Rosalie Beck, Baylor’s first female faculty professor in religion department to retire

Dr. Rosalie Beck, the first female religion professor at Baylor, will retire this May, leaving an impactful legacy on Baylor history. Photo courtesy of Baylor University.

Lexi Donnel | Reporter

During a time when Southern Baptists were debating whether or not women could teach or have any authority over men, Dr. Rosalie Beck was hired to become the first female faculty member in Baylor’s department of religion in 1984. She will end her journey here at Baylor, as she plans to retire in May.

Beck was hired back when Baylor was trying to switch from trustees to regents. The trustee system gave the Texas Baptist’s 100 percent control over who was hired as trustees. In the new system, they would only have 25 percent control of choosing the regents.

“There was a lot of anger directed toward Baylor, a lot of lies told by various groups about what type of religion was being taught,” Beck said. “Professors were being accused of throwing Bible’s across the room and saying this is just a collection of books.”

Due to an increased number of freshman, Beck taught as a graduate assistant while she was working on her dissertation. During the spring of 1984, she was asked to join the faculty as a lecturer, teaching four freshman classes a semester.

“One of the major issues that was a point of conflict between the emerging conservative faction and the moderate faction in the Southern Baptist Convention was over the issue of women teaching men,” Beck said.

Beck said the concern was mainly over women ministers preaching like a pastor, but there was also unease over a woman teaching religion at a college level, giving her authority over her male students. Some opposed to women teaching men have these beliefs because of 1 Timothy 2:12 which is attributed to Paul, saying he does not give women authority over a man and she should stay silent.

“Dr. Herbert Reynolds was the president at that time and he was very much in favor of women in religion and women in ministry. He was willing to go out on a limb even though Baylor was the target for so much criticism as a result of its position as the world’s largest Baptist University,” Beck said. “He went to bat for me he called the chair of the trustees who was a pastor in Houston at that time, and said, ‘the religion department wants to hire this young scholar as a lecturer. She’ll finish her dissertation and graduate in August and we would like her to start teaching in the end of August as a faculty member.”’

Beck said the chair of trustees asked Reynolds only two questions, neither of which pertained to her teaching abilities or scholarship. First, he asked if she was ordained, then he asked if she wanted to be ordained. Beck believes if the answer had been “yes” to either of those questions, the chair of trustees would not have supported her nomination to join the faculty.

Beck thinks the reason the department took the risk of hiring her was because she had completed her PhD at the university and taught freshmen classes for three years while she was finishing her dissertation. Beck said for that she is eternally grateful that Baylor took a chance on her.

Beck finds the most rewarding aspect of her job is God changing students’ lives through her. She gets great joy from teaching female students who grew up in churches where no leadership positions available to women. These student say, “You know? I can do that.” She said she not only feels joy when students become interested in religion, but also when they pursue subjects they were never encouraged to join such as medicine.

“To have a role model who looks like they look, and functions as a professional at a professional level, says to them, ‘you can do this,’ This is not an area from which you are restricted, ” Beck said.

Mackenzie Gamel, an Austin sophomore is currently taking Beck’s Women in Christian History class. Gamel described Beck as progressive in her views toward everyone.

“She seeks to understand how Jesus understood women and how theologians understood women, and the role they played in history and Christian history specifically,” Gamel said.

Gamel’s friend who took Beck’s Christian Heritage class strongly recommended that Gamel should choose Beck as her instructor. Her friend told Gamel that in her Christian Heritage class, Beck would list women in each era and tell her class the accomplishments of those women.

Gamel said that one time in the Women in Christian History class, Beck invited women who had just co-written a book to talk to the class. After the class had ended, some of the students stayed behind and talked to these women, because of this, Beck suggested they all go to lunch. She then took them to the faculty dining hall to continue the discussion. Gamel said she is happy she chose to take the class with Beck especially since this is Beck’s last semester before she retires.

If you have the opportunity to meet Beck or if you are currently taking one of her classes, ask her why was Nehemiah sad? before she retires this upcoming May.