Faculty and Students: A Necessary Partnership for Academic Growth

by Kari Rood

As Baylor University entered the 20th century there was a newfound concentration on how collegiate academics could be refocused. The goal was to develop a more holistic understanding of the curriculum. Faculty and students were striving to make learning a more meaningful journey, rather than just a necessary process. The relationship between faculty and students, which was forged to create a more complete web of collegial education, is the foundation from which a new era of learning arose. This connection allowed for courses and academically focused programs to complement one another and further the education of students.

Over the first two decades of the 20th century, Baylor oversaw major growth in their curriculum. These advances can primarily be attributed to the work of the students in literary societies and academic clubs on campus. In the same vein, the evolution of academically focused clubs can be credited to the changes in curriculum made by faculty. This reciprocal relationship between student academic groups and the faculty’s curriculum changes is the reason for academic advances of the Baylor curriculum between 1900 and 1920. This paper explores the early works of literary societies and their effects on other students, as well as how the University’s focus on student efforts helped to advance curriculum and the changes that were made. Finally, the paper displays how the academic societies progressed as a result of those changes.

Work of Literary Societies and Academic Clubs

At Baylor, the literary societies, as well as other academic clubs came into existence as students developed deeper passions for specific subjects. Their purpose served to expand student’s knowledge and understanding of the subjects found within the classrooms.Westbrook states that “Despite their “extracurricular” status and even though they were governed by students, not faculty, literary and debating societies were considered an integral part of the academic curriculum” (342). The faculty required recitations and memorization of different literary compositions and did not provide an outlet for students to develop a connection to the works. Therefore, these academic organizations were born out of a need and became “valuable sources for the enrichment of the curriculum” (Sack, 1961, p. 274, as cited in Westbrook, 2002, p. 342). The students sought, not the do away with the standing curriculum, but to support it, as well as the faculty, in a manner that they saw as most beneficial.

The evidence of this answer to an academic need is shown across several disciplines. In 1900, Baylor had four academic clubs, The Philological club, Historical and Sociological Society, the Scientific and Mathematical Club, and the Philosophical Club (Baylor Bulletin, 1900, pp. 85-86). Inside the department of music, there also existed the Orchestra and Glee Club for accepted students that had a desire to further their musical careers through external performances at the university and around the community with fellow music students (Baylor Bulletin, 1901, p. 83). At the same time, the literary societies at Baylor included the Philomathesian, Erisophian, and Adelphian societies for men and the Calliopean and Rufus C. Burleson societies for women (Baylor Bulletin, 1900, p.84).

The Glee Club showcased their work at the Home Coming celebration.

 

At this time, there was little mention of other student organizations on campus, as students were focused solely on their academics and how they would progress through their collegiate education. Each of the clubs or societies arose out of a unique desire to learn more about one area of discipline. Many of the clubs are different, but all served a similar purpose in enriching the student’s academic experience.

 

Influence of Academic Organizations on Other Students

The academic organizations were used as an extension of the classroom that encouraged students to question and answer issues concerning the subjects they were discovering through their coursework. They formed a new academic and communal life on the campus (Baylor Bulletin, 1901, p. 111). The students participating in the literary societies were clearly passionate about their work; yet another notable group of support was found in the rest of the student body. The students at Baylor held the academic societies close and recognized the vital role they played in furthering the education of Baylor students.

Nothing affords a fairer index to the intellectual life and the social spirit of an institution than the condition of its literary societies… These societies serve to awaken and cultivate literary taste; to drill the student in oral debate and essay writing, and to give a practical knowledge of parliamentary usage. Every student is urged to became an active member of one of these societies (Baylor Bulletin, 1900, p. 84).

The health of these organizations was of primary concern for the students because of the impact they made on academic life.

A deep concern for the well being of these organizations was found in the 1902-1903 school year. The positive benefits of the clubs were well seen by the student body. They were viewed as prominent additions to classroom discussions, as the work of group members also benefitted nonmember students, as well as their classmates. The heightened understanding of the different subjects also promoted a greater push for original work and a passion for university scholarship and spirit (Those clubs, Baylor Lariat, 1902, May 23). In addition, the societies spurred interest in different areas for students to explore. The influence of these organizations was most heavily felt when even the unaffiliated students felt the deficit when many of the groups were not reformed with vigor after only a few years of existence.

The death of these clubs is really more serious than the attitude of the student body seems to indicate. It means that to some extent the love of original investigation and of knowledge for its own value has waned. Moreover, it indicates that either the present student body is incapable of being filled with enthusiasm for a subject by the head of that department, or an incapability or at least a neglect, comes in by some other direction. The clubs did a good work while they existed. It would give life to each department if, with the beginning of next term, the principal of the department would organize and maintain a club devoted to the investigation of questions of that branch of knowledge (Those Clubs, Baylor Lariat, 1902, May 23).

This reaction to the lack of activity from the academic clubs was short lived as they actually reconvened in the next year and began to thrive once again. However, the significance of their presence was felt in their absence.

The students at Baylor, members and nonmembers of the literary societies and academic clubs, saw the benefits of the organizations’ work. As a continuation, the students also showed their support for what the university was doing to advance the curriculum. This was evident at the introduction of Burleson College, a department focused on literature and humanities, when it was received as a welcomed addition by both the faculty and students.

The addition of Burleson College to Baylor created a buzz among the literary societies because their passions would finally be fully explored with more resources and specializations. They hosted a celebration at the beginning of the school year to celebrate with members of the faculty and to strategize about how to make Burleson one of the most prominent colleges in North Texas (Baylor Bulletin, 1900, p. 26). The joint celebration between faculty and students was telling of the great ownership that students had taken in regards to the growth of their curriculum and value of their degrees.

The strength of the literary societies and their active role on campus was due to the drive that students initiated to take ownership of their education. The persistence of the organizations gave way to recognition by the faculty and administration. Ultimately resulting in curriculum changes that reflected the desires of the students.

Focus on Student Efforts to Advance University Curriculum

Throughout the early decades of the 20th century, Baylor University oversaw several impactful shifts in curriculum. During this time, the administration was more vocal about the direction of which they wanted the university to take. The role of faculty in student groups, Dr. Burleson’s desire for academic focus, and Samuel Palmer Brook’s reflection of how to engage the student’s desires, all aided in giving Baylor a stronger sense of direction as they worked to change the direction of the university’s curriculum.

Literary societies, though spearheaded by students, almost always had a strong faculty presence as well. Professors played an active role in helping to develop content for meetings and imparting some of their expertise onto the students. The faculty and student relationships in these groups were unique because students were able to grasp the passion of the faculty members as they lead intellectual discussion on topics of which they were knowledgeable. This opportunity to engage with the group allowed professors “to keep members in touch with the more advanced work in science and mathematics of the present day” (Baylor Bulletin, 1901, p. 112). A professor of the specific courses with which the group affiliated advised each of these academic clubs at their own discretion.

While no credit towards graduation was given, students were awarded the opportunity to speak and express themselves freely in a way that they might not have had otherwise within the confines of a classroom. Testimonies from real life were used, rather than textbook materials, and students were able to apply their learning to their daily walks (The Club Movement, Baylor Lariat, 1900, December 1). The faculty also recognized that these clubs were directly indicative of what students wanted to learn and they leaped at the opportunity to learn from students about what direction the university should take.

The direction remained strictly academic, but would be allowed take on new forms as students became more influential. The desire for the university to be focused solely on the academic progression of the students, founded by the faculty, was echoed from the administration when the previous president, Dr. Burleson wrote a letter for the Baylor Bulletin. The clubs at Baylor were solely used as academic supplements and there seemed to be no great desire to change this trend.

What shall be our policy in regard to social life? We shall have a social life, but mark you, students, the school is for work, and, if you have come here simply to learn how to appear in society, you will find that you have missed your calling, and you had better go to another institution (Baylor Bulletin, 1901, p. 6).

In the time following this declarative purpose, Baylor underwent several shifts in the curriculum that created a stronger bond between the academic curriculum and the academic clubs that supplemented their content.

Several years later, in a speech for the university, Samuel Palmer Brooks spoke out with his passion to “foster culture in freedom and in restraint” (Brooks, 1908). Armstrong and Brooks therefore had similar ambitions for expanding academic influence in students. The aspiration to grow the university and to provide students with an academic experience that would stay with them for the rest of their lives could be well achieved if student participation in the community, during a student’s process of studying, was used as a means to enrich the experience. Continuing over the next twelve years, the Baylor community strove to do just that.

Curriculum Changes

The academic improvements at Baylor were first seen with changes in curriculum. “The faculty of the University have been working for some weeks on the curriculum in order to make it meet the demands of the students and to set our course of study on the same basis with that of the Northern universities” (Baylor Changes Curriculum, 1910, February 11). Each addition was made with intentionality and purpose because the university was focused on the academic desires of the students.

Prior to this new initiative, Baylor had already seen great changes in the Department of Oratory. The department had undergone major renovation and paid specific attention to how the courses could be structured to mirror the efforts of the faculty and the literary societies. “As heretofore especial attention will be given to training in public address and dramatic expression. Courses along these two lines are offered to cover the varying ranges of effort from the first speech in the literary society to the highly polished and argumentative address of the lecturer” (Department of Oratory, Baylor Lariat, 1902, August 15). The department displayed the steps they were taking to allow students to master their subject through different learning methods.

He who would become a master of this new oratory must go farther than memorizing and speaking the productions of Webster, Clay, Burke and Lincoln. Nor must he be content with reducing his random ideas to manuscript and speaking them from memory. He must do more; he must master his subject (Department of Oratory, Baylor Lariat, 1902, August 15).

Success in these arenas would prove to allow for development of the department into a large array of courses over the next decade (Department Of Oratory, Baylor Lariat, 1902, August 15).

Almost ten years later in 1912, Dr. Armstrong returned to Baylor and a major shift had been made in the English curriculum with the structure with which he had helped create. Additional classes were offered in order to reach a wide array of students. Many of the Freshman enrolled in the English courses had the tendency to drop out because they were not sufficiently prepared for the workload and writing proficiency necessary to be successful (Armstrong Papers, Box 4, Folder “Literary Productions: Notes: History: English Department: Baylor University, 1912-1913). Therefore, remedial type classes were formed to help these students to overcome their academic deficiencies in order that they may pursue through to degree completion. On the other hand, Dr. Armstrong created a new course that highlighted the classic literature that was typically forgotten in current curriculum. The study was designed specifically for students that want to delve deeper into influential literature. The aid and commentary of Dr. Armstrong helped them to learn (Armstrong Papers, Box 4, Folder “Literary Productions: Notes: History: English Department: Baylor University: (1 of 2), 1915-1916).

A display of the work of Dr. Armstrong’s pupils.

Progress of Academic Societies and Clubs as a Result of Curricular Advances

The university administration was focused on academic advancement. The faculty desired to teach students more about their specialized subjects and the students wanted to learn more and apply their education outside of the classroom.

Only a few years ago Baylor’s curriculum was enlarged, extended, and given scope and character elective work. The fruition of this has been specialization of work and organization of clubs devoted to investigations related to the special work of the club… Of these the Historical and Sociological was the pioneer and its sound work established the proof of club benefit (The Club Movement, Baylor Lariat, 1900, December 1).

The clubs and courses with which they aligned began creating more student productions and participating in different functions that expanded their influence on students.

The additions of new courses in the Department of Oratory raised student literary productions from “speaking pieces” to “masterpieces” (Department of Oratory, Baylor Lariat, 1902 August 15). The level of eloquence raised by these works allowed students to develop interpersonally as well. An example of these productions was seen in “The Baylor Literary.” The Philomathesian and the Erisophian Societies produced this compilation of student works. This production provided an outlet for students to develop their skills and be published for future use in their careers (Baylor Bulletin, 1901, p. 115). “Its purpose is to furnish to every student a means for the expression and cultivation of literary talent” (Baylor Bulletin, 1901, p.115).

Another major addition was found in 1910 when the National Speech Arts Association meeting, controlled by Professor J. F. Beckwith, began. This program was in conjunction with the changes in the English curriculum. “Co-ordination of the work in public speaking with other courses in the college curriculum, especially with courses in English and more especially with courses in the writing of debates and of speeches be encouraged so that there may be a closer union of the spoken and the written word” (Beckwith, 1910, July 30). The meetings served a dual purpose of providing a social outlet for students, but controlled the environment through a focus on improving student’s speech and debate skills.

In the following years, Baylor offered the first Journalism class in the state of Texas. Armstrong outlined the structure of the course, “In addition to the work in the text, daily assignments were given the members of the class. The plan for class read: “The class as a whole will meet at least once a week, go on a hike for news, to visit some manufacturing establishment, some unusual architectureal work under progress or the like and give individual write-ups of their inspection” (Armstrong Papers, Box 4, Folder “Literary Productions: Notes: History: English Department: Baylor University, 1912-1913). The students were also required to publish a small newspaper that would be distributed at different universities and with other literary publications. This assignment was renowned around Texas and showed the importance of learning beyond the classroom. In a 1913 issue of the Baylor Lariat, the response of the students to the new journalism echoed those of the greater Texas community. The student body received the addition well and looked forward the opportunity to make it a part of piece of their elective work (Baylor Lariat, 1913, January 4).

The new courses, meetings, and publications provided several avenues for students to make progress in their studies. Each outlet was available for the students to take advantage. However, these opportunities only extended to the students that sought out membership and participation in these different outlets. Without those students that were eager to learn and organize these meetings and publications, the publication would seek to exist.

Conclusion

The bidirectional influences of faculty and staff at Baylor University between 1900 and 1920 generated positive advances for both academic curriculum and the literary societies and academic clubs on campus. The work of the literary organizations ignited a desire for the entire student body to channel their academic focus in such a way that more than memorization could be gained during college. Curriculum shifts were made because students demonstrated their desire to learn more about their curricular courses beyond recitation and faculty were willing to aid in these advances. Finally, academic clubs and literary societies blossomed as a result of the new courses that were offered. The strong connection between learning inside and outside of the classroom is a result of the partnership created between faculty and students. The relationship allowed for the expansion of holistic academic learning at Baylor University between 1900 and 1920.

 

References

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Westbrook, B.E.. (2002). Debating Both Sides: What Nineteenth-Century College Literary Societies Can Teach Us about Critical Pedagogies. Rhetoric Review, 21:4, pp.339-356. Advance online publication. doi. 10.1207/S15327981RR2104_2

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