Ad Unitatem: Newsletter on Equity and Campus Engagement

April 20, 2021
Ad Unitatem

Message from the Special Advisor to the President, Malcolm B. Foley

Reckoning, Repentance, and (Re)Conciliation

As you read this, you have access to the report from the Commission on Historic Campus Representations. Whether you have read it or not (at over 90 pages, it’s a significant work!), there may be questions swirling in your mind: Why does this matter? What will the University do? How will this shape my campus experience now?

In short, the goal going forward is to more intentionally manifest our Christian mission in the physical representations on campus. Building a culture of justice and equity requires the shifting of people, processes and policies, and that culture ought to be bolstered by the physical representations on campus. Concerns about physical space, representation, accountability and culture are the most common in our campus community, and this commission begins work on the first.

What then is the goal? To form spaces of reckoning, repentance and (re)conciliation. Reckoning requires an unqualified recognition and condemnation of the institution’s complicity and active participation in the unmixed evil of racial chattel slavery. This is always the first step to healing — a recognition of the wound. Malcolm X, when asked about progress in the mainstream Civil Rights Movement, eloquently said that if a knife is nine inches in one’s back, progress is not pulling the knife out six inches or even pulling the knife completely out. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. Clear reckoning is the first step.

Second is repentance — active turning away from evil and turning toward God. In short, this ought to be the Christian life and we need to consider what that looks like as an institution. Institutional repentance is a complex process, but it is one that a Christian university ought to lead the way in. Many schools around the country were founded in slavery. At Baylor, we have an opportunity to tell that story in a redemptive manner.

Finally, (re)conciliation. Conciliation is the more proper term in this case because we have never known active racial peace in our nation’s history. But the work of this Commission opens the door for robust peacemaking within our community. Indeed, we have been reconciled to God and to one another in Christ, but we are still often insistent on creating and bolstering categories of division. The statues on campus can become sites of healing and aspirational images of where we want to be.

Proverbs 28:13 reminds us that whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. If we are to be a Christian university, it is precisely this ethos that we must communicate.

Q&A with Lori Baker, Ph.D.

This month, we are spotlighting work going on among Baylor’s faculty to continue building a culture of justice and equity. The full Q&A with Dr. Baker may be found on the Diversity and Inclusion website. In the next newsletter, we will explore the work going on among staff members to build that same culture.

Q: What is your role at the University?

I am the vice provost for faculty development and diversity. Part of my role is listening to the faculty to know what is going well and where there is room for improvement. We have done this by creating the Campus Climate Survey that launched first in 2017 and by joining the Collaborative On Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) and being a part of both of their surveys. These tools give the faculty an anonymous way to tell us about their experiences, whether good or bad. We can then see if different members of our community are having different experiences and begin to address disparities.

In recent years, we have been most focused on faculty hiring for a number of reasons. Our faculty diversity should be a reflection of our student diversity. This will take time to build, and we must all work together to recruit the very best and brightest faculty to Baylor. How we hire this year will impact Baylor for decades. It is one of the most important things we do. We also have to think about how we facilitate faculty members’ success once they are here on campus.

Q: It is abundantly clear that in order to build a just and equitable culture at Baylor, we need to invest particularly in those who have been historically underrepresented in our midst. I think particularly of women, racial and ethnic minorities, veterans and others. What are some ways you support these faculty?

We are thinking about support in a comprehensive manner, as well as across the career span of our faculty. Through the survey tools mentioned before, we have been able to understand the most pressing issues for female faculty, faculty with disabilities, racial and ethnic minority faculty members and others. Four working groups were established this spring to make prioritized recommendations to Provost Nancy Brickhouse. These working groups are examining data from the surveys, as well as additional University data, to better understand the current state on campus, and they are meeting with additional faculty and administrators to refine our understanding and to consider next steps and recommendations. Their work will conclude in July when they submit their recommendations to the Provost.

Q: Culture change only happens with the shifting of people, policies and processes. What might that work look like at Baylor, particularly in the Provost’s Office?

