Baylor Regents Unanimously Approve Plans for $34 Million On-Campus Athletics and Academic Center

  • News Photo 3954
    Baylor Athletic Complex
  • News Photo 3953
    Baylor Athletic Complex
  • News Photo 3956
    Bob R. Simpson, co-founder, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of XTO Energy Inc. of Fort Worth.
Feb. 9, 2007

Media Contacts: Lori Fogleman, director of media relations, (254) 710-6275 or cell (254) 709-5959 or Nick Joos, associate athletic director for communications, (254) 710-3043 or cell (254) 709-9659

The Baylor University Board of Regents at its February meeting today approved plans to construct the Alwin O. and Dorothy Highers Athletics Complex and the Simpson Athletics and Academic Center, a $34 million complex that will integrate the Baylor athletics department and football program into the campus environment for the first time in the modern era.

"This is an exciting day for Baylor University athletics and for the entire Baylor family," said Baylor President John M. Lilley. "The Highers Athletics Complex and the Simpson Athletics and Academic Center have been the central focus of the 'Victory with Integrity Campaign' for our athletics program and will allow us to advance an important element of Imperative 10 of Baylor 2012, the university's vision statement. These facilities will incorporate the Baylor athletics department and all student-athletes into a superior administrative, training and academic environment centrally located on our campus."

The lead gift for the privately funded project and the largest single gift in Baylor's history is from the estate of Alwin O. Highers Jr. of Alexandria, La. A native Texan and a 1939 Baylor business graduate, Mr. Highers was well known as the owner of Alexandria's Dr Pepper Bottling Co. He also was a dedicated supporter of Baylor athletics and in particular its football program, until his death in 2003. He is survived by his beloved wife, Dorothy, who still resides in Alexandria.

Ian McCaw, director of athletics at Baylor, said it is a "fitting tribute to Mr. Highers and his wife, Dorothy, to dedicate the resources of the Highers' estate to support this important project, the Highers Athletics Complex."

The focal point of the Highers Athletics Complex will be the 96,300-square-foot Simpson Athletics and Academic Center, which will be built on University Parks Drive adjacent to Baylor's Mayborn Museum Complex and the university's other athletic facilities that are part of the Julie and Jim Turner Riverfront Athletic Complex on the Brazos River.

A Baylor University graduate and generous supporter of Baylor, Bob R. Simpson is a co-founder, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of XTO Energy Inc. of Fort Worth. His leadership at XTO has been recognized by numerous publications, including Barron's ("30 most respected CEO's in the world," March 27, 2006), Oil & Gas Explorer ("Executive of the Year," March 2006), Institutional Investor ("Best CEOs," January 2006), BusinessWeek ("The BusinessWeek Top 50 Performers," April 2006) and Forbes ("2,000 Leading Companies in the World," April 17, 2006), among others. During his tenure, XTO Energy has become the second largest natural gas producer in Texas and the eighth largest in the nation.

A Texas native and youngest of four brothers, Mr. Simpson grew up on a Cisco ranch and was salutatorian of his high school graduating class. He attended Baylor University for his entire collegiate experience, earning a bachelor's degree in accounting and finance, with magna cum laude honors, in 1970 and his MBA in 1971. Simpson served in the Texas Army National Guard after graduation and then earned his CPA designation. He is married to Janice Simpson and is the father of seven children.

The first floor of the Simpson Athletics and Academic Center will include functions that are currently housed at Floyd Casey Stadium, such as a main athletics training room, equipment room, football team locker room, coaches' locker room and weight room. Floor two will hold administrative offices, the football office and meeting rooms, as well as an academic center which will benefit all Baylor student-athletes.

The Highers Athletics Complex will include three football practice fields, two with a natural surface and the other with artificial turf. Construction of the facility will take approximately 18 months, with expected completion by summer 2008. Games will continue to be played at Floyd Casey Stadium.

"These facilities will make a dramatic impact on the football program and the experience of every Baylor student-athlete," McCaw said. "We are grateful to the Highers and Simpson families for providing the lead gifts that have allowed this project to become a reality."

"This is a great day for Baylor football. We deeply appreciate the Board of Regents, President Lilley, Ian McCaw, and especially the Highers' family and Bob Simpson for making this facility a reality," said Baylor head football coach Guy Morriss. "Moving our entire football operation to campus will be a tremendous benefit to Baylor football for many years to come and will have a positive impact in recruiting future student-athletes."

Facilities located on the proposed building site - the marina pool, Streich Tennis Courts and soccer field - might be relocated pending review as part of Baylor's strategic and master planning process.

In other action taken today by Baylor's Board of Regents, salary increases for faculty and staff for the 2007-2008 fiscal year will be based on a pool of 4.5 percent. Furthermore, the regents added another 1 percent to establish a fund to reward extraordinary performance, as determined by the department heads, deans and vice presidents working in consultation with the executive vice president.

The regents also adopted today a change in the retirement contribution program for faculty and staff. Effective Jan. 1, 2008, all full-time, regular employees 21 years of age or older will receive a contribution to retirement in the amount of 10.8 percent of salary. The same retirement contribution will apply to all full-time, regular faculty and staff, irrespective of years of service or employment category.

The board also approved a new joint master's degree program through the department of computer science and the Hankamer School of Business. The joint master in computer science/master of business administration degree (MSCS/MBA) is designed to provide graduate students with the innovative knowledge to work effectively at the intersection of business and technology.

Regents continued to hear reports on the significant progress made in achieving the imperatives of Baylor 2012.

Discussion on Imperative 4 (attract and support a top-tier student body) focused on the continued strong interest in Baylor shown by students with outstanding academic records and character consistent with the university's mission. As of Jan. 17, Baylor had received 23,157 applications for this fall's freshman class, and had accepted 6,763. The average SAT of all accepted students currently is a record 1253, while the average ACT score of admitted students exceeds 26.

The presentation on Imperative 5 (initiate outstanding new academic programs) highlighted new programs such as the Honors College and Great Texts, numerous proposed doctoral programs and the 100 percent increase in Baylor faculty publications in major research journals.

On Imperative 6 (guide all Baylor students, through academic and student life programming, to understand life as stewardship and work as a vocation), the board's discussion centered on Baylor's undergraduate programs that emphasize the central importance of vocation and service in students' lives and help them explore their value and role in society. Highlighted programs included resident chaplains, who live in Baylor residence halls and play an instrumental role in providing pastoral care to students, and discipline-specific missions that provide opportunities for Baylor students to engage in missions work, while making use of their discipline-based education, training and professional giftedness.

"As a board, we continue to see evidence of the successes of Baylor 2012 at all levels of our university," said Jim L. Turner, chair of the Baylor Board of Regents. "Baylor is positioned to enroll next fall another academically outstanding and diverse freshmen class. Our students are being taught by and conducting research alongside Baylor's world-class faculty in exceptional academic programs and facilities, and our students are taking what they're learning in their classrooms and applying that discipline-specific knowledge in service to the local and global community."

In other business, the board's development, marketing and communications committee heard a report on the work Baylor is doing to fulfill the ninth imperative (enhance involvement of the entire Baylor family) and 12th imperative (achieve a $2 billion endowment) of Vision 2012. The report included information on Baylor's outreach efforts to all alumni. The development, marketing and communications committee expressed appreciation for the work and insight presented. The board will continue to work in cooperation with the administration to complete the report.

The Board of Regents will next meet May 10-11, 2007.

Looking for more news from Baylor University?