'Have a Care' For Baylor

June 22, 2005

Wallace L. Daniel made two New Year's resolutions last January -- to take up ballroom dancing and to learn how to cook Indian food. As of yet, he's not had time to pursue either. That may change when he steps down as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the end of this month.

Wallace L. Daniel
Wallace L. Daniel will step down as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the end of July. Photo by Cliff Cheney

The Russian history scholar is completing his third three-year term as head of Baylor's largest academic division, with 6,650 students and 26 departments. He came to Baylor as a member of the history faculty in 1971 right out of graduate school at the University of North Carolina. Except for three Fulbright Fellowships, he has never left, and after a one-year sabbatical, he will return to Baylor's history faculty in fall 2006. "I have always thought that teaching was the essence, the heart of the university," Daniel says of his desire to return to the classroom. "That dynamic between ideas and students I always thought magical. If done well, passionately well, it is tremendously thrilling and fulfilling." He brought the same kind of passion to his administrative duties, leading the College through a period of great change and growth (see sidebar). In February, he addressed about 50 of his peers in the Texas Association of Deans of Liberal Arts and Sciences, an invitation of note from one's colleagues. Daniel's manuscript on civil society and the Orthodox church in Russia is in final review at a university press. He has in mind several ideas for other books he'd like to write -- one a history of Baylor focusing on the faculty's commitment to public service. "It would be a perspective not yet addressed, and I think it needs to be," he says, gazing meditatively out the window of his office in Burleson. "I can tell that story." Lee Nordt, associate dean for sciences and associate professor of geology, is serving as interim dean of the College while a search committee seeks Daniel's successor. Surrounded by books on history, poetry, pedagogy and administrative leadership that line his office walls, Daniel took time from wrestling with department budgets and finalizing faculty contracts to reflect on his three decades at Baylor and how he hoped to spend the coming years of his academic career.

Why did you decide at this time to step down as dean?

Over the Christmas holidays, I went home to North Carolina. I had to get away from some of the issues I was facing. I was thinking about my family, how I would spend the last years of my career, and I was asking the question of what is most important, where is the service element most likely to express itself best. I greatly enjoy thinking about ideas and engaging students in discussion around those ideas. I've missed working in my field, the history of Russia, a great deal. In thinking about the last part of my academic career, I began to think about returning to where I began. And, it's a natural time, at the completion of my third term as dean.

How have you viewed your role as an administrator?

I had a very close friend who was a dean at a school elsewhere - a school of music, and he became convinced that administration was a form of teaching. I've tried to think of it that way in my role in the last nine years here. Engaging in conversations with very interesting people on this campus, trying to explore ideas, to think about Baylor's heritage, Baylor's history, about what makes Baylor unique. It is all a form of learning and teaching, the engagement of ideas. I've loved many aspects of this job. I found it a great privilege to serve this community, to be a part of this community. I think I have understood something about what Baylor is and what makes it unique.

What has been your greatest reward at Baylor?

They are the small things, the personal exchanges. It was listening to an eighth-grade student address faculty members and graduate students in a speech disorders laboratory. He told them that three weeks before, he read a sentence for the first time; a week later, he read a paragraph; the next week, he finished a book. Knowing that a chemistry professor worked far into the night with three students on a student research project, helping them meet their deadline. Doing it because it is one of the highest forms of teaching and discovery in which a professor, and a university, can be engaged. There are many other such moments.

What has been your greatest challenge?

I would say there are two. One of the biggest challenges has been to try to be true to the heritage of Baylor at a time of enormous change -- and to be able to balance both the tradition and the change. My view is that fields have changed so dramatically in the last decade, the explosion of knowledge has been so dramatic, that we have to try to create a community of discovery where all kinds of questions are being asked and explored. Trying to nurture and cultivate that kind of community of discovery is a fundamental challenge at Baylor and at any university. The second challenge has been more local and pragmatic. We've had some budget challenges in the last year or two. I think we've managed them, but one becomes very impatient when one sees excellent striving to produce excellent work, and you can't provide the funding that is needed. That's very frustrating. My hope is that this will improve in the next year and a half.

In addition to the explosion of knowledge, what are other changes in teaching you've seen at Baylor?

We have seen in the last decade in this country a revolution in the approach to learning. The instructional model has shifted from assuming that students are passive vessels to a learning model that places everyone -- administration, faculty and students -- within a learning community. The emphasis within the College has been on the importance of building this kind of community, one that is motivational, focused and experiential for its students, one that aims at discovery and challenges learners to meet their highest potential. I have seen my role as dean as serving that goal.

What can Baylor offer to the community, to the world?

A strengthened atmosphere of exploration and discovery, wherever those elements will lead. The commitment this University has to its students, to faculty and to the community. As we connect more fully to the local community and to the world, this University can speak powerfully to the needs of children, to education, to health care -- all of which are serious crises in this country right now. This University has the capacity to speak to all three.

You've served under three Baylor presidents. What was your experience with each?

All three have contributed to my sense of what Baylor is. I began here under Judge [Abner] McCall. I have tremendous admiration for his humanity, his humor, his integrity. A remark he always made at faculty meetings was "Don't hesitate to give students Fs, but make them Christian Fs." I really didn't understand what he meant by that for a while, but clearly he meant be caring at the same time that you hold high standards. [Herbert] Reynolds -- extremely gracious, always to me and my family. I have great respect for him and for Joy Reynolds. His desire to widen the framework of the University, to reach outward to the world, commitment to the faculty, his desire that Baylor become much wider in its appeal and services and strengthen its ties to the community have shaped this University greatly. His personal encouragement of me as a professor, I shall always appreciate. Dr. [Robert] Sloan -- I see much continuity. He has a strong commitment to broaden and enrich this conversation with the global community. Under his administration, the College has been able to create learning communities where faculty and students have come together to explore the boundaries of knowledge and to discuss timeless questions. In this period, too, we have seen a focus on the relationship between teaching and research that, in my view, has strengthened both elements.

What skills or traits do you think Baylor's next president should have?

I think a person who understands the rich heritage and history of this University is crucial. One who can elevate a level of trust at Baylor. A person who is capable of listening to diverse sides, diverse opinions, diverse points of views and perspectives, I think, is particularly important at this time. That will help us heal. A person who can reinvigorate the public service dynamic at the University. A person who can appreciate the liberal arts and sciences, who recognizes they are the core of this University, but also who has a great appreciation for the professional schools at Baylor. Someone who will continue to enrich the conversation we have with the broader world.

What word of advice would you give to your successor?

I would say, borrowing the words of President Samuel Palmer Brooks, to "have a care" for Baylor - I'm using old terms - great care for the heritage of Baylor, for the possibilities of Baylor, for its faculty, and a great care for the students of this University, in all their diversity. That diversity makes the University fresh every day.

What word of advice would you give to yourself at this juncture?

Be grateful. Be grateful for the opportunities we have to serve other people, to encounter people of all dispositions, desires and goals. For the people who see the world in terms of hope; the opportunity to relate to beauty -- not only in the flowers on this campus and its landscape -- but in the people; for the idealism that this University represents and that the academics on this campus represent.