Baylor President Ken Starr has been in his position only one year, but he already seems to know more members of the Baylor family than nearly anyone else. Renowned for his boundless energy and active schedule, Judge Starr's calendar is day after day packed full of all manner of meetings in support of the work of the university.
Whether he's on campus meeting with faculty and students, out in the community interacting with civic leaders, facilitating conversations in large and small gatherings of alumni across the country, brainstorming with fellow university presidents, preaching in churches across Texas or speaking before a professional meeting of legal scholars, he keeps a schedule that would leave most of us gasping for air.
Through it all, of course, it's the students who have and always will come first for Judge Starr; that's why he makes a point of getting out among the student body whenever he can. His regular interactions with students have included running with the Baylor Line before kick off, entertaining student organizations at his home, working out at the McLane Student Life Center, and visiting Dr Pepper Hour nearly every week. He has also traveled to summer send-off events around the country, encouraging students and parents as they make the transition to Baylor.
"It's been great to see him engaging students on a consistent basis," says outgoing student body president Michael Wright, BBA '11, In addition to the president's leading the Line and frequent Dr Pepper Hour appearances, Wright also pointed to two other examples from last fall.
"Judge Starr's first day on campus, he made it a point to sit down and meet with student government leaders right out of the gate. He followed his handshake with the question, 'What's on the hearts and minds of students at Baylor?'" Wright recalls. "Then the very first inaugural event was a student dinner on the grounds, where Judge Starr spent a few hours getting to know the students, shaking hands, talking to us, asking what was on our minds and getting a pulse on the student body. We are so appreciative of his intentional efforts to get out and engage the student body. We definitely have noticed that Judge Starr has made it a priority to meet with us and get to know us; that just speaks volumes to students."
Whenever possible, Judge Starr also makes himself accessible to students who want to meet with him one-on-one, whether that's to talk about their career plans, their time at Baylor, or anything else.
"At Baylor, we continually say, 'It is all about the students,'" Starr explains. "Here, it is part of a great tradition that we come alongside our students and help them to develop academically and spiritually. Our goal is to send forth leaders of all sorts who are eager and equipped to serve as salt and light in a hurting world.
"It has been one of my great pleasures this past year to interact with students on a daily basis. Many of our students are extraordinary, remarkable in their character and conviction. Their actions and their energy inspire us and continually remind us that Baylor is a distinct and wonderful place."
Much of Baylor's distinct environment can be attributed to the efforts of the university's professors and other employees. Judge Starr often spends his lunchtimes at the McMullen-Connally Faculty Center, where he can interact informally with faculty and staff, and he makes a point of attending nearly every meeting of the Faculty Senate.
"He has been very cordial in coming to the Senate, even dropping in to say hello one time just because he wanted to encourage us as we started the second semester," says Dr. Ray Cannon, chair of the Faculty Senate. "He's acting like a president. He's setting a tone, he's leading the university, but he's not involved in minutiae. He has an administration he trusts, and he is letting the provost act as provost, which I greatly appreciate. He is leading by example. I think relationships among faculty and between faculty and administration are in excellent shape."
Faculty and staff opinions were strongly considered in many of Judge Starr's administrative appointments, as well; for instance, the hiring of Dr. Elizabeth Davis, BBA '84, as provost was applauded by faculty across campus.
Davis' hiring, too, is indicative of Judge Starr's priorities. Judge Starr felt it important that Baylor's faculty should have a strong and trusted leader, so he promoted Davis from interim provost to full provost and added the title of executive vice president.
Other presidential appointments reflect the priority Judge Starr attaches to university fundraising, particularly in support of scholarships for students. Judge Starr created a new executive-level position dedicated to strategic partnerships and hired an experienced professional in Kathy Wills Wright, BS '85, MSED '88, to fill that role. Shortly thereafter, he brought in Dr. Jerry Haag, BBA '88, MBA '89, as vice president for university development.
"I believe a primary goal of any leader should be to surround himself or herself with the best people possible, and I think we're blessed here at Baylor to have such strong and capable leaders," Starr says.
One of Baylor's best ambassadors, Tommye Lou Davis, BA '66, MS '68, was appointed to another new executive-level position as vice president for constituent engagement. As part of her role in coordinating alumni relations efforts, one of Davis' first tasks was to work closely with Provost Elizabeth Davis in soliciting alumni input as the university moves forward in the strategic planning process that will guide the university's progress over the next decade.
From Houston and Dallas to Nashville and Chicago, Judge Starr joined Elizabeth and Tommye Lou Davis (no relation) in attending many of the university's Community Input Sessions. There, he and others heard directly from alumni about the university's present and future.
Athletic events provided another frequent opportunity for the president to meet with alumni; for instance, during Saturdays in the fall, the president could usually be found visiting the tailgating area around Floyd Casey Stadium -- stopping for a bite to eat, to throw a round of washers, to talk with fans, or to take pictures with hundreds of Bears along the way.
Walter Abercrombie, BS '82, BS '86, MSED '92, executive director of the Baylor "B" Association for former letterwinners, tells the story of one of his group's members first meeting with Judge Starr.
"We were at a letterwinners' event in Dallas; about 40 people were gathered in a suite at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The president had agreed to stop by for a quick in-and-out thing; he was going to come in, greet the folks, make a little speech and move on. But our organization's president, Rick Hawkins, BBA '69, MBA '70, kind of pulled him to a corner and started talking to him; as president of the 'B' Association, Rick wanted to talk to President Starr about this organization and its importance to Baylor in terms of alumni relations.
