Baylor University Graduate Student Association
Strategic Planning Statement
Collated and compiled from departmental meetings and notes.



The Graduate Student Association would like first of all to thank the University for the priority that it has placed on graduate education, and for the scholarly collegiality and burgeoning prestige that the Graduate School has enjoyed as a result. We are honored to be at Baylor University.
As the University’s current strategic plan draws to a close, we are pleased to participate in the conversation that will result in a new vision for Baylor. To this end, we have collated suggestions, comments, and meeting minutes collected from various departments in the Graduate School into this document. Though predictably the suggestions we received reflected the disparate needs of the various departments, there also emerged trends that painted a relatively cohesive picture of the shape of the graduate school today, and the desires of its students going forward. These desires can be grouped roughly under the three headings: Mission, Academics, and Student Life. Though this document is a representative summary, there are invaluable suggestions in the raw results themselves, and we encourage you to read the attached Appendix which includes the unedited contributions of individual departments.

1. World-class research, the faculty that it demands, and the graduate students that it produces undergird the entire mission of Baylor. Graduate education provides an essential piece in this structure. Firstly, graduate students are responsible for teaching a large number of undergraduate classes—classes which often are foundational or introductory. However, though this is an essential function of graduate education at Baylor, it is not its true end. Rather, it is in publishing cutting-edge research and in placing new faculty at the highest levels of academia that the University has perhaps its farthest-reaching influence. This is true whether these new faculty function primarily as researchers or teachers.
Furthermore, as one of only a handful of graduate institutions of note with an active congeniality toward the historic Christian faith, it is imperative that Baylor take her place as a leader in influencing higher education. We are aware that the manner in which this endeavor should take place has been a catalyst for continuous discussion. This discussion should continue. As John Henry Newman suggested in his seminal writings, a university by its very definition exists in a state of tension between free intellectual exploration and adherence to the teachings of the Christian faith. This is a fruitful tension. As Baylor increasingly becomes an eminent research institution, we should consider a re-articulation of and recommitment to Baylor’s Christian identity that reflects her journey from a regional and parochial college to an international and ecumenical university. This re-articulation should retain a genetic affinity to Baylor’s Baptist roots, while fulfilling the duty that the scarcity of philosophically Christian graduate institutions suggests: the duty, namely, of laying down purely denominational particulars in favor of those things which have been common to Christians through history.

2. The academic life of the Graduate School is its core. The suggestions below, of course, entail budgetary allowances; we are aware that funds must be spread across a host of priorities, and that the following items benefit most immediately the Graduate School. However, as we have said, the success of graduate education is crucial to the realization of Baylor’s broader
goals.
a.) The library and special collection holdings need added investment. As the number of graduate students and researching faculty has increased, so too has the demand for research materials: there are many journals and books that are needed which are not available inhouse. Further, research facilities attract researchers: in improving Baylor’s holdings, we will be creating a more welcoming environment for world class scholars.
In addition to the holdings of the libraries, we have received repeated and ardent requests from graduate students of multiple departments for additional secure, quiet study spaces. This need is felt especially by those in the humanities writing theses and dissertations or taking comprehensive exams, when they must have continuous access to a large amount of material. An increase in locked study carrells is one potential solution. Additionally, many have suggested a space—whether in the library or in a new (remodeled) building—designated exclusively for graduate student study, research and (small) offices. This space would provide what many departments are unable to.
b.) Baylor’s unique place in academia, as noted above, as a premier university with a Christian bent, necessitates unique teacher training. As such, many graduate students feel that the there should be more open departmental discussions about what this commitment means within their particular fields. The University should lead by providing models or venues for these conversations.
c.) Baylor’s influence through the Graduate School lies not only in the researchers and teachers it produces. Many have also noted the need for an increase in training for careers outside of academia. As academic job prospects shift rapidly, “alternative uses” for graduate degrees should be explored and brought into professional preparation seminars within departments.

