By Joshua Donath
Throughout history, colleges and universities have sought to create an experience that is conducive to educating students. This pursuit results in a vast array of curricula and programs that gradually change over time as educators discover innovative ways to enhance their approach. During the 1921-1930 era, academic institutions began to consider ways they could better assimilate students into their college’s community and the academic rigor of higher education (Brooks, 1928). Baylor University responded to this concern by implementing an Orientation Week in 1926 and then an orientation course in 1928 (Allen, 1928; Armstrong, 1926). The Orientation Week involved the addition of a two day program at the beginning of the academic year and the course consisted of a year-long series of classes dedicated to the adjustment of first-year students (Armstrong, 1926; Brooks, 1928-1929). The rationale for creating Baylor’s orientation efforts was to cultivate students who recognize themselves as citizens with a civic responsibility. This goal is evident through the reasoning behind the program’s development, its structure, and students’ reflections on it.
The development of an orientation week and course was not unique to Baylor. Many colleges and universities sought to address the concern of adequately preparing students for their academic and social pursuits during their time in higher education around this period. Orientation efforts for first-year students originated as early as 1878 by the YMCA. In 1923, the University of Maine held the first orientation week sponsored by an institution, which closely modeled the programs created by the YMCA (Finnegan & Alleman, 2013). By 1928, at least 57 institutions had implemented orientation courses, and 122 schools were in the process of or at least interested in creating an orientation course (Brooks, 1928). Correspondence between President Brooks and Long Island University as well as the University of Chicago evidences that there was a national conversation surrounding the subject (Brooks, 1928a, 1928b).
Because of the varied reasons behind implementing such a course, it is important to examine the reasoning behind Baylor’s decision for undertaking such an endeavor. W. S. Allen stated in his Report of the Dean in the Baylor Bulletin,
It is hoped that by the above plan freshmen will become better acquainted with each other and with faculty members; that they will fit more easily into the life of the University; that they will enter more readily into serious and effective study; that the usual discouragement and failures will be eliminated; and that the entire institution will be helped (1926, p. 11).
Clearly the college was concerned with students’ social adjustment as well as academics. This report discussed the two day program established in the Fall Quarter of 1926.
In 1928, the Dean of Students, W. S. Allen, posed additional concerns. Apparently he saw two days as inadequate to address the barriers facing first-year students since he requested an entire course on the matter. The course would meet once a week for 30 weeks and be implemented in the Fall Quarter of 1928. Dean Allen (1928) also proposed that President Brooks instruct the course because of his extensive teaching experience, love of students, and understanding of domestic and international issues. He saw the course as necessary to address the problems of adaptation to course-load, study habits, co-curricular activities, formation of friendships, vocational decisions, time-management, discernment of significant current-issues, and financial responsibility (Allen, 1928). This request seemed to demonstrate that Baylor was shifting to provide more assistance for students’ transition. Students were no longer left to depend on their own initiative and that of classmates and faculty, but Baylor was seeking a more systematic process to ensure the success of all its students.
On January 21, 1926 the faculty voted in support of founding Orientation Week. First-year students were scheduled to arrive three days before Baylor opened to the rest of its student body (Armstrong, 1926). On the Friday of the weekend orientation covered, a preliminary registration and lecture by President Brooks titled “Traditions and Ideals of Baylor” were held. Later that afternoon the student would receive an address from the Dean of the College on the importance of striving towards an excellent education. The following day involved a psychological test, advisor meetings, and then a reception hosted by the President and faculty. The conclusion of the orientation consisted of a musical program performed by local churches for the students (Armstrong, 1926). Orientation Week was just the beginning of initiatives established for first-year students by Baylor.
The Orientation Week itself stayed relatively standard for the next few years (“FreshmenOrientation,” 1929), but President Brooks planned to expand orientation services into the rest of the year. Brooks held a long history at Baylor: despite dropping out of school at 14 to become a railroad hand, in 1887 he enrolled in the preparatory department and eventually received his degree in 1893 (Baker, 1987). He then pursued another degree at Yale, taught at McKinney College, and then joined Baylor as a faculty member in 1895 until he return to Yale in 1901 for graduate studies. In April of 1902, the trustees selected Brooks as the only candidate for the Baylor presidency. He won through unanimous vote and traveled from Connecticut four days later to accept (Baker, 1987). His history of hard work and strong academic pursuits is reflected in the rigor with which he sought to boost the financial and academic condition of Baylor University.
One of his foci was to increase enrollment through more rigorous academic qualifications for admittance. Several years later he sought to improve the quality of the experience students would have. Not only was Orientation Week established, but in 1928 Brooks succeeded in creating an orientation course, which he would administer himself (Allen, 1928). The course would last the entire year and encompass the following course topics: two classes on Baylor and Waco history; five classes titled Man’s Earliest Desires with the subtitles of physical, economical, social, intellectual, the beautiful; two classes on selecting one’s vocation; and four classes teaching the subject of Social Law and Order; as well as other subjects (Brooks, 1928-1929). These subjects, as well as other orientation materials, provide valuable insight into what Baylor saw as essential for students being educated at the university.
Additional items from orientation demonstrate other points of emphasis. One of these is the Serviceable Memory booklet, which is wholly dedicated to explaining how students should mentally approach their work. The document is described as “An exercise in memory training suitable for orientation of college freshmen” (Seashore, n.d.). The purpose of the booklet is to encourage students to actively engage in their academic work. It discourages them from leaving the development of their thinking to chance, and instead to create habits of learning that will allow them to retain the most relevant information. The focus is not simply on storing knowledge, but to create a framework of relationships between the knowledge being learned. At the end of each section the final point is to practice (Seashore, n.d.). Even with the strong emphasis on the discipline students should possess, they are encouraged to rest because “It is a familiar fact that we can recall best when the mind is fresh after rest. It is good economy to take a period of rest before a pending serious tax of the memory” (Seashore, n.d., p. 24). This series of practical advice shows the value Baylor placed in preparing first-year students for the coursework that lay ahead of them.
