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VOICES: Baylor Over The Next Decade

In Volume 80, issue number 1, we asked a few alumni how they would like to see Baylor develop over the next decade. Below are their responses.

I have four daughters. In 10 years, my oldest will be faced with the college decision. I hope Baylor is an option for her. During my undergrad years, Baylor 2012 was unveiled. I remember attending meetings and hearing about this vision, and it concerned me. It seemed Baylor was chasing academic prestige, and I believed it would come at a high price. I knew a shift in priorities meant someone like me might not be able to attend Baylor in the future. I was a good student, but not the smartest. My family is financially blessed, but not the wealthiest. I felt I was more of a middle-of-the-road kid and Baylor was perfect for me. I wanted Baylor to continue to have a place for students like me. I found rich community and connection. I was able to serve in the community. I was stretched and challenged academically in classes where my professors knew my name and knew about my life. Baylor felt small while offering Big 12 opportunities. And I love the way Baylor wasn’t out of reach for my family financially. Over the next 10 years, I WOULD LOVE FOR BAYLOR TO RETURN TO PRIORITIES IT HELD FOR MANY DECADES. I want Baylor to be recognized and competitive academically, but to recognize that is not the highest priority. I want Baylor to be a place where students who know Jesus want to come to learn and a place where students who don’t know Jesus, find him. I want Baylor to be affordable and within reach of middle-class families and to have options for those with financial needs. My college years were some of the most formative in my life and I want that opportunity for my daughters.

Mikel Porter, Baylor ’02, Truett Seminary ’09

In the days after the 2016 election, Baylor student Natasha Nkhama was pushed off a sidewalk on campus and called a racially derogatory name – the n-word – by a student who reportedly claimed he wanted to “make America great again.” Upon learning of this incident, many Baylor students, faculty, and administrators came together to walk with Nkhama in a show of solidary and love and in protest of hateful actions. The outpouring of support for Nkhama and students who face hateful attacks was covered by the national media. Baylor was an example of what love looks like. Yet, last fall was not the first time that a member of our Baylor community has been attacked or marginalized—whether it be because of their race, gender, nationality, religion, economic background, or because of who they love. And, sadly it won’t be the last. The question, then,  for Baylor over the next 10 years is whether it will be – as it was in response to the incident last fall – a community that stands up when this happens or whether it will be indifferent. Will we love our neighbors? Will the education Baylor offers b e accessible to every talented person regardless of economic circumstance? Will we stand with our brothers and sisters who are told they are less than because of who they are, where they are from, who they love, or how they look? We know what the answer should be. And, when hundreds of students – alongside administrators and faculty – walked last fall with Nkhama, we saw how inspiring a Baylor community wrapped in love can be. The Baptist minister Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Over the next  10 years, my hope is that Baylor will be a place in the moral universe that bends the arc more towards justice – a place of justice, inclusion, and love.

Skye Perryman ’03

As a native Wacoan who now lives in North Carolina, I’ve been accustomed to explaining to friends and coworkers that Waco is much more than Branch Davidians or motorcycle gang shootouts. As a Baylor alum, a similar explanation is often needed after successive basketball and football scandals. They say all news is good news, but I sometimes wish my hometown and my university stayed off the front page. In the next decade, I WOULD LIKE TO SEE BAYLOR LEADERSHIP SUPPORT EFFORTS THAT ARE AIMED MORE AT CREATING A POSITIVE, PROSPEROUS AND INCLUSIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR STUDENTS, rather than what sometimes seems like a focus on the next big building project, fundraiser or headline. Those things don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but let’s always keep the ultimate goal in mind of growing students mentally, physically and spiritually.
I’d like to see the leadership at all levels do the quiet work of building the best university in Texas without shortcuts and without tolerance for behavior that betrays not only the moral standards of the university, but also betrays the trust of current and prospective students. Instead of making everything bigger and flashier (like some of those high-flying football teams), I’d like to see a determined focus on simply making Baylor better.
Recently, while visiting a museum, a stranger approached me because he noticed my Baylor sweatshirt. A fellow Waco native and Baylor alum himself, he reflected on how rare it is to meet another Baylor grad in North Carolina. As I reflected on this later, I realized that perhaps that isn’t such a bad thing. We’re part of an exclusive club; one with a rich history and tradition of preparing students to excel in a variety of fields. We chose Baylor precisely because it was smaller with a strong academic focus.
Recently, the national narrative for Waco has shifted as Chip and Joanna Gaines caught lightning in a bottle with their hit TV show that showcased the city and its people in a new and wonderful way. It’s a welcome diversion from typical Waco explainer.
In truth, Baylor may never have its own Fixer Upper made-for-TV moment that Waco has experienced, but that’s ok. Let’s just refocus on the task at hand, and the headlines will write themselves.

