- An Act of Providence: A History of Houston Baptist University, 1960–2010
Don Looser’s labor of love, An Act of Providence: A History of Houston Baptist University, 1960–2010, serves as an encyclopedic account of the first fifty years of the university. Looser refers to the history of the school in biblical terms: “It is a story of faith; it is a story of confidence; it is a story of inspiration; it is a story of courage. More than anything it is a story of Providence” (1). Looser, the vice president emeritus of Houston Baptist University, clearly has a passion for the institution, and he casts the school’s history as a vibrant creation story in which a seedling idea sprouted into a dynamic metropolitan university.
Looser traces the institution’s history chronologically, culling information from board meeting minutes and school publications. Chartered in 1960 and intended to be a “Christian Rice,” the school opened as Houston Baptist College in 1963. From its inception, the primary educational focus was the promotion of Christian values. The college originally offered a strong liberal arts curriculum with many required core classes team taught by professors from different fields. As the school sought to be more competitive, however, the liberal arts program requirements were altered to accommodate transfer students, and they added professional majors like accounting. Although its original charter emphasized the importance of focusing on undergraduate education, Houston Baptist began offering master’s level classes in the late 1970s, which eventually accounted for almost a third of the total student population.
An Act of Providence thoroughly chronicles development campaigns, land sales, fundraising dinners, guest lectures, salary increases, administrative appointments, and honorary degree recipients. In addition, the book’s sections on the construction of each building and the achievements of the university’s three presidents, W. [End Page 325] H. Hinton, Dough Hodo, and Robert B. Sloan, offer insight into how the university broadened its reputation while retaining a religious core. Looser also features the university’s students, paying special attention to student accomplishments in sports, debate, music, and mock trial.
Despite its almost six hundred pages of exhaustive detail, the book lacks stories. Many of the work’s paragraphs are merely lists of names strung together. In his honorable effort to include everyone who contributed to the success of the university, Looser allows minutia to detract from his main themes of institution building, dedication, faith, and sacrifice. This is most apparent in the sections on students. Looser records statistical reports on the average HBU student, and he notes the names of golf champions and student newspaper editors, but he offers limited glimpses of them as people. A few profiles of individuals such as Steven Kinnet, the one-legged gymnast who competed in the national championships, or Bertha Wilson, the school’s beloved cook, communicate the spirit of the university more effectively than the lengthy sections on real estate development.
Despite its limitations, the book undoubtedly will interest graduates of Houston Baptist University. Those with some familiarity of the people and places depicted will no doubt appreciate Looser’s painstaking attention to detail. In addition, the work has many black and white photos as well as some color plates showing the campus and its luminaries. Houston natives will appreciate the sections highlighting the city’s growth. The work also provides useful information on the organizational structures of Baptist higher education such as the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Southern Baptist Convention.