Leading up to the implementation of Orientation Week as well as the orientation course at Baylor there was very little discussion of them from students. After the creation of Orientation Week though, student peers (sophomore, junior, senior) seemed to have a positive outlook on its benefit for first-year students. Writers of the Lariat believed it was important for passing on the traditions of Baylor as well as assisting in their registration for classes (The Lariat, 1926, August 12). There almost seem to be hints of pride in its establishment as well. Students understood that it was the first of its kind in Texas and one of the first initiatives in the nation (The Lariat, 1926, September 17). One article took special note that the implementation followed soon after eastern colleges instituted similar initiatives; thus, it viewed Baylor as keeping pace with national trends (The Lariat, 1926, September 23).
Student peers also saw the benefits of creating an orientation course. They noted that other colleges were trying the course as well. The Lariat perceived it as beneficial because it provided freshmen with a holistic view of their academics (The Lariat, 1925, February 18). Overall, the attitude towards freshmen was one of welcoming and acceptance. Student peers viewed Baylor as “…a place where homesickness will be cut to the minimum, where men and women are taken at their face value…”(The Lariat, 1927, September 20, p.2). Naturally, an initiative that promoted such a spirit was commended by students. One student even voiced that they thought seniors, professors, and trustees should have an orientation (The Lariat, 1927, January 10).
Students’ opinions on orientation closely reflected the attitude President Brooks held. The Lariat informed freshmen that Baylor provided them with the opportunity of an excellent education, but whether or not they left with one depended on their personal effort (The Lariat, 1926, September 17). In several editions of the Lariat, portions of speeches Brooks gave during orientation week were printed. He was not subtle in his efforts to convey to freshmen how they should approach college. Freshmen were told in one address that they should not regard themselves as better than others because of the attention they received in their hometown paper for their admittance to Baylor, and they should instead simply seek to enjoy their experience with other Baylor students (The Lariat, 1927, September 20). Even more directly, Brooks informed students, “If you did not want to come and you will not work hard, then you ought to retire now. By all means do not register” (The Lariat, 1926, September 17, p.1). He followed this statement with the encouragement that they would see benefits from hard work. He also communicated to the students that their teachers are there to partner with them, but not to indulge their every need (The Lariat, 1926, September 17). The students and president at Baylor perceived college as a serious pursuit.
The Brooks Perspective
As evidenced thus far, Baylor students, faculty, and staff saw the orientation week and orientation course as filling certain needs for first-year students. Several issues facing first-year students were provided as reasons for its implementation. The two initiatives may have also been responses to other influences. In 1924 Baylor enrolled 200 more freshmen than the year before (The Lariat, 1924, September 24). This may have compelled administrators to consider how they could more effectively assimilate a growing number of Baylor students into the college environment.
Although this reason is a plausible explanation for the creation of the orientation week and course, there is an ideology held about students that undergirds the university’s response to the perceived need. This perception seems to be driven by President Brooks. It is thus important to explore who Brooks thought its students were and what they should become. He was not simply concerned with developing students intellectually, but wanted to train students’ minds to enable them to serve in a purposeful way. Brooks desired to educate students to become responsible citizens who would thoughtfully engage with the issues of society. There are a few ways this aim is evident.
The most apparent of these is the course created by President Brooks. As previously stated, the course subjects consisted of Baylor and Waco history; selecting one’s vocation; and four classes teaching the subjects of Social Law and Order; a series titled Man’s Earliest Desires with the subsections named physical, economical, social, intellectual, the beautiful (Brooks, 1928-1929). One class even addressed eugenics, improving the human race through the selective reproduction of certain genetic qualities. The array of classes reveals interesting patterns. The classes explaining the history of Baylor and Waco helped the students understand the local context they had just entered. Following this were subjects that encouraged students to explore what it meant to be human. With this established, the classes that proceeded seem to promote the students’ understanding of government and society and their influence on the students’ lives. Here the goal is not simply students obtaining knowledge, but critically applying it to the world around them. The orientation classes provide a context in which students can understand what they are learning and to prepare them to engage the society in which they live.
This goal for students is further illustrated in the reasoning behind why the faculty selected President Brooks to teach the orientation course. He was chosen because of his experience as a teacher and understanding of national and world issues (Allen, 1928). Not only did brooks excel as an instructor, but he understood the world in which he lived. His goal for Baylor students was further exemplified in one of his speeches where he states that instead of wasting their college years, students should engage in their studies in order to “grow into men and women of merit and strength for service to the world…” (The Lariat, 1926, September 17, p.1). His understanding of the relationship between academics and societal issues was critical for him to educate students to be citizens who could apply their knowledge to the society they lived in.
Brooks observed a need to further assist incoming students during their transition to college life. He responded by implementing an orientation week and then creating orientation course soon after. These initiatives were designed to convey the goal of Brooks for Baylor’s graduates: to become educated citizens who would thoughtfully engage and impact the society in which they resided. Supporting this goal were the topics of the orientation course which provided the foundation of the history of their current context, humanity, and democratic society. All other learning would build upon the foundation these subjects set. This course was complimented by Brooks’ presence in orientation week. His background in education and understanding of societal issues significantly benefited him when supporting students in their pursuit of a successful education at Baylor. His drive inspired students to follow the ideals that he embodied throughout their time at Baylor.
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