"In a situation like that, I've seen presidents work the room and not spend too much time with one person, but President Starr and Rick pulled up chairs and continued to talk privately, one-on-one. The President finally got up, they shook hands and he moved on. Afterwards, Rick came over shaking his head and said, 'You know, I really appreciate him taking the time to visit with me. I know he's busy, but I wanted to have that time with him, and he gave it to me.'"
In addition to his university duties, Judge Starr also remains active as a legal scholar, keeping the Baylor name before others at academic gatherings and through national media interviews. He spent time this year with highly-
credentialed national reporters who were interested in -- as New York Times reporter Mark Oppenheimer characterized it -- Starr's "rebirth as one of America's most prominent Christian educators." National media opportunities ranged from the front pages of The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Dallas Morning News, to Christianity Today and the Associated Baptist Press, to live interview slots on ABC's "Good Morning America" and Fox News' "On The Record with Greta Van Susteren."
Judge Starr also is a frequent speaker on legal panels at events all around the country. Judge Consuelo Callahan of the U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit has asked Judge Starr to speak and serve on panels "at least five times" in recent years.
"There is no one that brings the scholarship, legal acumen and breadth of experience that Judge Starr brings to the table," she says. "Despite his incredibly busy schedule, he is never too busy to share his knowledge and insight with the legal community. His audiences are always spellbound; his reviews are exemplary. ... In spite of what may be considered the best resume in our legal community, he is humble, generous and a friend to lawyers and judges."
While an outstanding legal career has frequently placed Judge Starr on the national stage, one of his first challenges at Baylor placed him squarely in the midst of a highly publicized event not in the field of law but in the world of major collegiate athletics. Within days of beginning his tenure last summer, word quickly spread that the Big 12 Conference was near disbanding. President Starr leapt into action, calling the Baylor Nation to the aid of the university and serving as a gifted negotiator among Big 12 entities. The resulting renewed commitment to the Big 12 continues to benefit Baylor.
Later, a number of issues critical to Baylor students made their way into the state legislative session. Again, Judge Starr worked behind the scenes, meeting with students and parents, alumni and Texas lawmakers. Rallying the support of Baylor Nation, it appears likely as the legislative session comes to a close that the president has prevailed, protecting the interests of the university and her students.
Closer to home, Judge Starr and his wife, Alice, have quickly become involved in the Waco community, both socially and as servant leaders. Frequent attendees of the Waco Symphony, the couple also regularly mentored a young student at J.H. Hines Elementary School over the past year, tutoring and accelerating his progress in reading while sparking his interest in math, history and geography. Judge Starr also actively recruited a large number of Baylor students to join him in tutoring in the Greater Waco Community Education Alliance's Best Practices reading program at Hines and LaVega Intermediate School.
"President Starr immediately engaged himself in the life of the community at its core," recalls Education Alliance Executive Director Virginia DuPuy, BA '56, MA '62, who previously served as mayor of Waco from 2005-10. "He joined other education and business leaders in attending the first Education Alliance board meeting, before he'd even been officially inaugurated as Baylor's president. His wisdom and model of servant leadership continues to influence the Alliance's work of engaging the community in sending children to school ready to learn and reach their potential.
"Judge Starr has worked to connect Baylor with Waco on multiple fronts. He's been exceptionally generous with his time, making room in his challenging presidential schedule to speak to area groups such as the Interfaith Council, Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, Caritas' Feast of Caring, Waco Business League, and the Community Visioning Board, to name only a few. He encourages these community-building organizations and consistently tells the Baylor story in a manner that strengthens and builds on the ties between Baylor and Waco. He and Alice are an amazing team -- genuine, accessible and affirming in all their relationships within the community. They have won the hearts of everyone, I know."
And that, of course, includes the Baylor student body. Dedication to the students has led Baylor's president to travel thousands of miles over the past year to meet with individuals and foundations that have the ability to make a significant financial impact on Baylor and its students. Starr's biggest push in his first year has been the President's Scholarship Initiative, a three-year, $100 million fundraising effort aimed at helping keep Baylor accessible to the students of today and tomorrow.
Mark, BBA '83, and Lisa Miller, BBA '85, met Judge Starr for the first time in January and shortly thereafter signed up to endow a scholarship for students with financial need in the Hankamer School of Business.
"Lisa and I had talked about doing a scholarship at some point in the future, but we were so impressed with Judge Starr, what he's brought to Baylor and his enthusiasm for the school, that we thought now was the time to initiate our donation to the endowed scholarship fund," says Mark Miller. "We're just following Judge Starr's vision and initiative to have quality students be able to go to Baylor who otherwise would not be able to because of their finances."
"We were very impressed after the meeting," Lisa Miller adds. "Besides his business sense and his educational background and the vision he has for Baylor, he was just a really, really nice guy. I was excited to think that is the person leading Baylor, because that's the kind of graduate you want to have -- people who find something they're passionate about, personable and open to people. He's a great ambassador for the university."
R. Dary Stone, JD '77, the Baylor Board of Regents chair for the past two years, echoes that thought.
"Judge Starr has been a blessing to the Baylor family on all levels," Stone says. "His kind heart, powerful intellect, deep spiritual commitment and his enthusiasm for all things Baylor have contributed to a great inaugural year for the university. The Board of Regents is deeply grateful for his leadership to date and very excited about Baylor's prospects for the future."