Interview by Todd C. Ream
Baylor Going Forward
A year ago you lived in Malibu. And possibly had an office with a view of the Pacific Ocean?
What brought you to Waco?
I loved being at Pepperdine. I was fulfilled by it. I was not seeking to leave, but the more I was in conversation with the Baylor community, the more I read of the rich history of the university, the more I was drawn to it. There was not one single overarching factor, but an overall sense of a strong and caring community that had ripened into a national research university that was still quite intentional about its Christian mission and honoring its Baptist heritage. That entire combination of characteristics and qualities was very attractive.
Every university claims to serve a particular segment or segments of society. Who are Baylor's primary constituents?
Our mission statement says it, and I embrace it: For the church and for the world. By "the church," I understand the church universal, while honoring the Baptist heritage. Thirty-one percent of our entering class are Baptist—but that means almost seventy percent are not Baptist. The second largest community of faith among our students is Roman Catholic, and then evangelical, generally non-denominational. We recently had a very interesting article in the local newspaper about how Muslim students feel welcome here. Everyone's welcome to the conversation, and we need to expand on that.
Roughly half of our undergraduates, when they enter Baylor University, are interested in health care. We see that as serving in a very direct way the needs of the least of these throughout the world. Some of these young men and women are destined to become medical missionaries. There's a great tradition of that at Baylor. On another front, we are excited about the cancer research underway here.
At the same time Baylor has become a wonderful gathering place of some of the most renowned Christian scholars: the Philip Jenkinses, the Peter Bergers, whose engaged scholarship is another way of serving the world.
Let's go back to the first days of your presidency. One of the first issues you faced here on campus was the future of the Big 12 athletic conference. In your opinion, why is it important for Baylor to maintain its position in major, Divison I athletics?
Baylor has the blessing and the burden of being a city on a hill. Division I athletics provide a window through which much of the world sees Baylor University. And so, when people hear our student athletes speak of mission trips, see their conduct on the playing field or in the gymnasium, the light is shining, the beacon is shining.
In what ways do the Christian convictions of the university drive or define the athletic program?
An unrelenting search for excellence. The parable of the talents. You have been given this great gift, this athletic gift. And now, use it for the glory of God and the furtherance of the kingdom. I love Eric Liddell's immortal comment: "When I run I feel God's pleasure." And you sense that with these great athletes. They know they have a gift to compete at this level—in one of the great conferences in the nation, watched around the country and beyond. They are representing a small private university, a Christian university, in the midst of academic behemoths, and yet they are highly competitive in literally all sports. Over the past seven years, Baylor ranks third in the Big 12 in the number of championships. That's just extraordinary. So it's excellence in all things, using the talents that God has given you. And through a coaching staff that's very committed holistically to the welfare of the student athletes.
Baylor 2012 provoked a wide range of responses among members of the Baylor family. And in particular much of the controversy revolved around expectations being placed on university faculty members. What are some of the critical qualities you'll be looking for in faculty members as you move forward here as president?
First, great teaching is non-negotiable. Because I was not here when this conversation unfolded, I'm ill-equipped to opine on where and why some of the disagreements occurred. But it is my impression that there was a concern that Baylor's time-honored tradition of great teaching was going to be compromised. That's not going to happen. What we are called upon to do is to be great teachers and great scholars. We are not simply to serve as transmission belts for knowledge, as vitally important as that is; we're also to be discoverers. And this is not unique to Baylor. Many institutions wrestle with these great questions. How do you achieve balance? That's the goal, to have the balance achieved so that while great teaching is non-negotiable there is increased emphasis on scholarly inquiry, discovery, and thus research. And it can be done. It is done. I know it. I've seen it.