Panel addresses students’ concerns

President Ken Starr, Dr. Kevin Jackson, vice president for student life, and Houston senior Michael Wright, student body president, address student questions read by Shelby, N.C., senior class president Mary Katherine Leslie in an effort toward university policy transparency during a town hall meeting Wednesday in Draper Academic Building.
Jed Dean | Lariat Photo Editor

Starr, Jackson, Wright discuss charter, gun legislation, strategic plan and more

By Sara Tirrito
Staff Writer

A panel of campus leaders met with students to answer questions on topics ranging from Baylor’s stance on conceal and carry legislation to the university’s denial of a charter for the Sexual Identity Forum in a university town hall meeting Wednesday.

The panel included President Ken Starr, Dr. Kevin Jackson, vice president for student life, and Houston senior Michael Wright, student body president.

The leaders were asked multiple questions referring to the university’s Baptist affiliations and the effect those affiliations have on students, each making reference to the charter denied to the Sexual Identity Forum.

Jackson said the student and staff committee that reviewed the charter felt the organization did not align with university’s mission or “have the capacity to fulfill a mission that would be consistent with Baylor over time” — two criteria that must be met for an organization to be granted a charter.

Although Jackson called students’ questions about sexual identity “understandable,” he noted that the university has a human sexuality statement. That statement says it is “expected that Baylor students will not participate in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.”

“Some of our students don’t agree with that, and I understand that as well, but as a university, that is our approach,” Jackson said. “Now does that mean that people should be mistreated, that they should be disrespected if they don’t agree with that human sexuality statement? No.”

Jackson welcomed students to discuss their questions with him, and to let him or his staff know if they have been disrespected because of their beliefs.

The panel was also asked about the university’s participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which provides tuition money to veterans as part of the 2008 Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act. Starr deferred the question to Dr. Reagan Ramsower, vice president for finance and administration, who said the university is currently in discussion about the topic.

“We do want to participate,” Ramsower said. “At this point, the deliberations are still going on for the exact amount; we should know that fairly quickly. But we will be participating in that program.”

A question was also posed about why concealed carry legislation could be accepted in public venues but not on campus. Jackson said that as a private university, Baylor has the right to define its own standards and opposes the legislation. Starr said the university would opt out of making concealed carry legal on campus.

“Private university presidents are of one cheerful accord — there are 40 private colleges and universities in the state of Texas — that this is not the way to go,” Starr said. “I don’t know of any public university presidents who think this is the way to go.”

However, a task force has been formed to address the issue of campus safety, Jackson said.

“We’re coming up with, we think, some great ideas for how we can move forward to help make our campus and the surrounding areas of our campus even more safe for our students,” Jackson said.

At the meeting, Starr was also asked whether the university has plans to focus more on science and technology research, and update equipment that is broken. Starr said he believes the university has made “substantial improvements,” including the addition of the Baylor Sciences Building to campus, but that much more needs to be done.

“We want to make sure that we are giving our students, whether they are pre-health or pre-ministry, all of the tools that they need, so I’m glad to know when there’s an issue,” Starr said. “It is better for me to know than not to know, so we’re committed to it, and when we see that there’s an issue or a problem, I’m an email away.”

When the panel was asked about progress made on the university’s strategic plan that is set to expire in 2012, Jackson said “great strides” had been made toward becoming a residential campus and that plans are still moving forward on the East Village Residential Community, which will be presented to the Baylor Board of Regents in October.

However, not all imperatives of the strategic plan were executed with great success, Starr said.

“One will see that over this last decade an enormous amount of progress has occurred, and so there’s much to be thankful for and there’s much to celebrate,” Starr said. “But there’s one area where we have fallen short, and that’s with respect to endowment.”

Starr said he hopes that the President’s Scholarship Initiative, announced in September, will help the university make progress toward that imperative, which set a goal of a $2 billion endowment by 2012. Endowment currently stands at about $1 billion.

The panel was also asked if any plans exist to move the university’s football stadium on campus. Starr said there has been interest and conversation on that topic, but no proposals have been made. With a cost that would far exceed $100 million, Starr said he felt that the university’s resources should be directed toward goals such as the scholarship initiative and lowering tuition costs, but the conversation is open.