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Time for Change




Nov. 3, 2004

By DAVE CAMPBELL

You are the decision maker for academic services at Baylor and you want to put together the best possible facilities for those students who will need to make the most of them, including the university's 401 scholarship and non-scholarship student-athletes.

So what do you design, knowing that location is also important?

Well, you can begin with the study hall and the tutoring services that you will make available for the student-athletes. There are times (many times) when their use of the study hall and tutoring services is mandatory.

Example: "We require all our incoming freshmen to attend study hall and have access to tutors. They have to achieve a certain GPA not to go to study hall," says Baylor Lady Bear basketball coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson.

Other Baylor coaches have similar requirements.

That being the case, this study hall needs to be located in a warm, spacious, comfortable place conducive for learning, right?

So where do you put it? How about Neill Morris Hall, which used to be the old power plant building over behind Pat Neff Hall. True, the halls are so narrow that two wide-bodied football players might not be able to go down the hall at the same time and the place can get mighty noisy and cramped. But the space is available.

So that's where you put the study hall.

THEN WE NEED a good place for career counseling. That's for all students, not just student-athletes. You decide to put it on the fourth floor of the Robinson Tower over on I-35. That's not necessarily the most convenient place for the students, but that's where you put it.

Now you need a good spot for the Office of Access Learning and Accomodation, which is a fancy name for a place for any student who has any type of learning difficulty can go. An attention disorder, for example. Or a student with dyslexia. That office can render life-changing services for such students. You want to find just the right spot for it.

So you put it in the Speight Avenue Parking Garage.

The parking garage? Right, the parking garage.

Here's another important office you need to get situated: the Office for Academic Advisement. It is for the general student population but especially for freshmen and sophomores. It can be invaluable in helping them get the right classes, determine their majors, etc. You decide to put that office in Morrison Hall in the old Law School Building.

FINALLY, HERE'S a fifth office that badly needs to be in the right place. It is the Office for Academic Support Programs and it is for all students, from freshmen to seniors, who entered the university on a provisional basis or those on academic probation or those having special academic problems.

This office oversees supplemental instruction, which means it includes advanced tutoring or group tutoring. It allows student peer groups to teach and instruct fellow students in courses they currently are taking.

It's an important part of the overall academic services program. So you also locate it on the fourth floor of Robinson Tower, over on I-35.

There, you have all the departments situated and you are pretty pleased with yourself, right?

YOU MOST DEFINITELY should not be.

You have scattered the offices all over the campus. You have put most or all of them in places either difficult to reach or in areas too cramped or not designed to best accommodate the students who have the greatest need for them.

In all truth, you have made a total mess of the assignment.

But I will grant you this: you have put those offices, each and every one of them, in the exact locations that they occupy at Baylor today.

Unbelievable.

It's no wonder, then, that sweeping changes badly need to be made.

It's no wonder that Baylor football coach Guy Morriss says he never takes recruits or the parents of prospective recruits to the Neill Morris Hall where the student-athlete would go to study hall or receive tutoring.

"THAT'S THE ONE thing mamas and papas want to know about, the place where their youngsters can get (academic) help when they need it. That's not just recruits for football, that's for every sport," Morriss said last week.

"But we just try not to show it (the facility) to them. If they ask about it, we try to change the subject. Heck, at the place where our guys get tutoring, it's so narrow that two big guys can't even walk down the hall together.

"I haven't actually seen what schools such as Texas and Texas A&M have for their athletes but I hear they're spacious and appealing.

"I know what they have at Kentucky (his previous head coaching position). It's gorgeous, it's state of the art. You definitely want to make sure the parents see that. It really helped our recruiting at Kentucky.

"It's all just a piece of the puzzle as we try to get the kids in here who can take us to the next level that we're trying to get to. If you have a great place (academic service facilities), it might not land a recruit for you. But it sure can keep you from landing one."

OTHER BAYLOR COACHES echo the thought.

"Our kids say the study hall's too crowded. You hear it all the time. They say they can't get any studying done because it's too crowded, too many people," said Baylor cross country coach Todd Harbour, who appears to be now less than a year away from building a Top 5 or Top 10 women's team at Baylor.

"If we had a new facility, it would definitely help," continued Harbour. "There have been times when I just wouldn't show what we have now to a recruit."

Here's good news for Morriss, Harbour and other Baylor coaches:

A master plan has been developed that would bring the facilities for all of Baylor's academic services to a central location on campus, under one roof (the Sid Richardson Building), and put them in state-of-the-art condition.

That plan has moved beyond the drawing board and has won the approval of Baylor's Board of Regents, providing a signal that strong fund-raising efforts now will go forward at full speed.

THE TOTAL COST of the project: an estimated $5.9 million.

When the necessary funds have been raised or pledged in the capital improvements project (and this project has gained "highest priority" status), and the renovation work on the Sid Richardson Building has been completed, the result will be what Baylor's Dean of Academic Services, Dr. Patricia Tolbert, calls the "Baylor Success Center."

And it will be beyond first class.

Indeed, it will be a facility worth bragging about both for Baylor's student-athletes and the university's general student body, as good or better than what other universities offer.

"We are told that once funds are secured, it could be ready for us within six to nine months," said Dr. Tolbert. "If everything falls into place, we could sure make it happen.

"And it will be a place that coaches will be eager to show off."

For an in-depth look at what that place will look like, and how it will be arranged, see separate story starting on page 13.