In defense of University Scholars

I am writing in response to “University Scholars needs tweak,” which ran on March 4, in The Lariat. Several University Scholars have been in my courses.

I disagree strongly with the characterization of University Scholars as promoting laziness among its students, allowing them to “cop-out” of “difficult courses” required by other majors.

University Scholars are a distinguished group of students, which I have recruited to participate in my own research and excavations.

I, and many of my colleagues, yearn to have more of these bright students in our classes.

I find that the Scholars are among the most eager for knowledge.

Surely, there may be a few Scholars who are more adept than others, but can one not say that of the traditional majors?

I frequently turn to the Scholars in seminars when it appears that everyone else has not completed the assigned readings. I have not observed University Scholars avoiding challenging courses as the editorial alleges.

Instead, the driving force behind most University Scholars is a sincere hunger for knowledge and expansion of their intellectual prowess, unlike some students who prefer to take a class because it is “easier.”

In fact, many Scholars have studied multiple languages, not just the minimum required for a B.A. degree.

The freedom given to Scholars works because of their genuine passion for their studies; that passion and deep intellectual curiosity is a quality that is lacking among a portion of the general student body.

The editorial also criticizes the latitude University Scholars have to select their classes. This is a strength of the program.

Advisers steer them towards rigorous classes suited to their interests; the students rely not only their advisers, but actively seek mentors from among the faculty, a testament to their curiosity, drive and determination.

As a specialist in Roman art and archaeology, I understand the value of interdisciplinary education.

Many of the Scholars in my classes conduct work in classics and art history, among other disciplines.

These Scholars are well prepared for advanced work because of their freedom to select courses from across disciplines.

If they do not wish to pursue advanced study, they will be more reflective, critical, and self-aware individuals having studied languages, texts, history, and material and visual culture.

And that ability for reflection, critical thought, and self-awareness is the measure of a liberal arts education.
Nathan T. Elkins, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Art History, Greek and Roman Art

The University Scholars program does allow Baylor students to take challenging courses from different departments to develop unique courses of study, but students in the program are not exactly “given free reign as to what courses to take.”

Scholars are thoroughly advised by excellent Baylor faculty who help them plan their schedules and direct them to take on challenging classes in areas of academic interest.

Many Scholars even pick up additional advisers and mentors in their concentrations as their time at Baylor progresses.

Additionally, University Scholars are required to fulfill several difficult secondary requirements during their time at Baylor.

These include compiling and completing an independent reading list, fulfilling all requirements and course credits for honors students, taking a higher required course load than average students, maintaining a higher GPA than average students, and most intensively, writing a senior thesis.

If a student simply wanted to avoid difficult classes, choosing a program with all of these additional requirements would be a very foolish way to do so.

Suggesting that students use the University Scholars program as a “fancified general studies degree” to avoid taking difficult courses is misinformed, and frankly insulting to all of my fellow Scholars that work hard and challenge themselves with such a demanding academic course of study.

Connor Mighell
Dallas junior

“Abuse does not negate use,” and often, it seems that perhaps the very occasion for abuse parallels an equal opportunity for truly significant use. For some reason, it does seem that reward and risk are interminably linked, and that may be the biggest flaw in the University Scholars Program: for once, educational ends are not purely utilitarian, and furthermore, opportunity finally, rightfully rests on the backs of the receivers rather than on those to whom they have proffered their freedom.

Once upon a time, young, bright minds loved learning. The first “schools” were formed by those who by very definition loved wisdom, the philosophers. Some of the disciplines studied by these ancient intellectuals were mathematics, biology, philosophy, rhetoric and literature.
Students studied in all of these areas because they were capable and they loved to learn. This is the first assumption of the University Scholars Program: a University Scholar loves to learn and has earned the opportunity to pursue this learning under his own command.

This can obviously be terribly frustrating to those enamored with the cultural mandate that demands dollars and cents on the back end of every exchange. It may even be more frustrating to those who have little to no choice in the courses they take.

We can only imagine how difficult it must be to generate passion when a course is mandated from above; we too would be bitter.

As Kant said, “it is because of laziness and cowardice that so great a part of humankind, after nature has long since emancipated them from other people’s direction, nevertheless gladly remain minors for life, and that it becomes so easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians.”
This describes quite clearly the obvious appeal of traditional majors; they provide direction from above, security from outside, and comfort from within. It is easy to go through an entire collegiate career and question nothing.

For a University Scholar, this is impossible. Every moment is filled with anticipation; a University Scholar stands upon his own two feet.
He cannot count on the name of his degree, and he is guaranteed nothing, nothing except the quality of the education that he himself has run down.

In open defiance of “self-incurred minority,” a University Scholar has seized for himself the opportunity to shape himself as he sees fit, to bear the full responsibility of his actions.

So yes, it is possible to avoid tough classes and receive a subpar education, but we say, “more power to he who chooses this road.” For at the end of the day, he has hurt only himself.

We have elected to take a different route. We have buried ourselves in the depths of the rigors that Baylor University has to offer, and we have not shied from terrifying classes.

Actually, between the two of us, some of our favorite courses have been organic chemistry, physics and the great texts. At the very least, these are challenging; at most, these may be some of the toughest available courses.

Though the title “University Scholar” may seem pretentious, in fact, it represents a noble and realistic pursuit: we who are capable and passionate about interdisciplinary studies will seek out those classes which will form us, challenge us, and drive us on to greater keenness of the mind and awareness of the world. Though our beginnings are filled with confusion — university is both overwhelming and unfamiliar — we always push forward.

The average University Scholar arrives on campus with an interest and drive for learning that quickly outpaces his or her fellow students.
We are driven, passionate and aggressive. We like arguments, intellectual fistfights and late nights at the library. We may have the chance to squander what we have been given, but when have we ever defined anything by the rarest of exceptions?

If this were the case, we wouldn’t even have dictionaries. You may be able to find University Scholars that have wasted their opportunity, but at the very least, we can say that we have pushed the limits of what Baylor University has to offer, and we aren’t done yet.

Jake Surges and Jacob Blythe
Gilberts, Ill., junior and Colorado Springs, Colo., senior