3. Baylor University is a wonderful place to go to graduate school. And so, as we offer these suggestions for the improvement of graduate student life, it is in the spirit of continuing excellence.
a.) Baylor’s graduate stipends are competitive with many major research institutions. This must remain a priority.
b.) We are thankful for the student health insurance subsidization that we receive. However, as graduate students, our health needs often more closely resemble those of faculty than those of undergraduates, as most graduate students are financially independent . Especially in the coverage of dependents, our plan could improve. Basic coverage for a family of four can cost an amount approaching fully one half of a student’s stipend, which is clearly prohibitive. Baylor’s culture is congenial to families; the health plan subsidization available should reflect that.
c.) There is often a lack of clarity regarding requirements for completion of a graduate degree—whether departmentally, or in dealing with the Cashiers or Financial Aid offices. Requirements (such as definitions of full-time/part-time, etc.) need to be more transparent, and communicated better to students, Graduate Program Directors, and University staff who interact with graduate students.
d.) Many in our surveys noted that there is a rift between the Baylor community and that of greater Waco. This is obviously a multifaceted problem that has already been addressed in various ways. Some suggestions that turned up in our project were: investment in public transportation, improved University housing in the areas surrounding campus, etc.
e.) Baylor’s alcohol policy, which states that the University will “seek . . . to discourage by every means possible the use of alcohol” is an accurate reflection of a particular thread of Baptist tradition during the last century and a half. It is not, however, an accurate reflection of broader historical Christian teaching. As such, it presents a myopic picture to the viewing public, and hinders needlessly both the recruitment of world-class faculty and the reception of Baylor within higher education as a serious intellectual concern. We are aware that there are historic and legal entailments that dictate this policy, and we do not know what degree of flexibility is extant within their language. However, this policy should be revisited.
f.) We would be remiss if we did not add our check mark to the tally of constituents who have noted the lack of sufficient parking at Baylor. We understand that there are no easy or inexpensive solutions. Some suggestions that came forward were the creation of graduate-specific parking, or the prohibition of cars for freshman. Though a common practice in schools across the country, we perceive that the latter might cut too deeply to be accepted on behalf of a few poor apprentice academics.
g.) Structuring student costs to include “student fees” is, especially for graduate students, onerous. The fees are not included in our tuition reimbursement, and are thus deducted from our stipends (reducing our annual income by a significant percentage).
4.) Finally, there is a growing desire amongst graduate students here to find a way to be further included in the larger Baylor culture. Traditions and events are, understandably, geared primarily toward undergraduates, who have historically been at the heart of Baylor. However, as graduate education continues to thrive here, we hope to see an increased appreciation for what graduate study and research brings to the University, and an increasing invitation to participation in the larger University culture.

Again, we thank you for the desire you have expressed to hear our concerns. Baylor has been a welcoming place for us to begin our academic and professional careers, and we trust that the leadership of the University will continue to promote that environment. As Baylor begins this new century by rising to its place of influence in higher education, we are proud to call ourselves Bears.

Very best regards,

The Members of the Graduate Student Association




Prepared and Presented on behalf of the G.S.A.
James D. Watson, PhD Candidate, English. 23 March 2011.
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Appendix:
Notes from departmental meetings, unedited except to remove identifying material.


Biology Department:
Biology Department Strategic Planning Ideas
• Steer university more towards research instead of professional/academic tracks (i.e. pre-med or teaching careers)
• Improve fitness facilities
o Expand SLC or establish second similar facility
o Indoor soccer field
o More workout machines
• Get subscriptions to more academic journals
o E.g. Nature Reviews, Zootaxa…
• More interdepartmental communication
o More cross-listed courses
o Priority in sharing information/seminars among departments
• Additional cafeteria closer to BSB (North of Campus)
o Cheaper and warm food closer to BSB (e.g. two warm lunch offers per day)
• Improve parking situation on campus
o No cars for freshman on campus
o Graduate student parking

Educational Psychology:
Strategic Planning – Department of Educational Psychology
KrisAnn Christian, GSA Representative – School Psychology Program
(Some responses have been reworded, but many are verbatim from students)

Department-Specific:
  • Better working computers in the LRC (Draper), maybe an IT worker?
  • Copier for the LRC similar to the one in Moody (copies documents directly onto a USB drive).
  • (Mentioned multiple times)
  • Online catalog for LRC materials so we can see what is checked in/out.

Graduate School:
  • More scholarships for study abroad programs for grad students (the past funding was recently revoked for our program). And more study abroad programs!
  • There REALLY needs to be a quiet library area that's exclusive for graduate students (and maybe undergrads in the top 10% of their class who swear a solemn oath to be quiet), and that is open most hours of the day. Armstrong and Poage aren't viable choices with their limited hours and power outlets for laptops. I used to sneak in studying over at the law school---and they actually kicked me out on a day it was completely empty (after their finals) because they "don't have room" for other students. It was empty! Where's the love? I'll call it a wash if they throw in a coffee shop to go with the new grad library. (Mentioned multiple times)
  • More investment in promotion of programs nation-wide – we want people to know about our programs!
  • Better housing options – current options may be affordable, but are “grungy and unsafe” – newer, more appealing options would help foster community between grad programs.
  • More paw prints for grad students.
  • Community events and outings to help grad students feel more apart of campus life.

Campus-Wide:
  • Animal control (previous issue resulted in both Baylor Police and Waco Police deferring the problem; no one ever took care of it).
  • Better lighting in parking garages and walk-ways – and free self-defense classes!
  • Lower the AC and heating in the building---it's too hot in the winter and too cold in the summer.
  • That's a lot of wasted money---let's just settle on a temperature point for each season and put tamper controls on the thermostats.
  • More/greater variety of recycling bins. The current bins are sparse and specific types aren’t clustered together. (i.e. only plastics, or only paper)“Baylor should "rise up" and encourage the school and surrounding community to "go green". Recent efforts to do so were weak.” (Another student suggested doing a trash drive to raise awareness about what is/isn’t recyclable!)
  • Better system for flooding that occurs any time it rains.
  • Stop charging more than $5 for tiny plastic bowls filled with iceburg salad and green grapes.
  • Trying to eat healthy at the SUB is really hard to do when you're looking at an $8 tray of weekold sushi--and most grad students don't have meal plans to eat with the undergrads in the res. halls. I bought a pricey Odwalla the other day only to taste something funky and find out it expired a week earlier. Clearly, the prices need to come down and options need to expand to encourage better health and reduce visits to the health center. Baylor is one of the most fit campuses in Texas, but you wouldn't know it based on the food offerings. (Mentioned multiple times)
  • Pedestrian bridges for the Bear Trail.
  • More parking options, and lower cost for parking permits! (Mentioned multiple times) Maybe one by the library/music building?
  • More service projects within the community to encourage people to “practice what you preach”, and diminish the “Baylor Bubble” reputation (mentioned several times). Baylor could do more to help the thousands of people living in poverty in this city. “As a co-worker of mine said, what if Baylor showed the rest of the nation how to end poverty in their community??? I know its glamorous for Baylor students to go to far off international mission trips, but what if each department sent a group to Waco missions every other year? Part of Baylor's vision should include loving its neighbor (Waco), instead of trying to widen the distance between Waco and Baylor.”
  • “I think that Baylor should have more partnerships with the community. I think our educators do a great job of planning time in schools on the syllabus for students. Students learn in real world experiences, and the host schools get more help. Win/Win. As a member of the community, I do not see other departments doing this--business, engineering, pre-med. These other departments could be getting real world experiences that benefit both the student and the community--all with very little travel budget or time expense.”
  • Bike check in/check out stations across campus and surrounding locations.


English Department:

I firmly believe that the graduate program at Baylor needs to take a more active role in preparing graduate students for non-academic markets. We can't keep crossing our fingers that the market, or the tenure situation, will change by the time we graduate. We need to understand our options, and we need resources now. I don't know what this would like, necessarily, but I think a subscription to Versatile PhD is a good start: http://versatilephd.com/ I first heard about this organization from The Chronicle of Higher Education. Check it out; it's pretty interesting.

1. If you were in charge of disseminating a very large endowment given to Baylor, what would you do with it? (Basically, if money were no object, what would you do to improve the University?)

Paying world-class faculty, supporting scholars working in "faith and ___" fields, scholarships, improved health insurance for students.

I have a suggestion which might not cost a lot of money (good, right?), but which might nevertheless be difficult to achieve. In my experience with my graduate department, and with other departments at Baylor charged with providing services to students, I have frequently been frustrated by the lack of transparency. Guidelines on program requirements, expectations and procedures are vague and frequently misleading, and I have often been made to feel that I am a burden to administrators simply because my situation is a bit unusual. [Edited] There should be clearer expectations and guidelines for these departments in their interactions with students. Perhaps an external consultant could give a fresh insight on the ways in which the administration of departments is inefficient. Or perhaps [those in charge of graduate student requirements, financial aid, etc.] just need more help: assistants?

2. Briefly, how do you think world-class graduate education at Baylor positively impacts (or would impact) the University as a whole?

The strength and uniqueness of Baylor's graduate programs is that many take Christian faith seriously. This is the single most important contribution that Baylor can make to higher education: training men and women of faith as teachers in higher education for the next generation. This is something which I wish that Baylor would communicate more clearly to the "Baylor nation": graduate education is integral to Baylor's capacity to influence higher education because Baylor's is one of only a handful of graduate schools in the nation which is actively friendly to Christian faith.

The impact of a successful graduate program on the University as a whole is pretty obvious for our department, in particular. As instructors of mandatory classes, we have enormous influence over the undergraduate student body. One of the major areas of disappointment in the study conducted last year was that Baylor's graduates rank lower than desired in critical thinking and writing. To that end, I would like to see more focused, theory-based teacher training within our department. If our graduate department were strengthened in this way, I believe our undergraduates would begin to see improvement in some of these lagging areas.

