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Perry L. Glanzer: Baylor’s stagnant Christian commitment
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Perry L. Glanzer: Baylor’s stagnant Christian commitment

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Drew net (copy)

Scott Drew cuts down the net to celebrate Baylor’s 86-70 win over Gonzaga in the NCAA basketball championship game in Indianapolis earlier this year. Unlike other parts of the university, Baylor’s sports teams have done an outstanding job of having Christ animate learning by developing an authentic and deep culture of JOY (Jesus, Others, Yourself).

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I read with interest President Livingstone’s recent Tribune-Herald column touting Baylor’s “accelerating growth” and future hopes related to its strategic plan, Illuminate. What struck me, as a scholar who studies Christian higher education, is how she touted “deepening our commitment to our Christian mission.” It struck me because under Illuminate, Baylor’s Christian commitment has actually stagnated with regard to faculty.

Of course, college presidents often tout narratives that tell how great everything is, or will be. Certainly, some things are going great at Baylor. For example, I often tell external colleagues and administrators from other institutions that Baylor’s athletics programs have done an outstanding job of having Christ animate learning by developing an authentic and deep culture of JOY (Jesus, Others, Yourself). The national championship in men’s basketball showed again that overt Christian commitment does not by definition keep us from achieving the highest levels of this worldly success.

Based on Illuminate, one would assume that we would engage in Christian development for faculty, by investing money in helping faculty understand and promote the Christian mission in their scholarship, teaching and service. After all, Illuminate declares that Baylor will “offer mission-centric faculty formation programs that shape how faculty envision their teaching, mentoring, and research.” Unfortunately, Baylor’s changing culture regarding faculty does not reflect the same commitment to Christ-animated excellence.

In fact, Baylor’s faculty development regarding the Christian mission has for years mimicked the worst kind of Baptist church polity. In some Baptist churches, leaders are only concerned with public professions of faith, but there is little interest in “discipleship.” Baylor’s approach to faculty is similar. Leaders expect a public profession of faith from prospective faculty in an interview with the provost’s office and as long as you make such a profession, you’re in. Baylor provides little guidance, however, about what Christian teaching, mentoring or research might involve once professors arrive on campus — or accountability, reward or incentives for engaging in Christian service and scholarship.

The reality is, when it comes to faculty formation, the Christian mission is not a high priority at Baylor University, compared to other goals like becoming an elite “R1” research institution. Thus, although millions have been poured into helping Baylor become R1, there are no specific financial incentives to help faculty do Christian scholarship, learn more about Christian teaching (versus teaching and learning in general) or to encourage Christian service. Moreover, there is no clarity about what “Christian” even means at Baylor, despite the administration’s constant insistence that our school is “unambiguously Christian.”

Full-time faculty who make it through the administrative interview are never held accountable for the Christian mission on annual reviews or tenure. Of course, the carrot is much better than the stick for Christian faculty development. Although Baylor has excellent resources for faculty development in scholarship, teaching and service, it does not provide specific incentives for Christian development in these areas. Furthermore, deans and chairs have no incentives to take the Christian mission seriously. In my experience many of those leaders do not do so, or simply do not know how to cultivate a Christian mission, since it is vaguely defined, not part of accountability structures and not incentivized or rewarded.

Baylor’s commitment to R1 also means that more graduate students teach courses and these graduate students do not have to profess some sort of Christian faith to teach at Baylor. Furthermore, this past fall Baylor hired 616 adjunct faculty members — in fall 2020 it was 437. The adjunct faculty also do not have to be Christian. Thus, if students have a significant number of graduate students or adjuncts for professors, they may have few committed Christian teachers, even though their families thought they were paying for a Christian education.

On the positive side, the administration has an undeniable passion for correcting Baylor’s past Christian inaction in important problem areas. For instance, a recent Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiative under consideration in the College of Arts and Sciences has a total of 38 different points of action. These actions are understandable given Baylor and Baptists’ long history of problems with diversity and inclusion, particularly with regard to systematic injustice and inequality.

Yet, if you ask if similar accountability structures or incentives have been implemented to strengthen Christian faculty identity, you’ll find that only five of those 38 accountability or incentive initiatives have been undertaken in the area of Christian identity. When it comes to faculty, Baylor is demonstrably more concerned with being a DEI university than a Christian university.

To her credit, in my conversations with President Livingstone, she recognizes that Baylor has historically done a poor job with developing Christian faculty. What I do not see from her administration, however, is the same sense of urgency to remedy Baylor’s lack of attention to the Christian mission as with diversity.

President Livingstone continues to tout our progress regarding the Christian mission, but the reality is, when it comes to faculty we have made little progress in the past five years and have actually regressed due to neglect. I pray that one day we actually show concern about that stagnation and neglect by identifying and incentivizing Christ-animated education beyond just the athletic domain.

Perry L. Glanzer is an educational foundations professor at Baylor University and editor-in-chief of Christian Scholar’s Review.

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