Q&A with Baylor President Ken Starr

Feb. 16, 2010

What attracted you to Baylor?

Starr: I am inspired and attracted to Baylor University's commitment to integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment. With its growing international reputation as a research university that continues to care deeply about undergraduate education, Baylor is poised to have an increasingly global impact. I am fully persuaded that Baylor University enjoys a unique - and perhaps unprecedented - opportunity to be a powerful educational beacon. As a baptized believer who is firmly committed to the goals of excellence and humanity in Christian higher education, I am eager to serve in this journey alongside the university's faculty, staff, students and alumni as Baylor's president.

What are your impressions of Baylor?

Starr: Baylor has a proud history and rich traditions. The name, "Baylor University," has always been synonymous with excellence in education. It is no accident that Baylor includes among its alumni remarkable leaders such like Mark Hurd, Drayton McLane, Mike Singletary and thousands more men and women who, though less heralded by the media, are equally accomplished servant-leaders in the truest sense. I am aware of and in full agreement with Baylor's goal to achieve excellence across the spectrum in teaching and research, in scholarship and publication, and in service to the community, both local and global. Our alumni worldwide are the best examples of the importance and impact of the University's mission.

I also am enormously impressed with the remarkable environment for learning that Baylor has established. The Baylor campus is among the most beautiful I have visited and includes so many spaces to enhance the intellectual, spiritual, social and cultural lives of our students. Additionally, I have become aware of the strong relationship that exists between Baylor, the city of Waco and the Central Texas community, which is so important to our mutual success and to creating a quality of life that benefits all who live here. I feel blessed to be coming to a community where the town-gown relationship is as mutually respectful as it is between Baylor and Waco.

As you know, Baylor University has been strengthening many aspects of the university - from research to residential life to its historic Christian mission. What are your impressions of Baylor 2012, the university's 10-year vision?

Starr: The ennobling goals of 2012 remain before the extended Baylor family, and now we're looking to the next chapter in its unfolding history. I count it as a great blessing - and an honored responsibility - to be able to assist, through energetic encouragement and old-fashioned hard work, building upon the mighty foundation that past generations of Baylor faculty, administrators, alumni and friends have established.

You're coming from an institution at Pepperdine that also believes that academic excellence and Christian faith complement one another. What are your thoughts on the integration of faith and learning?

Starr: This is a time of great promise for Christian higher education, as thoughtful reflection increasingly abounds with respect to the integration of faith and learning. I place inestimable value on the effort to reflect ever more thoughtfully on the role of Christian education in fostering the life of the mind and in preparing young people for lives of genuine service and sacrificial leadership around the globe. I share the Baylor view that knowledge must be informed by faith in fulfilling our calling to enable students to cultivate their capacity to think critically, to assess information, to arrive at informed and reasoned conclusions, and to become lifelong learners.

Many people are familiar with your legal career. What called you to higher education?

Starr: My career reflects a lifelong love for the academy. I've lectured and taught as an adjunct or visiting professor at New York University and George Mason University and served on boards at American University and Shenandoah University, as well as on the boards of visitors at the University of Arizona and at the law schools at Pepperdine and Duke. I have long felt the call to be engaged - if only modestly - in the world of higher education. It was thus in keeping with these long-held interests that I answered the specific call in 2004 to become a servant leader at Pepperdine School of Law. My wife, Alice, and I prayerfully considered the move across the country, but we were irresistibly drawn by Pepperdine's commitment to deepening the institution's treasured Christian mission and vision while enhancing educational excellence. The same vision and call now leads us to Baylor University.

You've served as dean of the Law School at Pepperdine since 2004. As you become president of Baylor University, you will oversee the entire academic enterprise. How will you take on that challenge?

Starr: Since joining Pepperdine in 2004, I have resisted potential opportunities to serve elsewhere in the world of higher education because there were none that I was eager to pursue. However, I believe Baylor and its outstanding faculty, staff and students are poised to do truly great things by furthering the work of the university and reaching out in the finest traditions of Christian stewardship especially through preparing students for lives of worldwide leadership and service and the discovery of new knowledge. I am honored to join that effort and become part of the entire Baylor Family, and I know that the challenges we face will be met with our combined strength and purpose.

How would you describe your faith journey?

Starr: I was raised in the Church of Christ, and my spiritual journey has led me to the broader evangelical world. At Pepperdine, we worship on campus at University Church of Christ, but we have also continued to be actively engaged in ministry at our former church, McLean Bible Church, in northern Virginia. There, my activities have focused on the inner city of Washington, D.C., and in serving special needs children and families throughout the metropolitan D.C. area. More broadly, I have encouraged the fostering of a truly global Christian perspective through service on the board of Advocates International, an evangelical human rights organization, and at Pepperdine through the creation of a vibrant and growing global justice program. Christ's transformational message irresistibly captures the imagination and holds great promise for the next decade of truly global opportunities for Baylor, the leading Protestant center of higher education in the United States - and perhaps the whole world.

You're a native Texan?

Starr: I am a fifth-generation Texan, whose family (on my father's side) arrived in East Texas in the mid-19th century, three years after Baylor was founded. I was born in Vernon and grew up in San Antonio, where I graduated from Sam Houston High School. My professional life has led me to both coasts, but I am a proud native Texan who honors and treasures the great heritage of Baylor's home state and Baylor's singular contribution to Texas and far beyond.

What is your educational background?

Starr: I was encouraged by my wise high school counselor at Sam Houston High School in San Antonio to venture east to George Washington University to complete my undergraduate studies in political science with a minor in history. Those were extraordinarily difficult times for our country - the war in Viet Nam, the scourge of assassinations of leading political figures and civil rights champions, and the battle for equal rights in the workplace, in places of public accommodation and at the ballot box. But even in those trying times, I was blessed by being able to serve as a humble, part-time staffer on Capitol Hill for Texas Rep. Bob Price of the 18th Congressional District. From that vantage point, I had a ringside seat for observing the leading figures of the day engaged in lively debate and discussion about the burning issues of that time. Frequently, the most articulate voices - on both sides of the political aisle - were academics, who had been called to serve in elected office. My long-standing interest in public service was thus confirmed, and after graduation from George Washington, I journeyed to Brown University for graduate studies in political science. After one year as a University Fellow in Brown's Ph.D. program, however, I determined that my limited abilities would find greater voice in and through the law. I then earned a law degree from Duke University.

Tell us about your family.

Starr: My wife, Alice, and I are the proud parents of three children and four grandchildren: our son, Randall Postley Starr, and his wife Melina Svengos Starr; our daughter, Cynthia Anne Starr; and our daughter, Carolyn Starr Doolittle, and her husband Cameron Doolittle, who are the parents of Grace Elizabeth Doolittle, age 5; Christiana Renee Doolittle, age 3; Hewson Chase Doolittle, age 18 months; and Sandhana Michelle Doolittle, age 3 months.

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