Article written by Linda Livingstone, president at Baylor University, published in the 2019 first quarter edition of Greater Waco Business magazine.
Can a university achieve preeminence in academics and research while remaining unambiguously Christian? From her earliest remarks upon coming to Baylor University, President Linda Livingstone has affirmed that not only is that vision achievable, but doing so is vital, and no one is better positioned to become an influential Christian research university than Baylor.
Baylor’s academic strategic plan, Illuminate, provides the roadmap. Through the expansion of research funding, additional Ph.D. and professional programs, purposeful hiring of top Christian professors and an emphasis on scholarship addressing top global problems, the realization of Illuminate positions Baylor for greater influence. These aspirations are berthed not merely for the sake of prestige or accolades, but because the world needs a Tier 1 university serving as that Christian voice in society’s most meaningful conversations.
On recent episodes of the radio program and podcast Baylor Connections, President Livingstone addressed key questions about Baylor’s future direction and how our historic foundation of faith will shape that vision going forward.
Q: What does Tier 1 status, or becoming an R-1 research university, mean?
Livingstone: Being a tier one or a research one university – research one is a national classification of institutions awarded by the Carnegie Foundation – involves the kind of research your faculty are doing, the dollars that are being directed towards research and whether that’s your own internal dollars or research that is funded by external sources such as governmental agencies, research foundations and the like.
The classification also has to do with Ph.D. programs that you are providing and the number of doctoral graduates you are producing across a wide array of areas. Achievement of Tier 1 status matters for us because it gives us more influence and credibility in the academic world, in the business world, in the policy world. And it gives us the ability to have influence in ways we couldn’t otherwise. As one of the few universities in the country positioned to be able to be that Christian voice, we feel a responsibility to pursue that goal.
Q: How does an enhanced focus on research impact the student experience at Baylor?
A: A core part of Illuminate is to grow our research function and enhance the reputation and quality of the entire student experience. We believe that in order to provide a high-quality undergraduate education, students need to be deeply engaged.
Engaging undergraduates in research with top-quality faculty and exceptional graduate students is one of the ways we know can enrich the undergraduate educational experience in significant ways. The more research our faculty are doing, the more graduate students we have doing research that involves undergraduates – whether it’s in the classroom, outside the classroom, in labs – it makes the undergraduate experience more significant.
We know from our recruitment staff that top students around the country are asking about the chance to do research as undergraduates, not just waiting until they’re graduate students. We remain committed to outstanding teaching and mentorship. This is expanding that view of what undergraduate education is all about, and what it means to have a high-quality undergraduate experience.
Q: What role does Baylor’s historic faith foundation play in the future of the University?
A: We are having those same conversations with Illuminate, ensuring that the foundational pillar of all the pillars is our Christian mission – that everything we do ties back to that, informs that or is informed by that, and then really builds on it and enhances that Christian mission.
To maintain the integrity of your Christian mission you must be intentional about it. Part of the reason Baylor has been so successful in remaining focused on this is because we have been intentional over the years.
As we know, many of the great research universities in this country were founded as Christian universities and over time let that part of their history fall away for a variety of reasons. There’s certainly a view among some that the Christian faith is anti-intellectual. I don’t agree with that and I believe very strongly that we have a strong intellectual Christian tradition. But there is that perspective that pulls some universities away.
At Baylor, we have top faculty and students who specifically want to come because we’re a Christian university. Whereas other institutions chose to go a different path, we have chosen to leverage that as a strength and to make it something that differentiates us as a unique and special place in higher education.
Q: As you envision that day in which Baylor is recognized as a Tier 1 research institution, what impact does that have on the broader Waco and Central Texas community?
A: Baylor and Waco/Central Texas have a symbiotic relationship. Anything we do as a university that grows the quality, impact, visibility and reputation of Baylor, does the same things for the City of Waco and vice versa.
Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver and I meet regularly and talk about how we can collaborate and work together to continue to advance this region of Texas and to enhance the health and success of all institutions.
Obviously, as we build out our strategic plan and grow our academic reputation and impact, it’s going to help the City of Waco. I also believe growth in our research will yield results that can be commercialized and ideas that can grow into businesses and help spur entrepreneurial activity within the city. You’re also growing an educated workforce that is equipped to do high quality work and serve the community in significant ways.
As you grow the quality of your educational institutions, it creates an intellectual vibrancy in your community and an excitement and enthusiasm which is healthy for everyone involved.
Q: What does a distinct Baylor education grounded in faith and informed by a growing pursuit of world-class research mean to the broader educational community and world?
A: Here’s a specific example: we had a Ph.D. student in chemistry that graduated about a year ago. He tells the story about how, at Baylor, he reignited his faith because of the influence of an undergraduate student that he was working with in a lab. And that through that reigniting of his faith, he really understood the purpose of his research in chemistry.
He now has a greater purpose in doing that research. It is really about honoring God and representing Christ through the work that he does.
That Ph.D. student is now going to go out and be a faculty member who teaches in other universities and over time influences thousands of students, influences scholars that he works with. And it’s because he got connected more deeply with his faith here at Baylor and understood the role that faith plays in his life – a role that not only matters personally, but also professionally.
This freedom to recognize the role of faith and scholarship and the pursuit of solutions to big problems in our world is a huge part of the influence that we have. We’re helping students really get outside of themselves and think about the greater impact they can have in the work that they’re doing. At Baylor, we have faculty who are helping our students think about how to live out their faith and live it through any type of work. They can actually make the world a better place and make life better for others.