BIC Director Celebrates One Year on the Job
After celebrating his one-year anniversary as the Director of the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, Darren Middleton, Ph.D. reflects in this Q&A on his first year with the BIC and shares his hopes for the future.
What have you enjoyed most about your first year at Baylor and the BIC?
By far and away the people! What attracted me to Baylor was the high-quality faculty, student engagement, and the close collaboration with staff as well as administrators, both in the BIC and the Honors College. We not only have a very talented team in our corner of the campus, but they also make for a fun-loving community. I’ve spent the year getting to know a variety of individuals, with visits in my office, coffees, lunches, and of course the classroom. These encounters have, by far, been the highlight of my year.
You’ve had a busy first year. What are you the proudest of?
We have some exciting new hires. Two new faculty – Drs. Castrillon and Njung – joined when I did; we implemented a post-doctoral teaching fellows program and have two newly-minted colleagues – Drs. Justice and Yézou – for the next two years; and then several retirements has meant almost an entirely new staff. I’ve spent a lot of my first year in searches. But hires bring an invigorating energy. Strong hires are especially important because of the BIC’s student-friendly environment, team-teaching approach, and collaborative character. I have no doubt that the new team will bring the enthusiasm, vision, and dedication to the tasks that are now necessary to take the BIC forward in this next period of its history.
What are some of your long-range goals for the BIC? What areas of the program would you like to see grow?
I have spent the year getting to know the people and the program. I think that is vital before making changes or even casting vision. Learning from others, especially their in-depth knowledge of the University as well as the program, also builds trust. This semester we will have a faculty retreat and hopefully over the year lay the groundwork for an external program review. Experience teaches me that program reviews are advocacy tools, and I hope ours supports as well as highlights the BIC’s strengths, furnishing the evidence for the resources we need to play our part in honors education at Baylor. Much of what has been happening in the BIC has gone far in creating an incredibly strong program. I certainly don’t want to fix what is not broken but there are areas to build on. We need to continue to expand our international reach. We’ve hired an African historian of West and Central Anglophone and Francophone Africa as well as a political theorist researching modern republicanism in Latin America. We are strengthening our study abroad opportunities. I am thrilled that Dr. Cann’s fostering alliances with Hannam University in South Korea. I am pleased Drs. Whitlark and Carron are running the Baylor in Greece and Turkey program every summer. How can I not delight in what Drs. Colleen and Davide Zori are unearthing in Italy? And I am “chuffed to bits,” as we say in the UK, that I am becoming part of the teaching team for the Baylor in Oxford program, effective summer 2024.
A pipe dream of mine involves challenging BIC alumni to consider supporting a Study Abroad scholarship for BIC-ers, a fund that enables some of our current students to move beyond the “World Cultures” classroom and into different walks and ways of life, internationally speaking. Relatedly, Dr. Whitenton is partnering with Baylor colleagues on the Civic Interfaith Studies Minor, a much-needed area of growth, given the polarized world we inhabit. On the student side, I would like the BIC to be a door to first-generation college students, like Dr. Bond [our new Assistant Director] and yours truly. I like to think the BIC is a welcoming space for creative thinkers, maybe non-traditional students, and those who want to scrutinize their faith and decide on what basis their lives should be lived.
How has being in the BIC impacted your own scholarship?
The BIC’s collaborative approach to teaching works well with my long-standing desire to partner with others on research projects. I am coediting a volume on “Baptists and the Literary Imagination,” for example, and I’ve really enjoyed the conversations with fellow contributors. I have ventured into oral history, with a book of interviews with authors of Christian historical fiction. My current project involves talking with global reggae artists, showing how their art soundtracks decisive moments in Rastafari religious history. Oral history is a more subject-centered approach to writing as well as research and privileges people on the ground, where life’s often complicated yet fascinating. That Baylor houses the Institute for Oral History is a boon, for sure.
Any other thoughts or reflections on your first year with the Honors College?
I am excited to be at a place where I witness a sincere attempt to integrate faith and learning, and I appreciate that the Honors College fosters these sorts of conversations, with a range of Christian traditions, from Roman Catholic to Baptist, mainline to evangelical. That seems to be the Christian tradition in practice – proceeding out from an ecumenical space, unified in love and service.