Magazine article University Business

Building a Brain Trust: As Waco's Baylor University Goes for the Gold Ring, Success Rides on a New Top-Tier Faculty, and a Communications Plan to Flaunt It. (People & Politics)

Magazine article University Business

Building a Brain Trust: As Waco's Baylor University Goes for the Gold Ring, Success Rides on a New Top-Tier Faculty, and a Communications Plan to Flaunt It. (People & Politics)

Article excerpt

When Robert Bryan Sloan Jr. stepped up to presidency of Baylor University in 1995, he brought with him the dream of elevating Baylor from a Baptist university to the ranks of world-renown Christian institutions--and top-tier U.S. IHEs as well. Since the internal stamp of approval on his Baylor 2012 vision over a year ago, Sloan's communications people unself-consciously broadcast the initiative as "a Texas-sized plan to become the Notre Dame of protestant universities," and promote their leader as "a rangy Texan with a doctorate degree in theology from Princeton." Sloan's plan does have its Baptist old-guard detractors (some of whom are departed or departing faculty members), and the president has indeed been guilty of some earlier decisions that did not go over well (his attempt to sell Baylor's Dallas Medical Center to help fund the university's move to the top tier, for instance). But the current plan to add 250 new top-flight faculty positions over 10 years just may bring his dream of a world-class Christian university to fruition--even as most other IHEs move toward greater secularity. To lure a Christian intellectual powerhouse from top posts around the globe to the plains of Waco, IX, is no easy feat, but in addition to the creation of a new Honors College, 45 new faculty members have already come on board, and high-level administrators say that Nobel laureates are among the faculty to come. As for Sloan, he promised in his inaugural address that Baylor would provide none other than "the very finest faculty anywhere on this planet." Tall order, even for a Texan.

University Business: President Sloan, what, precisely, prompted Baylor to reposition itself as "the Notre Dame of protestant Universities"--especially during an era of greater secularity in postsecondary institutions?

Dr. Sloan: In part, it was the increasing secularization of other formerly faith-related institutions that prompted the vision. The proposition that universities must be either purely secular to be excellent on the one hand, or eschew academic excellence to be faithful on the other, we believe to be a false dichotomy. The vision challenges Baylor to embrace the full range of intellectual inquiry and exemplify the best in teaching and research--not in spite of its commitment to the Christian faith, but as an expression of it.

What part of the decision was influenced by a desire to find a clearer niche, a more targeted student, and a competitive edge in the move to top-tier standing?

We believe it is the case that clearly articulating a vision of faithfulness and excellence will help us to solidify our place in the higher education market; in fact, the success of our faculty recruiting since the enactment of the vision bears out that assumption. However, that is merely an outgrowth of what we believe to be the right course for Baylor. If we are faithful to our Christian mission and intrepid in our pursuit of excellence, and nonetheless fail to be recognized by the rankings, we do not believe we will have failed in the pursuit of our calling.

How was it determined that the addition of faculty positions and top-flight faculty needed to be a main focus of the initiative? Were consultants brought in to assess what would be needed to reposition the university?

Baylor faculty teach. Even the most distinguished of our world-class researchers spend time in the classroom and mentoring students. Because our faculty stand and deliver in the classroom, we believe there is no greater influence on our students' lives than their presence. We are convinced that the faculty set the tone for the university, both in terms of intellectual rigor and faithfulness to the Christian mission. Given our historic commitment to teaching, this was not a matter that we needed outside consultants to affirm. Also, I wouldn't say that Baylor needed to be repositioned. The vision fulfills the dreams of our founding fathers. …

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