Retiring COT ‘pillar’ helped students learn — and live
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
A man who is the consummate teacher is retiring from Grand Canyon University. The incoming freshmen don’t know what they’ll be missing.
Someone needs to tell them.
Dr. Michael Baird isn’t just the longest-tenured employee at GCU (36 years). He isn’t just a scholar, a beacon of light and of high standards in the College of Theology. He is much more than a link to GCU’s past — he has helped many freshmen find the right link to their future with the way he has taught his Biblical classes.
“It’s been funny to watch over the years,” said Anna Faith Smith, assistant dean in COT. “When the students are freshmen, they come in and complain because he expects them to sit in their chairs, he expects them to take notes, he expects them to come prepared for class, he expects them to not take phone calls during class. Freshmen don’t always understand that because in high school they had a different experience.”
But then come the senior exit interviews, which, according to Smith, almost always go like this:
“What is it you like most about GCU?”
“Really? When you were a freshman you didn’t say that.”
“They realize when they grow up that this man loves God’s word and loves students,” Smith added. “He doesn’t coddle students, but he expects them to grow up, and they do. They rise to the expectation. They say he equipped them.”
A retirement party is planned for Baird from 2-4 p.m. Friday in the Prayer Chapel on the southeast side of the CAS Building.
Baird, 65, was born at Good Samaritan Hospital (“Back when there was only one hospital in town”) and grew up in Glendale. When he graduated from GCU in 1971, he thought he was best equipped to become a pastor.
But after getting master’s and doctoral degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, he came back to the University and was hired as the dean of students. He didn’t join what was then the Department of Religion until the following school year, and he knew he had found his niche.
“If there was any one thing that I would hope somebody noticed, it was that I really loved to teach,” Baird said. “Still do. I still see that as my divine calling. It is a great privilege and great joy to be able to fulfill what you believe is God’s true calling for your life. And that I believe I’ve done.”
Longest-Tenured Employees/ Yrs of Service Michael Baird 36 Claude Pensis 33 Keith Baker 32.5 Charles Maxson 31.5 Faith Weese 29 Larry Barron 28 Petar Draksin 25 Anna Faith Smith 25 William Kuehl 25
In Baird’s early years at the University, his mentors were Dr. J. Niles Puckett, the founding professor of the department in 1949 who had been his Greek and Bible teacher when he was a student, and Dr. D.C. Martin, the department chair. Baird said he was taken aback when Puckett told him, ‘Don’t call me Dr. Puckett, call me Niles,’ and he considers Martin his primary mentor and has tried to pass along the spirit of both men.
“It’s not a formal mentor thing, but I’ve really tried to listen to younger colleagues, show support, pray for them,” he said. “It has been a great blessing, to be a blessing to some of these young people like D.C. and Niles were to me.”
Baird and Dr. Clark Youngblood, who retired in 2013 after 31 years at GCU, were a solid 1-2 punch in the college and have been great friends over the years, going to lunch every week and inviting other faculty members to join them.
“Mike has been the pillar to the college. He has been the consistent thread that has held us together,” said Dr. Jason Hiles, the COT dean. “From the alumni perspective, he’s the face of the college. He has developed courses, delivered courses and provided that consistent scholarship. And he’s been faithful through the many changes at the University and has been consistent with the students — just a phenomenal presence.”
One of those alumni, Samson Dunn, made it a point to mention his gratitude to Baird when he spoke at Chapel in March. And Baird also got his due Thursday morning when President/CEO Brian Mueller began the all-faculty meeting in GCU Arena by publicly thanking him for his many years of dedication. It turned into a standing ovation.
GCU has been a family affair for Baird. His wife, Martha, also is a GCU grad, and two of their three children are alumni. So are his sister and all three of his brothers.
“The Baird family has been a big part of Grand Canyon,” he said.
The head of the Baird family will continue to be part of it for at least a while longer. He won’t officially retire until August and still has more curriculum to write before then. He also might continue to teach, but not in a classroom — he and Martha like to camp, and Baird thinks nothing of plugging in at a campground and going to work.
“I’ve taught several online courses from the beach or the mountains, and I’ve written many, many courses from the beach or in the mountains,” he said. “As long as you can plug in, you can start your computer.”
So even camping comes in second place to teaching. This isn’t just the consummate teacher, it’s someone consumed by teaching.
“Getting in the classroom and working with these students is an absolute joy,” he said. “It never fails to pump me up. It energizes me.”
It has gone both ways. Just ask all those freshmen who found their way thanks to Dr. Michael Baird.
Contact Rick Vacek at 639.8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.