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Baylor Alumni

Faculty Focus

Exploring the qualities that Baylor's faculty share

BAYLOR LINE: The Baylor Alumni Association recently presented the Herbert H. Reynolds Retired Faculty-Administrators Award to five individuals who had given 171 years of service to Baylor. And earlier this spring, at Baylor’s annual service awards ceremony for staff and faculty, the university gave service pins to 325 employees who represented 4,400 years of service to Baylor. Many of those were five-year-employees, but one professor was recognized for fifty years of teaching.

When alumni think about Baylor, one of their top memories is usually the influence that a particular professor played in their lives. Do you think Baylor professors are uniquely committed to serving students?

INTERIM PRESIDENT DAVID GARLAND: Speaking for myself, what I remember most about my professors is not specifically something they taught, but it is the lessons I learned from discovering their personality and the way they had an impact on me personally. What I find from Baylor students parallels this. What they talk about regarding professors is not a brilliant lecture, but rather their professors’ overall impact on their lives.

During the service awards ceremony, what struck me about these longtime faculty was the long list of research publications that these faculty members had compiled during their careers. It drove home the fact that Baylor has always been a place where outstanding contributions in research and scholarship have been a part of the lives of our excellent teachers. And I think we’re continuing that heritage as we move forward. Teaching and research don’t pose an either-or question. It can be a both-and solution. Our great scholars are often great teachers, and our great teachers are often great scholars.

You can find examples among both the faculty who have served here for many years and among those who are recent additions. For instance, Dr. William Hillis, who has taught biology here for decades and formerly served as a vice president, recently won the Cornelia Marschall Smith Professor of the Year Award. And Dr. Todd Burras, a philosophy professor who is one of our newly tenured faculty members, recently received the Robert L. Reid Teaching Excellence Award in Humanities.

The great tradition of excellent teaching continues at Baylor.

BAYLOR LINE: A cornerstone of the Baylor experience, over the years, has been students’ relationships with professors—seeing the example that a professor provides of a way of life, a way of thinking and inquiring. What is your sense of how distinctive that student-professor relationship is at Baylor?

GARLAND: I’ve only been at two institutions, both of them faith-based. I think that type of identity presents a unique dimension to the kind of people you’ll have on the faculty. Professors do not come to Baylor because this is the most prestigious place to be or the place with the highest salaries. They come here because there is a sense of calling to what they do, and this is a place where they can give of themselves. They are not here to just teach a subject, but to help students with character formation, which a faith-based institution should be very concerned about. Part of the overall impact on students’ lives, as we were just talking about, is offering to students a model of Christian commitment and an inquisitive, truth-seeking mind.

My experience is that Baylor’s faculty members are extremely devoted to their calling. They are living out their calling at Baylor. I am not sure that’s the case at most other schools. We just went through a search for the new vice president for student life, and the pool of candidates was very large and impressive. What attracted the candidates was the possibility of working at a university where you can live out your faith and be part of a dynamic, Christian community.

Our professors go out of their way to help students develop all aspects of their lives and to help them achieve their goals. In Truett Seminary, we had a student who wanted to pursue PhD work, for which you have to know German. He hadn’t taken German as an undergraduate, so he signed up to take German at Baylor while working on his master’s degree. The professor told him that since he was in theology, he should read Martin Luther for his German studies. It was a natural enough adjustment, but it also exemplifies a professor who is trying to help a student and to provide practical help. This is the kind of professor who simply wants to help students.

I have a letter on my desk that wonderfully characterizes Baylor. It came from a father who brought his child here for a campus visit. His child was interested in Baylor but was leaning toward going somewhere else due to financial reasons. Their experience during the campus visit was one of a succession of faculty members taking extra time and going out of their way to be hospitable. At the end of the letter, the father said that his child told him, “This is the place for me.” And the father wrote that he was going to make it possible for his child to come to Baylor regardless of the cost. I encounter this kind of response to our Baylor faculty time and time again. We have an absolutely fabulous staff and faculty who are devoted to their students. People care here. Our son went to Baylor, and I still have faculty members who ask about him. When you’re a parent, you appreciate that.

BAYLOR LINE: What are some of the other distinctive traits of Baylor’s faculty?

GARLAND: Our professors are very bright. The group of folks who came through the tenure-granting process this year have published, on average, about ten peer-reviewed journal articles during their time here at Baylor. Nearly all of them have published a book. They’ve received external research grants. And their teaching evaluations were outstanding. In fact, one dean told me that looking at the tenure notebooks of these outstanding professors made him fear to compete with them. You always want to bring in people who are better than you. I think what we’re doing is building on a great heritage, a great foundation. We’re bringing in remarkable people.

BAYLOR LINE: What types of internal and external recognition of faculty members help you to measure the level of the faculty’s quality?

GARLAND: When professors reach the point where they are either granted or denied tenure, after several years here, they have produced tenure notebooks that are thick and comprehensive. The notebooks contain all of their teaching evaluations and their colleagues’ evaluations. Internally, this is a very significant form of evaluation. And then there are teaching evaluations by students each semester. We use these matrices to evaluate faculty.

Of course, there are also a range of awards that are given at Baylor to recognize excellence in teaching, such as the two I mentioned earlier.

Baylor faculty are always trying to help each other and to build up our performance as teachers. When I go to lunch with colleagues, we always talk about two things: Baylor sports and teaching—what we’re doing in our classes. We share ideas and solutions to problems in the classroom. And when we interview candidates for faculty positions, we really explore their interest in and abilities as a teacher. We push that.

There is a great ethos of teaching at Baylor. And this ethos is what attracts the outstanding young professors who are joining our faculty. When we went through our most recent orientation for new faculty hires, we asked them to fill out a form on which we asked them what had drawn them to Baylor. Two themes clearly emerged from their answers. The first was that they wanted to be part of a research university. The second was that they wanted to be at a place where they could express their faith. The opportunity to excel in teaching was taken for granted. And these folks ranged from those hired as assistant professors just starting the tenure track process to those who are holding senior positions.

BAYLOR LINE: Is the university currently in the process of growing the faculty significantly, or do you believe the size of the faculty is adequate to serve the student population?

GARLAND: We are always trying to improve the faculty and grow its size as much as is financially responsible. We haven’t had to make significant cuts to our budget, as some other institutions around the country have during this challenging economy. As a result, we have been able to make some very strong hires in a prudent manner.

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