progressive proposals embodied in Baylor 2012. The "old" Baylor to which they hope to cling carried in it the glorious seeds of the "new" Baylor now being born. Their resistance surely will seem as strange to us in 20 years as does the resistance on the part of many reasonable people to the end to racial discrimination in the mid-1960s.

Dr. Solomon, BA '64, is a member of the philosophy department at the University of Notre Dame and the H.B. and W.P. White Director of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture.