After reading documents this past winter encouraging greater diversity at Baylor University as well as sobering assessments urging caution in any such initiative, we can only cheer the President’s Advisory Council on Diversity as it continues to craft a plan to make some of this happen in a more concerted way after plenty of constructive input. Not everyone will be happy, but such an initiative could lay out a clear and confident course for Baylor’s long-term future.
Yes, certain anxieties must be adequately addressed — including a seeming concern by some that diversifying faculty and staff could get out of hand and marginalize qualified, white, Christian prospects or even threaten such members among current faculty. On the other hand, as Baylor President Ken Starr has correctly noted, half-measures won’t work in attaining greater diversity.
Complicating all this is the fact diversity means different things to different people. Some possibilities might seem — at least initially — to conflict with the Christian principles that have long guided so much of Baylor’s mission. We obviously would not want to see anything that threatens those principles, given that these are what make Baylor so unique.
At the same time, if an aspiring research and academic institution is to prepare students for the world, if it is to draw students from around that world to Baylor, it must walk the talk on diversity. That means tweaking at least some rigid paradigms.
For instance, at a time when so much misunderstanding confounds our national debate on the Muslim faith and our increasingly inflamed role in the Middle East, does it not make sense to have on Baylor’s stellar faculty representatives of those who, say, have a keener understanding of Islam — and, good heavens, perhaps even practice Islam privately? Would the bold Christian principles of Baylor be imperiled by such prospects? Fair question.
While a Christian university seeks to stress its principles for life and conduct, Baylor has not only made room for students who worship differently but has defended them in a gutsy way that we’ve seen at few other campuses, religious or secular. The Dec. 11 student-organized Christian prayer rally defending increasingly beleaguered campus Muslims was one of Baylor’s finest moments, worthy of emulation nationwide.
This likely is but one simple example of the sort of discussion that Starr seeks to invigorate, no doubt with the encouragement of a forward-minded and judicious board of regents trying to steer Baylor along a path of increasing relevance in a more and more diverse country. And, yes, this means defining what sort of diversity is up for discussion. And that could get awkward.
But if a civil and intelligent discussion about all this can’t be held among the learned, where can it be held?
While the president has urged “a robust conversation here at Baylor with respect to deepening our unapologetic Christian commitment to racial, ethnic and gender diversity,” that dialogue has already hit rough patches. However, other moves show the diversity bandwagon rolling forward, such as this week’s appointment of Elizabeth Palacios, dean for student development in the Division of Student Life, as special assistant to the president on diversity. And a Regents Task Force on Diversity, consisting of former regents, has been similarly charged.
So is any of this ultimately relevant to our community? Given efforts Baylor has made to welcome Wacoans into a broader array of campus activities, anything that bolsters our understanding of the changing nation and world around us is welcome. And if Baylor can continue to champion its Christian values while daring to diversify in ways benefiting life and learning, that’s a win.