Dr. Ian Gravagne
C.S. Lewis once observed (to paraphrase) that Christianity will face headwinds in the modern industrialized world, because we have become used to the idea of innovation as a relentless impersonal force constantly discarding the old for the new, and presumably better.
I often think about Lewis' musing in the context of Baylor's gradual movement toward the residential college system, because it is an example of a centuries-old way that is not only still a good way, but arguably the best way to organize a student housing system. However, the mere facts – the renowned success of the College model, its adoption by many of the world's most admired universities, its 800 year provenance – are insufficient by themselves to answer the question why. Why should Baylor add another residential college? Why should ECS go along?
To answer that, I turn to the wisdom of author Wendell Berry, from an essay that was circulating when I arrived at Baylor in 2002 entitled "The Loss of the University." In it, Berry laments that "the various disciplines have ceased to speak to each other; they have become too specialized, and this overspecialization, this separation, of the disciplines has been enabled and enforced by the specialization of their languages." This critique is notable because it isn't merely another cry to strengthen the liberal arts core curriculum or force all engineers to learn Latin. He notes that the "underlying idea of a university™ is that good work and good citizenship are the inevitable by-products of the making of a good – that is, a fully developed – human being."
Fully developed human beings are, of course, educated human beings. But it isn't often that anyone thinks about what universities make. If in fact, making good human beings is a university's goal, then how do we proceed if each bit of the university shares no common channels or modalities of communication with the other bits? Each school or department or division is then only a maker of a part and will have lost any vision of understanding of the desired whole, Berry argues.
My answer to Berry's critique (or, at least, my partial answer) is to thank God that Baylor still has at least one common language left – the language of our faith in Christ and of our Biblical narrative, the language of truth, the language of mercy and grace, the language of redemption – the very language that we call upon to define what we mean by a "good, fully developed human being."
So why do we need residential colleges at Baylor? Because, through them, we can reinforce that common language more concretely, and speak it more influentially, than any other way I know. That is not to diminish at all the role of the classroom and the lab in forming "fully developed human beings," but simply to point out that our common language is one that must be both spoken and lived. The new college will be, by the grace of God, a place in which young adults live out some of their most formative years practicing virtue and selflessness, encouraging and experiencing beatitude, and pursuing their education in the context of calling and equipping the saints.
Exciting times are ahead!