Dean's Update - June 15, 2023

June 15, 2023

Dear Colleagues:

I’m happily returned from Greece, and while I’ve settled into welcome summer routines, memories linger of a special morning in Athens.

I’ve made at least a dozen trips to what Pindar praised as “splendid, honorable Athens.” Cumulatively, I’ve spent more than six months in Greece. For all that time, however, I had never visited the site of Plato’s Academy. On a free day last month, I took a leisurely walk to see what I could, and to do as Horace proposed: to “seek for truth in the groves of Academe.”

I set out westward, walking over the foundations of Proclus’ house, where lived one of the last great heads of the school Plato began. Beyond the acropolis’s vertiginous heights crowned by Athena’s temple, I followed the road north past Hephaestus’ temple, with its depiction of the feats of Heracles and Theseus. In short order, I came to the ancient cemetery, Kerameikos, near the site of a magnificent double gate built by Themistocles after the Persian war. Here, two generations later, Pericles’ funeral oration commemorated the humanity and heroism of Athens’ fallen soldiers and rallied confidence in Athenian greatness. Here also began the sacred way to Eleusis, where those who participated in the mysteries sought assurances that St. Paul, centuries later, would teach the Corinthians to seek in the resurrected Christ—and thus not through esoteric secrets but the good news of salvation by grace through faith.

My description risks the impression of a scenic walk. At times, it was. Over stretches, though, ill-conceived urban development, dilapidated neighborhoods, and graffitied buildings encroach. Negotiating a way under Greek National Road 8, a major highway, presented its own challenges. I wondered what Plato might have thought, were he to have seen what now stands between his school and city gates. He might have been as agitated as Simon Critchley, who wrote a sardonic piece about his own pilgrimage to the Academy, but I rather expect Plato experienced enough real tragedy to give him a sanguine outlook on neighborhood conditions.

The grounds of the Academy today remain pleasant, with a lush canopy of trees providing abundant, cool shade. Beyond the foundations of the gymnasium, few archaeological remains are visible, and no one has yet discovered the place of Plato’s burial, lost somewhere on the grounds. There is precious little to see of the Academy itself, at least by physical eyes.

With a roving mind’s eye, however, one can see enough to be well satisfied. I traced the footsteps of Plato, Aristotle, and others who wondered and inquired together in this place. I sat and thought. I pondered Plato’s legacy. Of it, Lucy Beckett notes that his “acknowledgment of God and of the unity in God of truth, goodness and beauty, fitfully intelligible but not yet visible in the Word made flesh, gives to his writing a value unique in the pre-Christian world.” Thinking even so, I gave thanks in prayer. Then, I rose and returned the way I came, better for my visit.

Within our own groves of academe here on the Brazos, please take note of the following:

• In April, President Linda Livingstone appointed a Strategic Planning Group (SPG) to help identify University aspirations for the years ahead. As part of campus-wide listening sessions, Provost Nancy Brickhouse, co-chair of the SPG, will meet with Honors College faculty and staff on Wednesday, September 6 at 9:00 a.m. in Cashion 501. Provost Brickhouse wants to hear our observations and counsel about strategic directions. She hopes for a conversation that’s exploratory and dialogical. Plan now to participate in this important conversation that will impact our work for long to come.

• Last year’s pilot of our Undergraduate Research Assistant Program went well. Designed to support faculty research and to provide undergraduates with distinctive opportunities for learning and mentoring, the URA program will be continued for the 2023-24 academic year. The faculty application process is now open, giving you opportunity to describe ongoing research projects, specify the type of undergraduate assistance you would like, and identify any prospective research assistants if known. Please review program guidelines at the link above, and then as you have interest, complete the application available here.

• We laid plans in recent months for a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellowship Program that aims to (a) provide appealing opportunities to newly-minted PhDs; (b) mentor future faculty in the virtues of integration across disciplines, scholarship and teaching, and academic and residential life; (c) give students access to rising scholars from top graduate programs; and (d) elevate the visibility of the Honors College as a national leader in undergraduate education. With the hiring of three postdocs, the program is up and running. Join me in celebrating the arrival this summer of David Justice (Ph.D., Christian theology, St. Louis University), David Shin (Ph.D., systematic theology, Wheaton College), and Cécile Yezou (Ph.D., Afro-American Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst).

• Congratulations to Melinda Nielsen, associate professor of classical literature in the Great Texts Program, on the publication of Festivals of Faith: Sermons for the Liturgical Year (Cenacle, 2023). In this edited volume, twenty-two of St. John Henry Newman’s sermons are presented to mark high points of the liturgical calendar. Melinda’s incisive observations provide context and perspective, enabling readers to encounter the learned cardinal’s gospel proclamation in a spirit of self-examination and understanding. Well done, Melinda!

• A tip of the hat also to David Lyle Jeffrey, distinguished professor emeritus of literature and humanities in the Honors Program, for We Were a Peculiar People Once: Confessions of an Old-Time Baptist (Baylor, 2023). Curtis Freeman praises it as a “tender and loving story about the faith and practice of a peculiar people,” and Timothy George notes the delightful “perspective, lament, gratitude, humor, [and] hope . . . in this wonderful memoir.” Congratulations, David!

Sarah Walden, associate professor of rhetoric in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, is joining with Rob Reed, lecturer in philosophy, and Ezra Choe, theology and philosophy librarian, to co-host The Digital Mind, a new podcast series exploring the ethical implications of technological advancements. Weekly installments begin July 3. Thanks for the initiative and promise of timely understanding reflected in this effort, Sarah!

All the best,

Douglas V. Henry | Dean
Honors College | Baylor University | 254.710.7689