We know that increasing faculty diversity through inclusive recruitment and hiring practices is a crucial first step for a culture change and that it is only a first step. We transitioned our paper/manual faculty search and hiring process to an online, cloud-based platform called Interfolio. This change has allowed us to build in workflow and review that was not previously possible. In particular, we have added information that is shared with the entire search committee as they undertake their work. Institutional Research has compiled a range of information in a Hiring Report that will be specific to each discipline and shared in Interfolio.

There is also now a review of the search committee composition and the search plan that should include information about recruitment and advertising. We are requiring the search chair to submit a more detailed search report of what was actually done in the search regarding recruitment and the subsequent evaluation of candidates. As part of this, the applicant pool can now be reviewed for approval by the department chair, the dean, and the Provost’s Office through the tools available in the Interfolio system.

In addition, every department has been engaged over the last year in reviewing and, in some cases, revising their tenure and promotion guidelines to ensure they accurately reflect expectations and practices in the process.

The last thing I will mention is partnering with the Race Equity Institute for data-driven workshops on institutional racial equity. The first step in our community is to recognize that our policies and practices may perpetuate bias and inequitably affect members of our Baylor family.

Q: How can the Baylor community partner with you in your work?

We need to constantly ask ourselves, “How are other faculty experiencing Baylor. How are we determining who we are inviting to join our faculty, and how are we supporting and empowering each other for success?” I invite our faculty and administrators to reach out to me when they have ideas and opportunities for innovation that we can consider or when they encounter challenges. We are a community of experts, and together we can create something much better than we can do alone.

Continuous Improvement

Baylor University continues to implement a variety of initiatives designed to create a more equitable and compassionate campus. It’s a demonstration of the University’s commitment to making continuous improvements in all areas of Baylor’s operations and institutional programming as we seek to become the preeminent Christian research university.

• On March 23, Baylor announced plans to erect statues in recognition of trailblazing graduates Rev. Robert Gilbert, B.A. ’67, and Mrs. Barbara Walker, B.A. ’67, in front of Tidwell Bible Building, where they, like today’s students, took classes in history and religion as part of Baylor’s undergraduate core curriculum. The announcement coincided with the release of the report of the Commission on Historic Campus Representations. The statues of Gilbert and Walker will commemorate the two friends’ mutual standing as Baylor’s first Black graduates who helped integrate the University.

• When the fall semester begins in August, Baylor will welcome to campus the inaugural Gilbert-Walker cohort of Trailblazer Scholars — named after Baylor’s first Black graduates, Rev. Robert Gilbert and Mrs. Barbara Walker. The Trailblazer Scholars is a scholarship program designed to recognize the importance of fostering diversity and mutual respect at Baylor. Fundraising for the scholarships has surpassed $2 million since the program’s creation in July 2020, pairing with the University’s commitment of $5 million to establish the program. Applications for the scholarships have been submitted by incoming freshmen, as well as upper-level students, who demonstrate a commitment to advancing racial equality, diversity and a sense of belonging. Scholarship funds will be awarded annually and are renewable to students who maintain a 2.5 GPA and are actively committed to conversations and initiatives advancing racial conciliation on Baylor’s campus and throughout the nation.

• In advance of the Baylor’s release of the report of the Commission on Historic Campus Representations, the University held three public Baylor Conversation Series events called, “Perspectives on Our History.” The first two panel discussions featured distinguished experts, who provided context about slavery in the United States, in Texas and among Texas Baptists during the time of Baylor’s founding in the mid-1800s. The final panel was moderated by President Livingstone and featured Board Chair Mark Rountree and the Commission's co-chairs, who discussed the process, historical findings and the framework for the Commission's recommendations. These Conversations provide valuable context for the Commission’s Recommendations.

Additional Resources

The “Train and Learn” section of Baylor’s Diversity & Inclusion webpage offers a range of resources for faculty, staff and students to grow and develop into better neighbors, citizens and leaders.