By Phoebe Suy | Staff Writer
Baylor faces several investigations and lawsuits stemming from the Pepper Hamilton report, one of which will soon be resolved. After Friday’s Board of Regents meeting, President Linda Livingstone announced that the university feels good about the recent review stating Baylor was in compliance with accreditation standards.
In Fall 2015, Pepper Hamilton law firm conducted an independent review of Baylor’s institutional response to Title IX. The report in turn raised additional questions concerning Baylor’s compliance with accreditation principles, as Baylor’s accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), reported. SACSCOC placed a warning sanction on Baylor in February of this year.
SACSCOC specifically cited administrative control of athletics and campus safety and security as areas of potential concern, and sent a special committee to Baylor on a four-day visit in early October to conduct “a thorough review of student services, athletics and the overall institutional environment.”
The committee found that Baylor “operated with integrity” and “responded to all requests with clarity and truthfulness.” The committee also verified that Baylor had, in fact, implemented all 105 of Pepper Hamilton’s recommendations.
Livingstone said the committee spent several days on campus and met with over 100 university staff members. The report specifically named key campus partners such as Baylor University’s Department of Public Safety, Health Services Center, Title IX Office, Counseling Center, Division of Student Life and the Division of Academic Affairs, saying that Baylor had “streamlined processes and systems to engage the entire university community.”
The committee also interviewed several student groups on campus, including the Title IX Student Advisory Council and Baylor’s It’s On Us chapter, student regents, Chamber of Commerce members and community leaders from Campus Living and Learning.
The committee reported staff was competent and well-trained to address Title IX reports, and that students were involved in supporting the awareness of Title IX and the steps necessary to make a report.
The committee’s report is strictly preliminary. The final decision will be determined the first week of December.
“We’re stronger now because of what we’ve gone through in this particular situation. We’ve been, I think, very self-reflective as an institution,” Livingstone said. “We have learned some very painful lessons as an institution, and so because of that we are a much better and stronger institution than we were before and we will continue to learn both from those incidents and anything that comes after that.”
While Livingstone said she is pleased with the university’s progress in structurally implementing Pepper Hamilton’s 105 recommendations, she emphasized that Baylor will continue to learn from its experiences and the experiences of other institutions to ensure Baylor is keeping up with best practices and learning new things along the way.
“This is an issue that I don’t think you’re ever completely done dealing with, because it is an ongoing issue and we have to make sure we stay really on top of it and ensure that we’re doing the best we can for our students,” Livingstone said. “We will continue to make progress even beyond what we’ve already done.”
Baylor remains under investigation by entities such as the Big 12 Conference, the NCAA, the Office of Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Education. Livingstone reiterated that Baylor will continue to cooperate with these institutions and organizations and provide them with the information they need.
“While we still have lawsuits and investigations, we will continue to work cooperatively. Most importantly, we want to take care of our students,” Board of Regents chairman Joel T. Allison said.
Livingstone and Allison emphasized increased collaboration and engagement between regents and Baylor’s senior administrators. Two new councils were created to foster these relationships, the President’s Council and the University Council.
Formerly known as the Executive Council, the President’s Council consists of Livingstone’s direct reports. Livingstone said some of the structure and membership of this council has been shifted. Members now include Interim Provost Michael McLendon, senior vice president and Chief Operating Officer Reagan Ramsower, vice president for student life Kevin Jackson and vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics Mack Rhoades IV.
Ramsower will transition out of his role and return to Hankamer School of Business as a full professor at the end of May 2018. Livingstone said a search process will soon begin for a chief business officer, a position created to transition away from the chief operating officer role. She also said the university will soon be receiving feedback from faculty as the process of looking for a permanent provost begins.
The newly formed University Council includes the President’s Council as well as deans and vice provosts.
“One of the things I’ve been working on as a new president is building out the leadership capacity within the institution,” Livingstone said. “The academic leadership of the university will be much more engaged with the administrative leadership as we move the university forward.”
Livingstone said the board members and deans shared a dinner together Wednesday night that included “unbelievably rich” breakout discussions between President’s Council members, regents and deans. The board had never done that with the deans, Livingstone said, and everyone was able to learn from one another.
“We’re really working hard with the board to focus on how we engage them in discussion and engage them in strategic conversations more than just presenting material to them,” Livingstone said. “It’s a shift in culture on the board.”
Allison said the three-day Board of Regents meetings included “very good dialogue” and “good engagement.”
“[President Livingstone’s] done a great job hitting the ground running,” Allison said. “She has really taken a hold of the reins of the university and [is] demonstrating tremendous leadership.”
While Allison said he was pleased with the meetings, he said they can always find ways to improve and will continue seeking feedback in order to continue exhibiting good governance.
“Everyone wants Baylor to be positive and be what it has always been — that shining light on a hill as a Christian university,” Allison said. “We have a unique opportunity in this world today to really stand out as a true, Christian university that is committed to academic excellence by integrating Christian commitment within a caring community.”