1. If you were in charge of disseminating a very large endowment given to Baylor, what would you do with it? (Basically, if money were no object, what would you do to improve the University?)

I would invest some in researching charitable estate planning and its place in Baylor University because I think it could increase the money used to support the university in several ways: first of all, it would generate some revenue (potentially); offer alumni and other interested parties in the school; provide extra scholarships and grants with tax break incentives so that more people could come and take out fewer loans. Also, if the school wants to broaden the demographic and invite more first-generation college students, then this would be a great way to make those funds available. The relationships built between students and donors is also a great way of fostering legacy-building and the appreciation of education that does come at a price.

Also, I would probably take time to reassess student fees. That is an absolute mess and turnoff to anyone who is putting his or herself through school. It's rare at Baylor, but again, the demographic could expand if the fees were more manageable. It's seemingly smart how the university capitalizes off all these fees per credit hour, but if the money came from an endowment (at least in part), they may not have to be so high.

Finally, I would invest in training students in practical experience from the get-go. Liberal arts colleges give back to society when they graduate students who know how to apply the knowledge they gain to real tasks. Often times, if a degree like philosophy or English isn't marketed well and the students don't know what to do with the four years they spent explicating Plato or writing about Victor Hugo. Instead of having to push kids through the class because it's a core class, we should be showing them where and why it counts because liberal arts don't have to just be whimsical "nice" ideas. They can change the world.

2. Briefly, how do you think world-class graduate education at Baylor positively impacts (or would impact) the University as a whole?
(See last paragraph in previous question).
For grad students, they should know this: with the pool of grad students expanding, it's important to know you don't have to be a professor. The times they are changing and I don't think everyone should be looking to teach immediately anyway, but knowing how a graduate degree in the liberal arts can work in real time outside of academia will be vital to my generation and likely the ones to follow.

Baylor Strategic Plan
Philosophy Graduate Student Recommendations
Education

Undergraduate Education
• We urge Baylor to reconsider the undergraduate general education requirements so that topics in the humanities, such as logic, do not fulfill social science general education requirements.
• We encourage departments to include courses, including capstone courses, which require students to consider what it means to be a Christian in their specific discipline.
• How do we get undergraduates to understand their life’s work as a calling? We should encourage more faculty reading groups on this theme, to equip students to ask such vocational questions.
• Since logic is one of the methods for seeking God’s kingdom that Baylor’s foundational
assumptions affirm and since good reasoning and reason-giving are crucial to success in all vocations, we urge Baylor to consider requiring undergraduates to take a logic or critical thinking course.

Graduate Education
• Baylor should evaluate graduate programs based on on the level of professional activity (with respect to each discipline) and teaching success
• We should not evaluate programs based on their track record of placing students in research jobs. (We should evaluate excellence, not reputation. Research jobs aren’t necessarily better jobs.)
• Alongside these standards of excellence: We want the new strategic plan to consider the question: What are the standards of success in a Christian university?
• Emphasizing excellent teaching should be an intentional part of Baylor graduate education
• We affirm Baylor’s financial support for graduate students. We encourage Baylor to work towards other ways of improving graduate student quality of life, such as providing more affordable and higher quality health insurance, or increasing the availablity of financial support for traveling to conferences.
• We ask that Baylor involve more graduate students in the university’s administration.
• We hope Baylor can continue to provide ways for graduate students to present their work to the greater community. These could include opportunities to present research, should as an internal to Baylor graduate student conference, or ways for graduate students to mentor other students or publish while at Baylor.

