By Jessica Babb | Broadcast Managing Editor
Dr. Linda Livingstone has surpassed the 100-day mark of her new role as Baylor University’s president. Since coming to Baylor, she has focused on implementing new policies and leadership roles which aim at helping the university heal from past events. In an interview with Lariat TV News, Livingstone discussed an upcoming accreditation review, goals for the university’s endowment and her plans for future growth. This interview has been shortened and condensed, but the full version is available here.
Baylor is facing an accreditation review in early October. What steps has the university taken to become ready for this accreditation review?
I would say even before we got the warning from The Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC), the university was already well on its way to addressing the issues that they ultimately raised in the letter they sent to us. We have made significant progress in putting in place the right processes and policies and procedures to ensure the safety and health and well-being of our students. We have enhanced the staffing at the counseling center, we have enhanced staffing at our Title IX office, we just opened the Beauchamp Addiction Recovery Center, so all of those things are important given that one of those standards is about the environment for students on our campus.
I work very closely with Mack Rhoades, our athletic director, [and] he is deeply committed to the athletic program not only being successful athletically, but integrating fully into the life of the university and to being a full partner at the university. And I think that when the team comes on campus, they will see the deep commitment that we have to our students to the policies and procedures and guidelines to the SACSCOC, and we have made tremendous progress there. We have a very extensive document that outlines all that we have done related to the 105 recommendations, some of which, not all of which, tie to the areas which SACSCOC is looking at. So we are looking forward to them being on campus, being able to show them all that we have done at this institution and hopefully to be an example for others for the ways that you can work through a very difficult circumstance, learn from that and really get to a much better place that we hope will help other institutions to avoid some of the challenges that we had.
Remedying these concerns is a slow-moving process. Do students have anything to be concerned about with the upcoming review, or should we feel confident that Baylor will not lose its accreditation in the future?
We are confident we will come through this in a positive way. We feel like we are doing all the right things to make progress, and we feel that will be reflected in what the committee looks at. I think students can feel confident that we are in a very good place, that we will be working very closely with the accreditation body to make sure that we work through this in a way that is positive for our students and then is also positive for the accrediting body.
How important is it to grow the endowment?
Growing the endowment is a very high priority for us. Our endowment is about 1.23 billion dollars, which sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but for the size of institution we are, our endowment per student is quite low. In order to fund students at the level we need to ensure they have the financial capacity to go to school, to support faculty research and teaching at the level we need to, it’s really important that [the] endowment grows. So really, we want to at least double that endowment over a period of time so we have a much better foundation and become less dependent on tuition dollars to fund the important priorities of the university.
Was the endowment hurt by the Title IX scandal?
Well, the university went into the last couple of years in very strong financial position and had significant reserves set aside, which any institution should have in case issues come up and arise, and so, because of that, because we had reserves in place, we were able to use those to help us work through the issues we have been dealing with. So, it really has not had a significant impact on the endowment, and in fact, last year’s endowment returns were some of the best that we have ever had at the institution.
Can you talk about some of your plans to implement and craft your new leadership team?
In a role like this, you only get things done through collaboration of a leadership team of the institution. We are a very large and complex place, and so it takes a lot of people working together to move the institution forward. We are in the process of doing that. We have announced a couple of retirements from positions on the university’s leadership team, and we are now, because of that, looking at how do we then realign the structure of that executive committee or executive counsel as it is called to ensure we have the right people in the right places to move us forward. What we are looking at is how that group of leadership aligns with where we are going in terms of strategic direction of the institution, and so over the next couple of months we will be making some additional adjustments in terms of the positions reporting those kinds of things and be in a very good place to move the institution forward in the coming months.