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A Tale of Two Sessions

By Lisa Asher
Associate Editor, Baylor Line and Editor, Between the Lines

The two assembled crowds really couldn’t have been more different. Members of one group wore skirts and suits; the other group’s attire consisted of shorts and T-shirts. The first crowd was very subdued, even reticent. Members of the other crowd were excited and couldn’t wait to speak. The first group was, well, old–at least in the eyes of the eighteen-year-olds in the second group.

The groups in question were part of two different listening sessions–one for Baylor faculty and one for students–during which members of the Baylor Board of Regents and the Search Advisory Committee solicited feedback on what they should be looking for in Baylor’s next president. On April 14, I attended the first of two faculty sessions, and on April 22, I went to the open student session–and after thinking about both of them, I noticed some interesting differences and similarities.

First, the differences: the faculty session, which took place at 1:30 p.m. on the day after Easter break, was sparsely attended, with between thirty and forty people coming in and out during the session. Members of the audience were reluctant to go to the microphone, which was set up about halfway down the long aisle in Tidwell’s Miller Chapel and faced the table of regents and committee members at the front of the room. In between speakers, there would be three or four minutes of silence while we all waited for another brave soul to give his or her opinion. As one faculty member in attendance said, “It was just painful.”

In the student session, which took place in Miller Chapel at 5 p.m. on the eve of Diadeloso, there were about sixty students. Maybe it was because they were looking forward to their day off, or maybe it was the Dr Pepper floats they were served before the session–but in any case, these kids were wired. And prepared. They readily jumped up to the microphone, with a line of four or five people behind them, all waiting to express their views. They joked with the regents, shared personal stories, and read from notes.

The differences in demeanor and tone between the two groups are understandable–the faculty members are not only speaking about their jobs, but, in many cases, about what they believe is a calling to teach at Baylor. They are concerned for themselves, their colleagues, and a university that they have given many years to. Most of them have been through the contentious years of no-confidence votes, interim leaders, and, now, another presidential search.

Students are concerned about their classes, organizations, and graduation–as well they should be. Their questions and comments at the listening session reflected those concerns, plus a few other perennial favorites, like the lack of parking on campus.

But both faculty and students sounded some of the same themes: while research is important, Baylor’s tradition of excellent teaching must be honored. The integration of faith and learning is a balancing act, but one worth achieving. And both groups agreed on some very specific criteria that the next president should meet: a good communicator, have an ecumenical vision, a background in higher education, and be someone who can bring together the Baylor family.

After the faculty, student, and staff listening sessions are completed, it will be the alumni’s turn to speak. And while graduates will bring their own perspectives to the conversation, I’m betting we will hear many of the same themes touched on by faculty and students.

For more on the presidential search, go to Presidential Search News.

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