By Bailey Brammer | Page One Editor
Dr. Linda A. Livingstone is set to take office on June 1, and was selected as president on April 18. Livingstone will be Baylor’s 15th president, as well as the university’s first female president. The Lariat spoke with Livingstone about her plans for the future of the university, her background at Baylor and her qualifications for the position.
When you first came to Baylor as a professor and associate dean in the business school, what originally drew you to the school?
When I first started my Ph.D. at Oklahoma State, probably in my first or second year of that program, one of my faculty members asked me what schools I was thinking about in terms of a faculty position for when I finished my Ph.D. We talked about some schools and then she said, “Well, have you thought about Baylor University?” and I said “Well, no, I really haven’t,” because we were in separate conferences at the time, and so it was not a university that I was that familiar with. I think she suggested Baylor because she knew I was a Christian, she knew my faith was important to me and she just thought culturally that it would be a really good fit for me. And so, very early in my Ph.D. program, Baylor was sort of on my radar screen as a potential university to go to look for a faculty position.
The primary reasons I was interested were obviously it is a high quality university with a great reputation, but the fact that it was a Christian university with a faith-based mission that was really trying to get people to think about how you integrate your faith perspective with your academic life as a scholar and a teacher was really very important to me. Then when we visited the campus and I met the faculty, I was really excited by the opportunity to go there when the offer was made to me in 1991.
You mentioned you went to Oklahoma State for your Ph.D. as well as your undergrad, and you played varsity basketball there. I have to ask, when Baylor women’s basketball plays OSU next season, who are you going to be rooting for?
Oh, I will absolutely have to root for Baylor. When we were there originally and we would play Oklahoma State- it was before they were in the same conference, but they played a couple of times- I always made sure to wear my green and my husband would wear his orange, but I told him that he must wear green now and he doesn’t have any excuses this time around. Since we’re going to be the president and the first gentleman, we must support Baylor and wear our green. The only place I’ll have challenges is if Baylor plays volleyball against Rice, where my daughter plays volleyball, then I might have to wear a “Rice Mom” hat with my Baylor shirt. … We’ll see how that goes.
As far as your role as a president, how is that going to affect students in their day-to-day lives?
One of the roles of the president is to really set the overall strategic direction and tone for the university, and obviously you want that to soldier down into all aspects of university life. In terms of students, we really want to focus on academic excellence and high quality academic life. Hopefully, then, that means that students are getting an exceptional experience in the classroom, and that the support they’re getting outside of the classroom is of the highest quality.
We also want to ensure that we’re maintaining the integrity of and continuing to enhance the Christian mission of the institution, and so again, that filters down into day-to-day student life, and we want students to have experiences in and outside of the classroom that reinforce the values that underlie us as a university and our Christian mission. So that should really be imbedded in the experience that students have on a day-to-day basis, sort of in the life of students, related to their campus experience.
Obviously, given the circumstances that have happened over the last year and a half at Baylor, we also need to continue to focus on and emphasize the safety, health and well-being of our students along multiple dimensions, and that will be a priority for us and again, on a day-to-day basis with students, how we support our students, how we work with them. … At strategic level that will be a priority, but on a practical level, that will be important as well.
We also want the co-curricular student experience to be really exceptional and to really excel in the other aspects of student life, whether that’s the arts experience the students have, the student life experience, the athletic experience. … We want those to be high-quality, exceptional experiences, whether the students are actually participants in those, or whether students are experiencing that because they’re going to these events. We want to be exceptional at those. We want those to be healthy and fun and a positive experience for students. High-end level strategic priorities need to filter down to the day-to-day experiences students are having.
You have some pretty big shoes to fill when it comes to President Ken Starr being your predecessor. Do you think that you’ll be out running the Baylor Line before football games?
I certainly want to find important and significant way to engage with students on campus, at the Albritton House and in other ways. … Whether I will run the Baylor Line- that may not be what I am best at doing, but I will find other ways to engage with students… I certainly want to be visible on campus to participate with students in meaningful activities and get to know them. I know my husband, Brad, is also looking forward to that. The university experience is very much about students at its core. We will definitely find ways to engage with students and watch them as they participate and support them in the things that they are doing on campus.
Coming from Washington, D.C., you’ve certainly had a front row seat to the recent presidential election and inauguration. For your own presidential position, what would you like to accomplish in your first 100 days?
Much of my first hundred days will be over the summer since I start June 1, so I think a lot of it will be getting to know people on campus, and certainly spending a lot of time out among our alumni and friends. Beginning in that context to say, what are our priorities as we go forward. … We certainly in the first 100 days will continue to work through some of the issues and challenges that the university is dealing with in regards to investigations. … Those will be important priorities to work through and hopefully begin to bring closure to. … Then we will also begin to put in place what financial base we need from a fundraising perspective or in other ways. … It will be a lot of gathering information, getting to know people and then beginning to build out priorities and action plans if we decide to move forward.
I’m sure you’ve been asked multiple times what it feels like to be Baylor’s first female president. In your own words, what difference does the gender make for the role, or is there a difference?
I’m extremely excited about the opportunity, and I have certainly been the first female in other situations. For me, I think that’s less significant than what are the priorities we need to focus on and what are the activities that are going to be significant to move the university forward. I’m certainly proud to be in that position as a role model and as the representation that anybody can accomplish these positions over time, regardless of their gender or their background or ethnicity. At the end of the day it’s about your skills and the background and experience you bring to the job, and so I hope to use the skill set I’ve developed to really move the university forward.
What do you want students to know about you?
I love working with students. They bring a great joy to the life of a university, and that’s why we’re there, to help them grow and develop, so I want students to know that I look forward to getting to know them, and I would say that I hope that my family gets to know our students. My husband is fabulous, he’s a high school teacher and a dean of students. He’s a lot of fun; students are going to love him. Our daughter is a junior at Rice University, and she has lots of friends that attend Baylor that she went to high school with, so she loves the university as well. Students should just know that we look forward to being a part of the community and being a part of student life on campus and working with the students to make the university an even better place than it already is.