Saturday, March 13, 2010

Kenneth W. Starr and Baylor 2012

This is month-old news, but Christianity Today recently reported on Kenneth Starr as the new president of my undergrad alma mater, Baylor University, quoting him on the prospects for the academic goals mapped out by Baylor 2012 in "Q & A: Kenneth Starr, Baylor's Next President" (March 11, 2010), an interview by Sarah Pulliam Bailey:
Question: Baylor 2012 announced the institution's intent to become a tier one institution. Do you think that goal will become a reality in the next decade?

Starr: I don't want to offer future predictive judgments. The future is unknown and unknowable. I do believe Baylor 2012 is a comprehensive plan for excellence and the expansion of learning, and the further and central integration of faith and learning is extraordinary and courageous. I embrace it wholeheartedly and enthusiastically. The grand vision of Baylor 2012 is one of the very important dimensions of Baylor life that has drawn me this great institution. The board of regents unanimously supports Baylor 2012. Here we are in 2010, so it is time thoughtfully to assess where Baylor is as an institution, and after that assessment, the process will be to prayerfully contemplate the next step.

Question: The original plan for Baylor 2012 called for many new additions to the university, including an honors college and 10 new doctoral programs, with 200 new faculty appointments. Do you know what the state of Baylor 2012 is right now?

Starr: Many of the goals have in fact been accomplished admirably. Others remain as aspirational and noble objectives. The task now is to assess comprehensively and thoughtfully where the university is on that march toward 2012.
In my years as a Baylor undergraduate, I was an Honors Student, and I look back fondly on those days, so I'm very supportive, in spirit, of the Baylor 2012 vision.

I remember a decade ago, when the goal was announced by President Robert B. Sloan, that the aim to raise Baylor to the ranks of a tier one university was controversial. If I recall correctly, the fear among some was that Baylor would lose its distinctive Christian ethos in striving for higher academic ranking. Oddly, the other fear seems to have been that President Sloan was a closet fundamentalist who wanted to smuggle creationism into the Baylor curriculum in the guise of intelligent design because of his support for William A. Dembski. I didn't attempt to read Sloan's mind, but I liked his articulated intellectual vision, and it now appears to be acclaimed as visionary (though I suppose that it has developed in ways unanticipated by Sloan). I suppose that only time will tell, given that "[t]he future is unknown and unknowable," but I wish Baylor the best.

Not that my wishes have anything to do with it . . .



At 5:48 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

What exactly is a one tier university?

At 5:56 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

A "tier one" university would be a first-ranked university. Baylor wants to be up there with the Big Boys -- Harvard, Princeton, Yale, but especially Notre Dame (because Baylor wants to maintain its Christian ethos).

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:23 PM, Blogger 18 is # 1 said...

While there is no precise definition of "Tier One", it's generally accepted that research grants given and published results generated by the faculty are the hallmarks of such a school. While raising the academic recognition of an institution, it requires the faculty to spend much more time in research and less time in the classroom. The net result is much more grad student teachers for undergrad classes. This will be a negative for one of Baylor's best attributes, access to professors. Small class sizes and personal attention / help, were my favorite things about my undergrad years.
Baylor has already achieve "teir Two" status. I hope by raising itself to "Tier One", it doesn't forget its identity.

At 3:59 AM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

I haven't forgotten you nor do I miss reading your blog each day. It is just that I am more fascinated by children! So, En-Uk gets all of my commenting attention.
However, if you feel the need to ask me a surprise question just to see if I am paying attention,(as my father was want to do with me) then that will be okay!!

At 4:41 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, "18 is # 1," for offering a more preciise explication.

You've pointed to one of the problems that Baylor might encounter. From my talk with Brent Edwards a few weeks ago, I learned that Baylor is very aware of this problem but hopes to circumvent it by continuing to emphasize small classes, teaching skills, and teachers' approachability.

By the way, what does "18 is # 1" mean? Something to do with golfing?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:46 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Okay, Jeanie, here's a question: Is it "want to do" or "wont to do"?

Yours in quality education.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:38 AM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

Of course, "was wont to do with me"
You should consider a job where you proofread all day!!!
smiles and sunshine from the Ozarks,

At 1:56 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Actually, I had to look that up to be sure . . . and discovered that the word "wont" is related to the German word "wohnen," which means "to reside," as in to live somewhere.

Jeffery Hodges

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