By Kalyn Story | News Editor
President Linda Livingstone, Interim Provost Michael McLendon and Chair of the Board of Regents Joel Allison made it clear during a panel Thursday evening that they are committed to making Baylor a tier one research institution.
During the inaugural “Baylor Conversation Series,” a dialogue about Baylor’s progress, Livingstone said she believes the world needs a university that is unapologetically Christian, takes its academic mission seriously and has influence in the world because of that.
“We are really the only place across the world that is positioned to be able to do that,” Livingstone said. “[Becoming a tier one research institution] is a big aspiration and it will take a tremendous amount of dedication and work.”
McLendon encouraged those in attendance to suspend some of the doubt and skepticism born of an earlier era that Baylor is an institution of constraints.
“We can simultaneously commit ourselves to growing academic programs the highest level, we can also remain committed to our faith and our Christian commitment and we can remain committed to our undergraduate education and transformational experience,” McLendon said. “The notion that we can only do one of those things or maybe two, but not all of them together — we need to suspend that kind of thinking because we can in fact do all of those things. We need to be bold and aspirational in order to elevate ourselves into that top tier of research institutions.”
Livingstone gave an update about the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) visit on campus in which they reviewed the standards that they previously said Baylor was not in compliance with. SACSCOC placed an accreditation warning sanction on Baylor in February of this year.
After a thorough review, the SACSCOC recommendation is that the warning be lifted. Livingstone said she is cautiously optimistic that that warning will be lifted in December at their annual meeting in Dallas.
Livingstone said the external audit of the 105 recommendations by Cozen O’Connor affirming that the recommendations have been completed is important not only for Baylor to know that they have been completed, but that the report can serve as a blueprint for other institutions to follow to prevent sexual assault and sexual violence on their campuses.
“It’s important to remember that many of the aspects of that report are not things you check the box and are now done doing they are commitments we have to make every single day to continue to reinforce the culture that we want to prevent sexual violence and to support those that experience it whether on or off our campus forever,” Livingstone said. “We have to continue to learn and adapt and change and we will never be done with that.”
Livingstone said she met with the Big 12 Monday to update them about Baylor’s progress. The Big 12 formed a task force consisting of the Chancellor of TCU, the President of Oklahoma State and the President of West Virginia, to review the work that Baylor has done to determine if Baylor has fully completed the recommendations and that the recommendations are fully embedded sustainably in Baylor’s culture.
Livingstone said she hopes that by the Big 12’s board meeting in February that they will reach a conclusion that affirms what Baylor has heard from other external audits.
Livingstone addressed some of the headlines regarding Title IX lawsuits and said Baylor has been through the process of resolving some suit. She said they are trying to work with the survivors and come to a resolution that helps bring them healing. She said for some, that means settlements, which the university has agreed to in some cases, but that some will go to trial.
Of the five active Title IX lawsuits Baylor is involved in, there are two court dates set, one set for summer 2018 and one set for early 2019. Livingstone said she expects it to take 18-24 months before all the cases are resolved.
In regards to headlines, Allison said it is one of his goals to keep the Board of Regents out of the news. He said the Board has learned over the past few years that they can do a lot better; he said they are continuing to improve their communication within the board and with members outside of the board.
Allison said the priorities of the Board are to restore the trust in the Board of Regents and to unify the Baylor family. He said that first and foremost, the responsibility of the Board is to hire and fire the president of the university, but after that they are committed to providing fiduciary oversight, strategic oversight and providing foresight for the university.
Allison said the board has seen a lot of progress and has made several changes to ensure the effectiveness of the board and stay true to Baylor’s mission. He specifically mentioned hiring a board professional and shortening the meetings to keep focused on what’s most important.
Allison said he is confident in Baylor as an institution and a family, and has faith in its mission and work.
“We are blessed with the best students in the country,” Allison said. “We are here for the students and the board is here for the students. I challenge anyone who has questions about this university to come and talk to any student on this campus and see how they feel about the Baylor community that they know.”