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The personal journal of technology journalist and conference speaker Randall S. Newton.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Rekindled Love for an Old College Sweetheart

On Monday, Baylor alumnus Steven Stucky won the Pulitzer Prize for music, for his Second Concerto for Orchestra. Yesterday, the Baylor Lady Bears demolished Michigan State to win the NCAA women's national basketball championship. Today, Baylor announces in an email to prospective students that it will have to stop receiving applications for new freshmen on April 15, sooner than usual. Baylor has already received more than 15,000 applications and just won't be able to keep accepting them at the rate they are coming in. To give you a sense of perspective, the current student body is a little over 14,000.

When I attended Baylor in the 1970s, it was a sleepy Baptist university with a student body of about 7,000. I was attracted by the strong academics, the Christian atmosphere, and the offer of scholarship money. But I left with rather ambivalent feelings about my alma mater. I enjoyed my time there, but I thought the university had become even more of an anachronism than it aspired to be.

Fifteen years later I visited for the first time after leaving, and wasn't impressed. I found the facilities lacking detailed attention, and the campus had only grown by one building (an addition to the library that was ready for construction when I left). I tried to ignore that the name of a rather pompous rich Texan whom I had met while attending Baylor was now prominently visible on campus (he had given a rather substantial sum to the university since I graduated). The students seemed cut from the same cloth as my peers in the 1970s.

When my first college-bound child, Amanda, decided she wanted to major in archaeology, it turned out there were only six universities in North America offering an undergraduate degree, and one of them was Baylor. I still loved my college home, and wanted her to consider it, but I wasn't going to push (her mother tells a different story, but she'll have to get her own blog to do it). When Amanda and I arrived for a campus visit in April 2002, I was absolutely surprised by what I saw. Not only had Baylor grown physically, I sensed that it has matured in other ways. A student body that was always politely Baptist was now much more overtly Christian in character. Amanda told me later that she knew five minutes into her first session during the campus visit that "this is the place for me." And I couldn't have agreed more.

I attribute much of the change to the leadership of outgoing president Robert Sloan and his visionary "Baylor 2012" roadmap. Baylor is in the process of emerging onto the national academic landscape as the pre-eminent Protestant university in America. Sloan rightly insists that it is possible--and absolutely necessary--for Baylor to be both a first-rank American university by all relevant benchmarks (research, faculty quality, athletics, student achievement, etc.) and a thoroughly Christian institution.

So, when I whoop it up for the Lady Bears national championship, or point with pride to Baylor related-achievements, please put it into context. I've rekindled a love for my college sweetheart, a love I thought had died. I think I have the right to act just a little bit loopy.


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