Underwood Takes the Reins

June 22, 2005



About 1,200 faculty, staff and administrators gathered June 2 in Waco Hall for a University-wide meeting called by Baylor's new interim president, William D. Underwood. Joining him on stage was Mark Osler, associate professor of law in the Baylor Law School, who introduced J. Randall O'Brien, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs appointed by Underwood the previous day. Both Underwood and O'Brien called for reconciliation and healing, acknowledging the challenges yet asking for an end to the dissension. "We must move beyond our battlegrounds to common ground," O'Brien said. "Let us demand of each other better versions of ourselves. Let us create an environment where reality matches our rhetoric, a place where we are known by our love for Christ and for each other." As a Christian institution, he said, Baylor must be about faith and living as well as faith and learning. In recounting the difficulties at Baylor of the past few years, Underwood said, "You have persevered. You have cared about Baylor -- at times about Baylor more than about yourself -- and we are very grateful. We will not forget the sacrifices you have made during these difficult times." He said he believes that the divisions are not nearly as great as they may seem and that there is "ample consensus for moving forward." "There is a place in Vision 2012 for everyone who is willing to join with us in pursuing even greater excellence than what we have already experienced," he said. "Baylor University can be the most exciting university, the greatest of all universities," he said. "We in this room here today have the ability to make that happen." The meeting came a day after Underwood's announcement of three interim administrative appointments that took effect immediately. In addition to O'Brien's appointment, Underwood named a chief of staff to the president and a new position of special assistant to the president for denomination relations (see sidebar). It was a busy first week in office for Underwood, the Leon Jaworski Chair in Practice and Procedure at Baylor Law School, who was elected interim president by unanimous vote April 29 on the first ballot by the Board of Regents. The regents imposed no limitations on Underwood's authority as interim, including hiring and firing at all levels and consideration for the permanent position. "He's going to be president of Baylor University until we elect a new one," said Regent Chair Will Davis after the election. "He's not caretaking anything." Underwood said then that "the most obvious challenge is bringing the Baylor family back together. Baylor people I've known have one thing in common. They care a great deal about this University, and that's a great building block." (See "A Credible Witness," page 24.) Meanwhile, the board-appointed presidential search and search advisory committees have met with various groups of Baylor constituents since Robert B. Sloan Jr. announced on Jan. 21 that he would transition to the role of chancellor June 1. Davis said in late April that the search was ahead of schedule and that Baylor's 13th president may be announced by Sept. 1. Underwood has been on faculty at the Law School since 1990. He is a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law, where he was a member of the Board of Editors of the University of Illinois Law Review, graduated salutatorian of his class and was a member of the Order of the Coif. Following his graduation from law school, Underwood completed a prestigious federal clerkship with Judge Sam D. Johnson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. He served as general counsel to Baylor in 1997-98 at the request of Sloan. Last year, he was designated a Master Teacher, the University's highest teaching accolade. He also directs the Law School's Practice Court program, which has been described by the Princeton Review as "unique," "tough" and "ultra-intense." He continues to practice civil and criminal law. He has published extensively in the field of civil practice and procedure, including articles that have led to significant changes in federal and state procedural law. He and his wife, Lesli, are the parents of two children, Jessica, 16, and William, 11. They are members of Seventh & James Baptist Church in Waco. Streaming video of the Waco Hall meeting available at www.baylortv.com.



Provost/vice president for academic affairs:

J. Randall O'Brien is the interim provost and vice president for academic affairs. He succeeds David Lyle Jeffrey, who held the post for two years. O'Brien moves from chair in the Department of Religion at Baylor, where he has been a faculty member since 1991. O'Brien has served in several different administrative roles under Sloan, including executive assistant to Sloan when he was president and acting dean at George W. Truett Theological Seminary. He has been honored with numerous teaching awards, including his selection as Outstanding Faculty Member by the Baylor Student Congress for 1996-97 and the Carr P. Collins Outstanding Faculty Member in 1995-96 by the senior class. Underwood expressed his appreciation for Jeffrey's service as provost. "Dr. Jeffrey has served the University ably during a difficult and tumultuous period. Perhaps his most significant contribution has been to challenge our faculty to achieve even higher standards of excellence in research and teaching." Jeffrey will continue as Distinguished Professor of Literature and Humanities at Baylor.



Chief of staff:

Michael Morrison is Underwood's chief of staff. Morrison holds the William Boswell Chair of Law at the Baylor School of Law, where he has been a member of the faculty since 1977, and was designated an Outstanding Professor in 1997. Morrison served two terms as mayor of Waco from 1996-2000 and continues to be actively involved in community affairs. Morrison succeeds Tommye Lou Davis, who has accepted the position of chief of staff for Chancellor Robert B. Sloan Jr. Davis is associate professor in the Department of Classics and a Baylor Master Teacher.



Special assistant to the president for denomination relations:

Paul W. Powell becomes special assistant to the president for denomination relations. Powell, who was appointed the third dean of Truett Seminary in 2001 and will continue in that role, has served in numerous offices of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, including a term as president from 1985-87. A former chair of the Baylor Board of Regents, Powell is president of the Board of Advisers for Texas Baptist Leadership. He has served as pastor of several Texas Baptist churches, including 17 years as pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler.
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