Across the Curriculum
• For Baylor to become nationally ranked, it should focus on attracting and funding top quality faculty-members.
• We should focus on improving the departments which already have good reputations first, since doing so will lead to results more quickly.
• Baylor should also work to fund visiting scholar programs to increase our connections with other universities.
• We encourage Baylor to develop more venues in which international scholarly dialogue may take place. This could take the form of working with extant international programs, like those proffered by the Templeton Foundation, but should also include further Baylor specific international initiatives promoting scholarly exchange.
• In light of Baylor’s motto, we ask Baylor to consider how specifically it serves the church. Could we offer workshops &etc. for lay Christians on disciplinary-specific topics? E.g. could we have a workshop on Christianity and the arts? Christian Commitment
• More publicity for Baylor’s Christian commitment would be good. Our core commitments are news to many current Baylor students.
• We ask Baylor to increase the number of worship times on campus in which the Baylor community can worship together. Could there be a weekly or daily chapel hour where students and professors can pray together?
• We ask that Baylor develop ways for graduate students to serve the Waco community.
• We wonder how we (as students and a university) can be sensitive and hospitable to the faith commitments of others.
• We urge Baylor to keep in mind the specific ways it serves the church and specific church bodies alongside its pursuit of excellence. Baylor should continue to emphasize that our studies are directed for God and for the world God created.
• We ask that Baylor continue to attract and support students interested in church-related higher education in general and Baylor’s religious tradition in particular.
• Given Baylor’s status as a church-related institution, we ask that teaching in a religious context be discussed in teaching seminars and other venues where graduate students receive pedagogical training. Community
• We ask departments to encourage both collegiality and community among students, between students and teachers, and (when applicable) between graduate students’ families.
• Department could promote these goods through both academic events (e.g. departmental colloquia where students can present research, departmental bible studies) and social events (e.g. departmental potlucks).
• To encourage community and hospitality on campus, we ask that Baylor look into better ways in which we can host important activities and events on campus. We would especially encourage Baylor Event Services to provide more affordable and higher quality food for Baylor events.


Physics Department:
Recommendations from the physics grad students
• Additional graduate programs added such as medical physics, etc.
• Additional advanced graduate courses should be offered. Currently the graduate courses cover the basics, but with the addition of more faculty, more specialized courses could be taught.
• Continued and increasing support for graduate students to attend conferences. Attending conferences allows students to be abreast with what is happening in their field, make connections with other students and faculty, and get feedback on their own research.
• Stipends should continue to increase to stay competitive.
• Provide more support to graduate students looking for jobs through career services.
• Increase the number of faculty.
• Encourage collaborations with local schools such as MCC and TSTC as well as worldwide collaborations.
• Improve health insurance cost and coverage especially for international students.
• Improve public transportation especially around Waco so that the University is more connected with the city.


Religion Department:
Religion Department Strategic Planning: 2/17/11
Present: [7 names; edited]
• You can’t be a Tier 1 university without an endowment (without cutting graduate student stipends)
• Baylor needs to make a huge investment in its library, which is not well-suited for graduate students or the humanities. Problems: the amount of resources; facilities & quiet study space; the books we want are at neighboring universities; not enough copies of the books we have, especially the ones that reflect research interests at Baylor; updated versions of the classic books in each department (ex: Loeb Classical library)
• Faculty in the humanities need to work with grad students to get grants & endowments
• Vision for graduate life: we should look at the honors college (they have more of a grad life than we do; getting research grants; lots of presentations; developing graduate fellowships); we should also interact more with the honors college (which would cost no money!) – giving more graduate students opportunities to teach honors colloquium. This would help us engage undergrads and teach—two things we want to do!
• Baylor has a huge asset in Baylor Press. The school should use that name to give legitimacy to the Baylor name; the better the publisher gets, the better our school looks.
• Other schools “tier 1” graduate schools have a space for grad students to study and have offices together – allows for both solitary work and collaboration (like the junior and senior common rooms); they also have their own collections of key works.
• Influence on Waco and vice versa – nicer housing near campus; area around campus safer; it feels unprofessional to be in a really unsafe area; create a development association (realtors, QTI, etc.) – the university and community could be better aligned – this requires building good faith with them (scholars more involved, etc.). Vast socioeconomic differences between Baylor students and much of the Waco community. Community and Baylor should look forward together and make plans together.
• Global stuff is nice, but Waco is really important
• When I think of us as a Christian institution (what are we teaching, etc.) – we need to think about what we’re doing in the community – this is Christianity too! Is there a better way to communicate and invite students to get involved in the community
• Relinquish Baptist identity to become top tier? (like non-Baptists being on board of regents all the while starting a Baptist studies on campus) – need to be less Baptist in some ways; religion department may need to help the school navigate how to balance its Baptist identity with its larger Christian identity.
• ***The reason we looked at Baylor was because we were caught up with 2012 – the intentional integration of faith and learning is VERY important. It is crucial for Baylor to remain congenial to faith while excelling academically.
• Maybe offer more options for the required religion classes (they could pick 2 out of 8 = OT, NT, early history, late history, intro to theology, Christian spirituality – offer choice so they don’t feel so much like “required” religion classes); use grad students to enhance creativity; learn from BIC and ELG to promote different ways of teaching (smaller groups)
• Grad students having faculty benefits for dining halls
• Poor communication between departments on lecturers (this just requires intentionality)nts on lecturers (this just requires intentionality)