Baylor Arts & Sciences magazine: Checking In with Former Deans

By Julie Carlson and Randy Fiedler

Three former deans of Baylor University’s College of Arts & Sciences are alive and quite active today. In this installment of Our Back Pages, we check in with John Belew, William Cooper and Wallace Daniel to find out what projects and interests they are now pursuing.

John S. Belew
(Associate dean, 1973-1974; Dean, 1974-1979)

It’s almost impossible to find a time in the past 60 years when Dr. John Belew has not been involved with Baylor University.

Belew comes from a family that has sent four generations of students to the university. He earned a BS in chemistry from Baylor in 1941, then came back to join the chemistry faculty in 1956. After a short stint as associate dean, Belew became Arts & Sciences dean in 1974 and later served as provost, vice president of academic affairs and the Jo Murphy Chair in International Education.

Belew’s wife Ruth, who died in 2014, spent 25 years as a lecturer in the Baylor theatre arts department before her retirement.

Now 96 years old, Belew has the energy of a much younger man. He stays busy maintaining his farm west of Waco in McGregor, and many weeks he can be found enjoying the lunch buffet with friends at McGregor’s Coffee Shop Café. He stays up with current events, follows Baylor athletics and keeps in touch with his former colleagues as much as possible.

In retirement, Belew is able to devote more time to his passion for reading.

“I continue to take the Chronicle of Higher Education and my chemistry professional journals, and I do a lot of reading of things I didn’t have time to read before –– world literature in translation and the classics I never found the opportunity to read. I’ve tried to catch up on those things,” he said.

Having spent many years as a university administrator, Belew maintains a close watch on developments in education around the globe.

“I have a compelling interest in the quality of American higher education, which is high,” he said. “The world acknowledges we have an excellent educational system, but I am interested in whether our universities are maintaining a leadership role –– not for the sake of being number one, but for the sake of continuing to give our students a quality experience.”

Belew also makes time for his hobbies, which include photography, gardening and book collecting. But does he ever miss teaching?

“I still wonder whether it was a mistake to leave the classroom,” Belew said. “I have a feeling that administrators should possibly retain some teaching obligations in order to stay abreast of the nature of students because students change over the years. But I do miss teaching.”

William F. Cooper
(Dean, 1987-1996)

Dr. William Cooper might be listed as a retired faculty member, but you would never guess it. He serves on various Baylor committees and has maintained a rigorous teaching schedule.

Each spring, Cooper alternates teaching either East Asian philosophy or Latin American philosophy at Baylor. He also teaches a Biblical heritage course and a Capstone course for the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, as well as a course on literary and philosophical implications on the practice of medicine for the medical humanities program.

He also shares his experience and expertise with the College of Arts & Sciences as a member of both the Core Curriculum Committee and the Board of Advocates.

“Every 10 years, the university studies the core curriculum and looks at changes that should be made,” Cooper said. “This dovetails nicely with the Arts & Sciences Board of Advocates, which is a sounding board with alumni. We ask for their perspective on what students should know when they graduate. The world has changed so much, especially in terms of technology and a global dimension, and our courses need to reflect that.”

Cooper indulges his love of learning when he and his wife, Thelma, who taught in Baylor’s School of Music, spend nine weeks each summer in New York at Chautauqua. It’s a community experience that offers artistic and educational opportunities to participants.

“We leave Waco in early June and stay until September. It is just delightful. They have a pottery studio and I work with clay, making bowls and plates. I also have taken up woodworking and took a workshop on chair making. I have made eight chairs,” Cooper said. “When we are in Waco, we also take time to attend the various lectures and concerts that Baylor offers. All these ongoing activities greatly enhance the quality of life.”

Wallace L. Daniel
(Dean, 1996-2005)

Dr. Wallace Daniel, who served as chair of Baylor’s history department before becoming Arts & Sciences dean, continues his scholarly research on the people and events of a country very much in the news –– Russia. Daniel, who became provost of Mercer University in 2005 and is now the Distinguished University Professor of History, recently authored Russia’s Uncommon Prophet: Father Aleksandr Men and His Times.

To research the subject, Daniel made 10 trips to Russia, gathering materials and interviewing people who knew Men, a brilliant Russian Orthodox priest. He also interviewed Men’s brother and son, the latter who serves in the Russian government.

“In my writing, I try to bring forth people and events that have often gone overlooked, but deserve broader recognition for the light they shine on current issues of importance. It is the commitment to these stories that led me to Aleksandr Men, possibly Russia’s most outstanding religious figure in the second half of the 20th century,” Daniel said. “Men’s parish became a magnet for the Russian intelligentsia. He was a prolific writer whose books were never published officially during his lifetime in the former Soviet Union, but they still came to be widely known. He was killed in September 1990 at the height of his popularity –– and that murder has never been solved. Men’s teachings and writings offer an unusual perspective on Russia and also on problems we presently face.”

The research intrigued Daniel so much that he now is working on a related project –– the translation of the memoirs of two remarkable women, Aleksandr Men’s “aunt” and mother, both of whom belonged to the “catacomb church” during the darkest years of the former Soviet Union.

“Their memoirs offer an intimate picture of family life, religious commitment, and society during Stalinist times,” Daniel said.

6 Responses

  1. Laurie Miller Smith at |

    I am the daughter of Ann Miller and
    Dr ROBERT Miller a d grew up a double faculty child.
    I know all these names.
    The Belews were good friends of my parents.
    I will say that I have never had a professor, fittting into the same ranks of “Beyond Incredible”, as my Uncle James Vardaman until I was in courses of the magnificent Wallace Daniel. He brought it all alive and a great person!!!!
    My husband of many years,
    Pat Smith,who passed away this year,
    relished in the courses and company of both my Uncle James and
    Wallace Daniel.

  2. Donna Enochs at |

    Laurie, you mother, Ann made a huge impact in my life. She taught me to think, to learn, and to study in a way I never had done before. Even at my age of 66, I still remember this lady who challenged me more than anyone else in my life. Very thankful for her and my years at Baylor!


      So to hear from my Mother’s former students at Baylor!!!
      She had the guts of the true art of teaching, in her soul.
      The things my Mothers former students didn’t know is what poverty and deprivation she came from. She and her 4 brothers even lived in an orphanage for a while.
      Every single one of them high ranking educators and a physician.
      I feel as if I have heard your name but was your name in when in Baylor.

  3. Lucy Lee at |

    These are all wonderful people who embody the best of Baylor. Just a small correction: my uncle is John Belew, and my grandchildren are the sixth generation of the Belew family to attend Baylor. My uncle may have left the classroom, but he continues to teach. Our entire family as well as his many, many friends learn new ideas and information from him every time we are blessed to be with him. What a strong and magnificent legacy he as well as Bill and Wallace are leaving with the entire extended Baylor family!

  4. Chris Kelver at |

    I took Dr. Cooper’s East Asian Philosophy and Latin American Philosophy courses. We learned an immense amount of philosophy and history. Class would meet twice a week for 2 hours, and we had only 8 students. Dr. Cooper arms his students with sharp investigation and reasoning skills, and leaves the students with a lot of liberty to delve into their own interests within each topic. I was fortunate to live all over Spain and China after graduating, and wow did these courses give me enormous perspective. The Baylor Philosophy program is top notch. Going to continue in my studies while working. Thank you Dr. Cooper!

  5. […] Baylor Arts & Sciences Magazine caught up with Belew in 2017, when — at age 96 — he was “busy maintaining his farm west of Waco in McGregor,” keeping up with friends and former BU colleagues, and reading. […]

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