W aco once billed itself as "the Athens of Texas," but it is difficult to escape the impression that its best days are past. Its 22-story Alico Building, a Beaux Arts structure completed in 1910, was once the tallest building west of the Mississippi. The Alico survived the tornado that swept through downtown Waco in 1953, but little else did. Wacoans' urban renewal efforts notwithstanding, when you stroll through the downtown streets you almost expect to hear a movie director shout, "Cue the tumbleweeds!"
From the top of the Alico Building you can survey the signposts of central Texas—the McClennan County courthouse to the west, the rodeo grounds to the south, and just a few blocks away, hard by Interstate 35 and the Brazos River, the large golden dome of Baylor University's sports facility, the Ferrell Center. The campus bustles nearby.
Baylor, which already bills itself as the largest Baptist university in the world, has even bigger ambitions. In the words of the school's president, Baylor aspires to be "the finest Christian institution of higher learning on this planet." This is Texas, after all, so nothing is quite so important as scale. And Baylor has a plan—specifically, a 42-page document that articulates a vision and outlines a strategy to achieve it by 2012. "Within the course of a decade, Baylor intends to enter the top tier of American universities while reaffirming and deepening its distinctive Christian mission," reads the plan, called Baylor 2012. It rejects the notion that "intellectual excellence" and "intense faithfulness to the Christian tradition" are mutually exclusive, although it notes that not many universities ...1