Baylor Conversation Series

Baylor Conversation Series

This fall, the University began a Baylor Conversation Series to help the Baylor Family hear about University progress directly from leaders.

The initial two Conversations occurred Nov. 9 and Nov. 20 in Waco with Baylor University President Linda A. Livingstone, PhD, Interim Provost Michael K. McLendon, PhD, and Baylor Board of Regents Chair Joel Allison participating and Assistant Vice President for Media Communications Lori Fogleman serving as moderator.

During the discussions, the three leaders provided updates on the University’s strength and resilience, the academic strategic plan and how Baylor is aggressively moving forward on several fronts. 

The Baylor Conversation Series will continue in 2018 with stops across Texas in Houston, Dallas and Austin and a nationwide tour that includes Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Nashville, New York City, Phoenix, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Watch for information on specific locations and times. 

The November conversations were recorded and may be viewed at baylor.edu/president. Excerpts from Livingstone’s responses to a few questions regarding the University’s strategic direction are included here.  

You have spoken several times about the University being strong, secure and strategic. Can you tell us what this means and how it will help move Baylor forward?

When I first came [back to Baylor] on June 1, I worked with the Board and leadership within the University to develop a set of goals for this year—what are we going to focus on this year to help move the institution forward. We framed those goals in those three categories—strong, secure, strategic.

Strong has to do with developing capacity for leadership in the institution that helps us move forward on our mission and vision. We’ve made a lot of progress. Part of that is building my leadership team. I tell everyone when they ask, “what is the most important thing a leader can do,” that it is to have the right people on your leadership team who can work well together, support the mission and move the institution forward. 

The secure element of our goals has to do with being strong operationally and financially and then also ensuring we have the right climate on our campus for the health and wellbeing of all the members of our community. 

The other piece of that is the climate of our campus and ensuring that we are building a climate that is positive and helps ensure the wellbeing for the people on our campus. The Pepper Hamilton 105 recommendations are a significant part of that, and completing those was one of our goals. 

The other part is that we completed two climate surveys late last spring that we [have received] the results from. One was with regard to the climate around sexual harassment, sexual violence, sexual assault issues on our campus—we called it the Title IX survey as shorthand. That survey is completed, and we released the results online in November. There are elements of the results that show we are making really good progress in terms of awareness, training and people knowing where to report. But, there are areas where we have more work to do. That was important for us to learn more about. The second survey is a diversity climate survey. The results of that survey [were released online in December]. We will learn from that what we need to work on even more than we have in recent years to ensure we have a climate on our campus that is welcoming and engaging for the very diverse set of individuals that we have on our campus.

Finally, is the strategic piece. The last couple of years we have been very internally focused, and focused on the moment, and working on very difficult issues, and we had to be. But, now we really need to lift our eyes up and look to the future and see where we are going as an institution. What we’re doing is building out Phase 2 of Pro Futuris, which is our aspiration to be a top tier research university that maintains the integrity of our Christian focus as an institution. What we are working on this year is building out the academic goals in that plan; we are working out facilities priorities in that plan; and then, we are building out a comprehensive fundraising campaign around that plan. That is in process. 

You’ve also spoken about Tier 1 status. What is that—can you define it for us—and how do you know when you get there?

There are some very standard measures in the academic world that have to do with how you are viewed from an academic quality perspective. In the world of research, the Carnegie Foundation has a set of metrics that they look at and measure: the amount of expenditures you are spending on research in STEM fields, social sciences and humanities; they look at your PhD production in those different areas. They look at the amount of staff you have supporting the research endeavors of your institution. You can actually look and see what schools that are considered Research 1 schools are spending versus what we are spending. There are really clear metrics and you can tell what the gap is and what you are going to have to do to get there. 

There is another set of metrics that are oftentimes what we pull from US News & World Report that are more undergraduate focused.

We’ve put quite a bit of attention on those, and they were really the focus of the first five years of the implementation of Pro Futuris. They have to do with graduation rates of undergraduate students, retention rates of undergraduate students, faculty-student ratios and those kinds of things. Those still matter to us, and we still need to make progress on those. On some of them we’ve made huge progress and we need to maintain. Others we’ve got to continue. Those are pretty clear metrics. You know where you are, you know where you need to go.

There’s a third set of metrics that I would say are very important to us at Baylor, but aren’t going to show up in US News & World Report and they are not going to show up in the Carnegie measures. It’s things like student engagement in service learning, in international study, in learning that engages them in the business community, the healthcare community, in whatever community it is they are studying in—engagement in and out of the classroom. We care about spiritual formation here. We want to know how our students are doing in terms of spiritual formation and how they are developing and maturing during their time here. Then, there are issues of impact. Is the research that our faculty are doing actually making a difference in the world? The Carnegie numbers don’t assess that in any way. We want to know if the learning we are doing with our students is impacting those students, and is it making them better citizens in the world and better employees and better contributors to society. Those kinds of things, we care about—they are harder to measure as well—but nobody else is really going to assess those when you look at some of these academic measures. 

We have to care about them regardless of whether or not the Carnegie Foundation or US News actually measure those things. We are in the process of identifying those metrics and measuring where we are against them, where we can go in five years versus where we need to be in 10 or 15 years. That will be built into the plan as we roll it out in the coming months. 

Do you have any final thoughts or comments to share?

We are deeply committed to this idea of building a truly Christian research university that is viewed among the top universities in the country, while ensuring that we maintain the integrity [of] and continue to strengthen our Christian mission. That matters because you have influence in academics, you have influence in the broader world from a policy perspective because you are respected
academically. 

In my inauguration address I used the phrase “the world needs Baylor.” I absolutely believe that, particularly at this point in time given what is going on in our society, both domestically and internationally. There needs to be that strong Christian academic voice to have an influence in the world—on the lives of our students, on the scholarly work that is done and then on society more broadly. We are in a unique place to be able to do that right now.