Luke Blount ’08

I loved everything about my experience at Baylor. What I don’t love is my monthly student loan payment. As a young professional, every time I see that charge I honestly wonder if I made a mistake over a decade ago when I applied. I wonder what other options I should have considered, or if maybe Baylor wasn’t the right school for someone like me. And that’s unfortunate, because the hangover of finances has slowly changed how I feel about the school. It’s a balancing act to complain about tuition, because I knowingly took on those loans as a teenager. I just wish my adult self could have been there to explain what a burden they would be ten years down the road. Baylor isn’t going to reduce tuition, and honestly, they shouldn’t as long as people are willing to pay for the product they deliver. They deliver a very expensive, very high-end product. From what I have heard, undergraduate applications are as high as ever, so the rising tuition costs may not be overly prohibitive to certain students and families. One way I think Baylor could develop over the next ten years is to invest in building a lower-cost, lower-residency, digital experience for students who come from middle- class families. This would broaden the pool of students who could be impacted by Baylor, and increase revenue for the school. The growing digital student base wouldn’t command near the required resources as a full-time, on campus student. A few creative minds could develop ways for more students to have highlights of the Baylor experience without being on campus all day. Would this diminish the value of what full-paying, full-time students are getting? Would it diminish the Baylor experience for digital students? The alternative is to continue to completely squeeze out the middle class, or to continue convincing middle-class teenagers to leverage their futures on debt, on a promise that somehow Baylor is worth it. In my view, neither of those options are sustainable.

Dustin Stephens ’09

The uniqueness of Baylor, academic excellence with a spiritual undergirding, is valuable to not only its future existence but to our communities and our nation. Here are some of the developments I would like to see for Baylor over the next decade:

Reduce tuition and fees. Baylor has an overall tremendous student loan burden for its graduates. This does not allow the university to attract the best and the brightest from all socio-economic classes. There are bright men and women who love Baylor and who can find innovative ways to make Baylor more affordable. It is a goal we must keep at the top of the list. Reduce costs and market Baylor’s academic excellence through expanded online education. This is being done by private universities across the nation and Baylor can provide its uniqueness to a wider audience by increasing class size without needing expensive building infrastructure.
Make governance more transparent. Our Baptist tradition promotes congregational governance in churches. It works because if done correctly, it is transparent and everyone involved knows the successes and failures of the organization. Much like crowdsourcing, this type of governance accepts good ideas and rejects bad ideas but gets a plethora of ideas to create vision and solve problems.
Put sports in perspective. Young people learn from sports, and camaraderie is established for lifetimes over sports events. It’s all part of the learning process. However, when sports success becomes more important than our moral and spiritual values, it overrides the purpose of a Baylor education envisioned by Baylor founders and successive generations of Baylor graduates.
Promote individual spiritual development and discourage religious dogma. This is a fine line but it can be done. In our world today, especially through the platform of social media, everyone has an answer and generally think it is the only correct answer. Young people are drifting with all of these “correct answers.” Baylor has an opportunity to instill confidence and vision in our future leaders by nurturing their individual spiritual gifts giving them the toughness and tenderness to lead in a challenging and confusing society.

J. Andrew Rice ’75

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