By Shehan Jeyarajah, City Editor
President and Chancellor Ken Starr is heading into his fifth year in his role at Baylor University. In a short amount of time, Starr has drastically affected campus life and been part of taking the university to the new places. Here are five of the greatest contributions that have occurred since Starr arrived on campus.
1. McLANE STADIUM
The brand new venue has been described as the “Palace on the Brazos,” and has completely changed the perception of Baylor as a football program.
As previously reported in the Lariat, Baylor football coach Art Briles had been pushing for a new stadium almost since the moment he arrived on campus. With the success of former Baylor QB Robert Griffin III in 2011, Starr helped green-light Briles’ vision and make it a reality.
“Between 44 and 60 million people drive down I-35 every year,” Briles told the Lariat in July 2014. “I imagine some eight-year-old girl and boy is going to look out the window to the right or left and say, ‘Momma, man, look at that place. That place is beautiful. Where is that?’ And she’s going to say, Baylor.
“For the rest of their lives, they’re going to associate Baylor with excellence.”
Since construction opened on the stadium, Baylor football has won back-to-back Big 12 championships and the stadium has sold out almost every game since then.
2. ON TOPIC
Since Starr arrived on campus, On Topic lectures have become must-watch events. Starr has attracted such power names as former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, former vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman and businessman T. Boone Pickens.
But perhaps the most notable came in Nov. 2011, when former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice joined Starr in front of a packed house at Waco Hall.
“The audience of more than 2,200 was so large that additional seating had to be set up onstage minutes before the beginning of the event, and anyone left without a seat was asked to leave the building in accordance marshal policy,” then-Lariat staff writer Daniel C. Houston wrote about the event.
Starr’s pull on a national level has not only brought notable dignitaries to campus, but also taken Baylor’s name to a national level.
3. PRO FUTURIS
After Baylor 2012 before it, Starr brought forth his strategic vision called “Pro Futuris” in Aug. 2012. The plan has five pillars: transformational education, compelling scholarship, informed engagement, committed constituents and judicious stewardship.
“These five areas of improvements seek to create opportunities for students, such as an increase in openings for students to engage in research with faculty, more available service work and better scholarships for students to meet the university’s rising costs,” then-Lariat staff writer Amando Dominick wrote at the time.
Since then, Baylor has developed quickly. More money has been allocated for research. Starr’s lead scholarship initiative raised $100 million for additional scholarships. It has come together, pushing Baylor up to its highest ranking on the US News and World Report rankings this past year.
4. LARGEST FRESHMAN CLASS
There has perhaps never been a better time to be a Baylor Bear. Application rates are through the roof, retention rates are soaring and matriculation rates are as high as ever. Last year’s freshman class decimated size records.
“More than 3,600 college-bound students chose to call Baylor University home this fall, but there wasn’t exactly enough room for all of them,” then-staff writer Hannah Neumann wrote in an Oct. 2014 article.
In the same article, Neumann reported Baylor had reached 102 percent capacity. To say the least, there was simply no room left at the inn.
Under Starr, enrollment has jumped almost every year. The school is rising nationally and people want to attend more than ever. For existing students, increasing the competitiveness of the school only increases the value of their degree. Everyone wins.
Whether we like to believe it or not, money is the unequivocal lifeblood of a university. Starr has taken Baylor’s fundraising capabilities to the next level.
Under Starr, Baylor raised $345.3 million between Feb. 2012 and 2014, the most over a two-year period in Baylor history. Forty thousand people contributed, including 18,000 first-time donors.
Starr has pushed a great deal of money into his lead initiatives: development, renovation and scholarship. The projects have quickly exploded.
“Starr announced that his goal of raising $100 million toward scholarships by Dec. 31, 2013, had not only been met sooner than expected, but had been surpassed,” then-Lariat staff writer Taylor Rexrode wrote in April 2013.
Campus has also undergone several major renovation projects in that time period. Just this year, Baylor is opening the Foster Campus for Business and Innovation, and opening newly renovated Russell dorms.
With Starr at the helm, Baylor is poised to take steps forward as a campus and as a nationally relevant university.