Future Expectations

June 22, 2005
Robert B. Sloan Jr
Robert B. Sloan Jr. Photo by Cliff Cheney

The story has been told many times of how Christian denominations, including Baptists, founded great universities only to see them secularize. Baylor, however, never endured the debilitating losses suffered by so many other schools with similar origins. Instead, the oldest university in Texas has displayed an amazing tenacity in holding on to its Christian heritage. Although many predicted the charter change would finally push Baylor away from its strong Baptist identity, we have built on our Baptist and Christian commitments to become the only comprehensive research institution in the Protestant tradition to take our faith seriously as expressed in both mission statement and curriculum. Baylor stands in the prophetic center of Christian higher education in America. When Leslie Waggener of the University of Texas taunted Baylor with secular hubris in the late 19th century, trustee B.H. Carroll bluntly reminded him that he and his fellows stood on the shoulders of the Christian university that preceded their efforts. When J. Frank Norris tried to impose a cramped fundamentalism on a Baylor he felt was soft on evolution, Samuel Palmer Brooks stood up for freedom of inquiry for those confident in their faith. Whether the threat has been from the right or the left, Baylor's part has been to champion an academically and spiritually rigorous Baptist and Christian university. As I move to the chancellor's office from the presidency, I hope we will never lose sight of Baylor's special role in American higher education. During my presidency, I have tried to emphasize Baylor's uniqueness rather than committing our institution to a copycat existence as a peer to the state universities. A Baylor that is true to itself will never be satisfied with being a kinder, gentler version of a public university. Because we are a Christian institution with a Baptist tradition, we are free to ask the deeper questions: "What does the Christian tradition have to say about this issue?" or "How do our Baptist distinctives interact with this material?" Holding tight to our distinctively Baptist and Christian identity is not enough, though. In faithfulness to the opportunities God has given us and what I believe to be Baylor's always-visible destiny on the horizon, we must follow the lead of our forebearers and never be satisfied with safely burying the University's talents in the ground. Rather, we must continue to invest in growth and ever-greater accomplishment. Baylor has always had a tradition of teaching excellence, but teaching coupled with research is now a necessary aspect of Baylor's mission. This is true not only for the sake of relevant teaching, but to fulfill our mandate to be an excellent -- and competitive -- university in a world where information is growing at exponential rates. More emphasis on research and publication provides Baylor an opportunity to serve and influence society. We become part of the great conversations, issues and debates that shape our world. We also ensure that our community of students and teachers lives and learns at the leading edge of knowledge. Research disciplines our minds and encourages the sharing of results. The Christian faith always has called for engagement with the world. Research and publication, particularly from an integrated faith learning perspective, represent engagement of a kind that enables scholars with Christian commitments to help shape the discovery and use of new knowledge to ends that reflect the moral and spiritual values of life, truth, beauty and goodness. In the process of emphasizing research, we also provide a home for Christian scholars to ply their craft in a supportive environment. They have an opportunity here to lead an undivided life. At Baylor, there is no need to compartmentalize faith, reason, devotion and discipline. Everything we do is to the greater glory of God and to the service of the church and our fellow men and women. Not so long ago, it was believed there were not enough top Christian scholars to staff a university. We have proven that such a pessimistic estimate is wrong and also have recruited many promising graduate students to develop an even larger harvest of strong Christian thinkers. In addition to expanding our intellectual outreach through more attention to scholarship, we have made substantial changes to our campus. By building in an innovative fashion, we have been able to cultivate a greater sense of community. The new living and learning environment of Baylor North Village and the new Baylor Sciences Building, the Student Life Complex, the Law School, Truett Seminary and the Mayborn Museum as well as the new athletics facilities on campus are designed to bring students and faculty together in a mutually encouraging atmosphere. One of the great trends in the world today is that young people feel a powerful pull to gather in community. As we live, learn and play together, we avoid alienation and isolation. The Christian life is a life lived in community. We have grown. We have changed, but always in line with our core identity as a Christian institution dedicated to cultivating academic excellence and nurturing young people who want to make a difference for good in the world. Nevertheless, we have had conflict, too. It has been played out in our Faculty Senate and in the headlines of just about every newspaper in the state. The great danger for our University is that the controversies of the past few years will lead us to play it safe, to consolidate our gains and stand pat. We should be determined to take exactly the opposite course. Tension can be productive in both the church and the academy. Disagreements can, if coupled with good faith, make us communicate, which can ultimately lead to a new, vital and hard-won consensus. I want to issue a challenge to the Baylor family, its regents, faculty, staff, students and alumni. Grow through the conflict. A change of leadership should result in a renewed emphasis on achieving the Vision. New ideas, strategies and energy should characterize the next presidency. Our expectations must continue to rise. Any other attitude is fundamentally flawed and spiritually unfaithful. Baylor University is a private college in a state and nation full of taxpayer-subsidized universities that have strong facilities, professors and traditions. Consequently, we must continue to affirm and leverage our Christian identity as well as match or exceed the full commitment to excellence exhibited by our secular counterparts. If we do not, we will never become the "great university" of which Baylorites such as Samuel Palmer Brooks have dreamed. Comfortable existence based on the successes of the past is simply not an option. It is not faithful to our spiritual identity as a people moved and driven by the Great Commission, nor is it wise in a competitive higher education environment. We must continue to stretch, grow, reach out and challenge ourselves spiritually, academically and physically. Baylor's best will always be on the horizon beckoning us forward under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We must never despair of reaching it.