By Dr. Avin Brownlee
I first stepped onto the HBU campus in early March of 1973. I had “sorta been invited” by Dr. H. B. Smith, Vice- President for Academic Affairs and I sort of invited myself. To Dr. Smith, this was just a visit, but to me, it was a job interview. One of the first things I noticed was a plaque on his office wall. This plaque was the University Seal: a cross lying over an open Bible with the scripture John 14:6 written beneath and encircled by the words: Houston Baptist University Texas 1960.
Two weeks later, I was back on campus for a real job interview which ended in the office of Dr. William H. Hinton, University President. As I was escorted into the president’s office, I saw the seal again, first as a relatively large statue on a table against the back wall and again, engraved into the front of the presidential desk. During the interview, Dr. Hinton handed me a University catalog and told me to open the front cover and read the University Mission Statement (there was the University Seal again, inside the front cover). Dr. Hinton emphasized the Christian nature of the University and certainly made it clear that nothing would ever be more important to the University than its Christian foundation and mission. He also stressed that all faculty and staff must be professing Christians. Some years later it struck me that the University Seal looks somewhat like a livestock brand. It is God’s brand on HBU, telling the world that HBU belongs to God.
The enrollment was small and there were only three academic buildings when I joined the faculty of HBU in the fall of 1973. These buildings were Atwood I, a smaller version of our Moody Library and the Quadrangle (aka the MD Anderson Center and the Brown Administrative Complex). Anyone familiar with the University knows that there has been tremendous growth in the student body, faculty, staff and physical plant of HBU since then.
In my opinion, there has also been strong, steady spiritual growth and increased commitment to the Christian mission of HBU. Today I took a stroll around campus just to look for some outward signs, symbols and landmarks of this Christian commitment. These outward signs are important because they are a reflection of the inner soul of the University, and they let the rest of the world know who we are, what we stand for and that we are proud of our Christian commitment.
Here are some of the things I observed. Walking into the Quadrangle from the front parking lot, one sees the words of John 14:6 carved into stone masonry on the left wall of the Brown Administrative Complex, the first building erected on campus. The University Seal is found in the heart of the campus, carved into granite in the walkway across Holcombe Mall. It is also found in or on almost every building on campus, (in the Moody Library lobby, the upstairs lobby of the Science Building, the front and back external faces of the Hinton Building, on the floor of the Hinton building directly under the dome, on the front face of the University Academic Center, in the lobby of Sharp Gym and on many doors throughout campus). The seal is also incorporated into the brickwork of the main entrance off Fondren. Almost every hallway, open space or office complex in any academic area is decorated with scripture, religious art or inspirational Christian thoughts. Many individual faculty offices and doorways are also presented this way. Paintings of the “Stations of the Cross” are found in several buildings.
There are also important landmarks on campus that reflect our Christian mission. The “Descending Dove Sculpture” is behind the Hinton building and represents the Descending Spirit of God. We also have a statue of University Founding Father Stewart Morris, sitting on a park bench holding a Bible. The large doors to Belin Chapel with the crosses carved into them are statuesque. And, in my opinion, the most impressive landmark is the Belin Tower, topped with its gold cross.
In one of His parables, Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on a stand and it gives light to everyone. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Proudly displaying all these outward signs of our commitment and faith in Christ is one way that HBU shines its light to the world. As our light shines, it attracts students, parents, faculty, community leaders, donors and others. These people contribute to HBU in their own special way, creating positive feedback that makes our light grow stronger. In 1973, HBU was sometimes called “Houston’s Best Kept Secret.” It was a small school with limited influence in southwest Houston. Among other things, our steady shining light has grown HBU into a major university, well on its way to having a global impact in Christian higher education.
At HBU, I have served under three University presidents, each with unique personalities and talents, but all dedicated to God and the Christian mission of HBU. These presidents, along with the counsel and assistance of the HBU Board of Trustees, have guided the growth and influence of HBU. God has richly blessed our University and will continue those blessings because we are unashamedly Christian.
About Dr. Avin Brownlee
Dr. Avin Brownlee is a professor of biology in HBU’s College of Science and Engineering. He earned an MCS and PhD in biology from the University of Mississippi and a BS in biology TE-Secondary from West Texas State University. Brownlee came to HBU in 1973 and was Department Chair from 1990 until 2008. Under his leadership the biology department underwent extensive curriculum changes, keeping the department at the leading edge of biomedical education. Dr. Brownlee has been recognized by the University for his outstanding teaching several times. He received the Opal Goolsby Outstanding Teaching Award in 1978, 1982, 1988 and 1998. In 2009, Dr. Brownlee was the Piper Professor nominee from the College of Science and Math. His hobbies include hunting, piano, reading, and collecting and restoring antique clocks.