More than 170 years following its charter by the Republic of Texas, Baylor University maintains an increasingly unique identity within higher education today. Best articulated by its mission – to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community – Baylor's equal emphasis on outstanding research and academics and steadfast Christian faith is uncommon indeed, and one of the many reasons Dr. Linda A. Livingstone was at once thrilled and deeply humbled to become the University's 15th President.
"The role the integration of academic excellence and Christian commitment plays in deeply transforming student lives is different than what you find at a secular institution," Livingstone said. "We certainly are focusing on the academic life of students, the social development of students, the physical development of students; but we can also look at their spiritual and faith development as well, and that provides an opportunity for a deeper engagement with students on really important and difficult issues."
Livingstone was raised in a Christian home, attending a small, Methodist church in Perkins, Okla. When she enrolled at Oklahoma State University, she began attending Baptist churches, starting with University Heights Baptist Church near the Stillwater campus.
Throughout her life and work, Livingstone has held fast to the hope of the gospel, but her appreciation for Christian higher education began to take root when she joined the Baylor faculty in 1991, after she had earned her PhD in management from Oklahoma State.
"I decided to start my academic career at Baylor in part because it is a Christian university and I had not been involved in Christian higher education up to that point in time; but I really thought it would be a unique and special experience to do that," Livingstone said. "And of course, I left Baylor to go to another faith-based institution at Pepperdine; and in both of these places I came to appreciate quite deeply the value of Christian higher education."
Between 1991 and 2002, Livingstone taught courses in management and organizational behavior at Baylor and, later in her tenure, served as associate dean for graduate programs in the Hankamer School of Business. Then, she and her family lived in Malibu for 12 years, where Livingstone served as dean of the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University. In 2014, she accepted a position as dean of the George Washington University School of Business.
"When I had the opportunity to come back [to Baylor] after being away for several years, I felt like this was really where God was calling me," Livingstone said. "He was calling our family back to provide leadership to Baylor at this particular point in time."
The fear is common among parents, pastors and even politicians that college is a place where young believers lose their faith; however, Livingstone views the landscape of higher education differently, as "the most fertile space for cultivating and nurturing a robust faith that aggressively seeks deeper understanding of our empirical world and the societies in which we live," she wrote in a 2012 article for Bloomberg.
Because every aspect of the Baylor experience is firmly anchored in the virtues and values intrinsic to the Christian faith, the University provides an ideal setting for students not only to acquire skills and knowledge for use in practice, but also to engage in the kind of focused reflection, questioning and bold discovery that characterize "the college years." In turn, Baylor offers a distinctive voice in global conversations about social responsibility, human rights, diversity, economics, sustainability and other issues, as well as graduates who apply their knowledge and training to purposes that transcend mere self-interest.
"Over many years in higher education in religiously affiliated institutions across the nation, we have seen countless ways in which the college experience brings faith to life for not only undergraduates but also graduate-level students," Livingstone wrote in Bloomberg. "In these institutions, faith is explored and embraced as a conversational partner with reason and science. Many of our students find their personal religious faith serves as a foundation to help guide life's decisions. Allowing our most deeply held values to shape our practice strengthens the commitment to these values and provides a safe space to grow in character and virtue."