Editor’s note: The following essay is part of Deseret Magazine’s issue on the fate of the religious university, with contributions by presidents and scholars from Baylor University, BYU, Catholic University, George Fox University, Wheaton College and Yeshiva University, among others. Read all the essays here.
Baylor University’s religious identity is based on the vision of our founders who, during the years of the Republic of Texas, resolved “to found a Baptist university in Texas upon a plan so broad that the requirements of existing conditions would be fully met and that would be susceptible of enlargement and development to meet the demand of all ages to come.”
Today, having enlarged and developed into an R1 research institution, Baylor remains a place where our pursuit of academic excellence is animated by Christian faith.
In doing so, Baylor and other outstanding faith-based institutions offer a counternarrative to the prevailing notion — based on the history of higher education in America — that religious faith in academic contexts is an obstacle to outstanding teaching and research.
In contrast to many of the nation’s earliest colleges and universities that abandoned their Christian identity in pursuit of greater research activity and prestige, Baylor has continued to firmly ground our institutional life in our Christian faith in the Baptist tradition.
As a result, Baylor is able to guide students in the consideration of crucial issues from every possible perspective — ethical, religious, social and intellectual — and our faculty members can serve as open and persuasive advocates for the beneficial role that faith plays in their teaching and scholarly research.
Baylor’s strategic plan, known as Illuminate, has one overarching goal: To bring light to the world as we accelerate our quest toward preeminence as a Christian research university, building on our historic strengths and strategically investing in new areas of research and service. We believe Baylor can demonstrate how both faith and reason reveal truth, how scholarly discovery inspired by religious commitment brings knowledge and wisdom, and how a Christian university — through its teaching, research and service — might offer a distinctive voice and presence in the contemporary world.
That today’s world is eager to seek out and support the tradition of Christian higher education found at Baylor has been borne out in recent years by evidence on several fronts:
• In September 2021, Baylor announced an overall enrollment of more than 20,000 students for the first time in university history, a reflection of growing interest and applications from students around the country.
• A host of distinguished scholars and teachers have joined our faculty in recent years, leaving significant positions at renowned secular institutions to live out their faith at Baylor while making a difference in the world.
• In February 2022, we announced that gifts and pledges to our Give Light philanthropic campaign had surpassed the initial goal of $1.1 billion, establishing the campaign as the most successful fundraising effort in Baylor’s history.
Our recent achievement of R1 status is a testament to the dedicated work of many people over decades of prayerful discernment and strategic planning. As I have often noted, Baylor’s faculty and staff are engaged in research at the highest levels not to achieve worldly recognition, but to make a difference in the world as the presence of Christ. And our students are leaving the Baylor campus equipped to address some of the most important issues and challenges facing the world while also shining a light for God’s kingdom.
We are thankful for the vision of those early Baptist pioneers who recognizedcthe need for Christian higher education — in 1845 and today.
Linda A. Livingstone is the president of Baylor University.