David E. Garland

Distinguished Achievement Award: Bestowed on individuals who have made a distinct contribution to their particular profession, business or vocation and in doing so have brought honor to Baylor


David E. Garland

Over the past two decades, Dr. David E. Garland has served Baylor University with faith, hope and love.

A leading New Testament scholar and pastor, Garland possesses a rare depth of expertise in academic and congregational life. He skillfully and consistently balances measured wisdom and peace with unquestioned love for Baylor and true servant leadership. Garland twice led the University in times when these qualities were especially critical.

Beginning in 1997, Garland began his Baylor career as a professor of Christian Scriptures at the University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary. He has authored, co-author or edited 23 books on topics ranging from commentaries on the Gospels and Paul’s letters to examining how God’s grace works in flawed families. He also has contributed academic articles to more than 50 scholarly journals.

The U.S. Navy veteran’s foray into higher education administration began in 2001, when Garland dutifully accepted an appointment to a newly created role within Truett Seminary—associate dean for academic affairs. The new position, Garland said at the time, was necessary to move Truett Seminary forward in its goal of continued academic excellence and enable then Dean Paul W. Powell, BA ’56, to focus on fundraising, increasing outside support for the seminary.

In addition to Garland’s research, teaching and new administrative duties, he also managed to direct two of Truett Seminary’s self-studies for accreditation by the Association of Theological Schools, from 2000-02 and 2005-07. In 2005, he was named to an endowed chair—The William M. Hinson Professor of Christian Scriptures. Executing his responsibilities so effectively and with remarkable leadership, there was little surprise when, in 2007, Garland was unanimously selected by the faculty to serve as the fourth dean of Truett Seminary following Powell’s retirement.

“David Garland is widely recognized in the world of New Testament studies for his careful and insightful scholarship,” said Dr. Richard B. Hays, Duke Divinity School, at the time of Garland’s appointment as dean. “Truett Seminary is fortunate to gain Dr. Garland’s leadership, for he is a scholar who represents the highest academic standards, while at the same time understanding the practical needs and concerns of the church.”

Only one year into his tenure as dean, Garland was approached about taking on a title few others could assume so capably. In 2008, he was called upon to serve as interim president of the University during a period when Baylor faced internal struggles over academic freedom and internal relations.

“If you preach about giving your life in service, you have to be willing to serve,” Garland said at the time of his appointment. “I am grateful for and humbled by this demonstration of trust by so many within the Baylor Family. I ask your prayers, encourage your patience, and invite your active participation as we lead Baylor during the months ahead.”

He proceeded to make great strides in restoring unity to a divided Baylor Family and leading the University in an exemplary manner for two years. In 2010, Garland returned to Truett as The Charles J. and Eleanor McLerran Delancey Chair of the Dean. He also was honored by an initial gift from an anonymous donor and subsequent contributions from others that established The David E. Garland Chair of Preaching at Truett Seminary.

From 2014 to 2015, Garland again answered the call to leadership at Baylor and served as interim provost of the University, overseeing all of Baylor’s educational and research programs across its schools and colleges. Much was accomplished under his watch as interim provost, including the appointment of new deans of Truett Seminary, the School of Education and the School of Music, and expanded academic curricula and student-centered initiatives.

Garland was once more called to serve as interim University president in 2016, just months after the passing of his beloved wife of 45 years, Dr. Diana R. Garland, founding dean of Baylor’s School of Social Work.

During this most recent interim presidency, Garland played a vital role in moving the University forward, evidenced by the significant milestones achieved under his leadership. Committed to the implementation of 105 recommendations that resulted from an independent investigation into the University’s response to sexual violence, Garland led the University to structural completion of all improvements.

Additionally, his administration made more than a dozen significant appointments to University leadership posts, including Vice President and Director of Athletics Mack Rhoades, football head coach Matt Rhule and Robbins College Dean Rodney Bowden. Garland shepherded expansion of Baylor’s parental leave and adoption assistance benefits, making them among the best in higher education, and supported the development of student services such as the Beauchamp Addiction Recovery Center.

Because of Garland’s belief in creating opportunities for students of all backgrounds to thrive in their pursuit of an education, he continued the development of Baylor Bound agreements with two-year
colleges across the state, developed the student exchange program with Xavier University of Louisiana, and led the University to become part of the American Talent Initiative, a nationwide effort to increase opportunity for high-achieving, low- to moderate-income students to attend college.

This summer, the Baylor Board of Regents honored Garland for his service to the University by establishing The David E. Garland Scholarship Fund, a $5 million resource that will assist students in Truett Seminary.

When he arrived at Baylor in 1997 to teach at Truett Seminary, neither Garland nor the Baylor Family could have foreseen the extent to which the University would come to rely upon his unparalleled academic and administrative expertise. Following a sabbatical this fall, Garland will return to his role as professor of Christian Scriptures in spring 2018.

In his August 2016 address as interim president to the graduating class at Baylor, Garland chose to take a different view of some tried-and-true commencement advice. His words inspired thousands in the crowd and online, shared on social media. They also speak volumes about the man who has given selflessly to serve Baylor University for 20 years. Among Garland’s advice were these words of encouragement and truth:

“It’s traditional for commencement speakers to offer advice … They’ll say, ‘Be your own person.’ Well I’d like to revise that, because we are all fallen creatures. I would say instead, ‘Strive to be more like Jesus.’

“They tell you to ‘Follow your own dreams.’ I would say ‘Follow God,’ and I promise you that God will take you to places and to persons you’ve never dreamed. …

“They will tell you, when you fail, as we all do—institutions, individuals—when you fall … ‘Get up, dust yourself off, and move on.’

“But I would say that you need someone greater than you to pick you up. You need someone greater than you to dust you off. You need someone greater than you who will take you through the times of failure. … You need someone greater than you to lift you up and get back in the race and move on. You need someone greater than you to tell you that there are some races in life that are not worth running. You need someone greater than you to guide you on the right path. …

“I cannot tell you whither you will go when you leave this campus, or even if you stay on this campus to study further. But I can tell you of someone who said, ‘I am the way.’”

With this award, the University continues to offer heartfelt gratitude for David Garland’s service and faithful leadership.

For more on Garland, read “Good Shepherds” from  Baylor Magazine ’s Summer 2015 edition.