Introducing Baylor's 14th President

March 24, 2010
By Randy Fiedler

During their meeting in Houston Feb. 12, the Baylor Board of Regents voted unanimously to name Judge Kenneth Winston Starr as the 14th president of Baylor University. Starr, who currently serves as dean of the School of Law at Pepperdine University, had been the unanimous choice of both the 14-member Presidential Search Committee and the 10-member Presidential Search Advisory Committee.

Within days of the vote, Starr traveled to Waco with his wife, Alice, to tour the Baylor campus and meet with a wide variety of representatives from both the University and the Greater Waco area. His goal was to get to know Baylor through interactions with many different constituent groups during the brief visit Feb. 14-17. Between meetings with Baylor and community groups, Starr talked with members of the local and national media.

Soon after arriving on campus, Starr met with members of the Baylor Executive Council, composed of Interim President David Garland and senior administrators, then with the Council of Deans. Pattie Orr, vice president for information technology and dean of University libraries, attended both meetings and said Starr made a very positive impression.

"One thing I liked about Judge Starr was that he had done his homework. He had really studied up on Baylor and knew all about the University and its leadership," Orr said. "He said he was a good listener, and that was something I observed in our meeting. He talked about how important it is to hear all points of view, and said that even though you can't always please everyone, people have to be heard. He said he prefers a roundtable approach. Regardless of who sits where, he wants to hear all of the voices."

Another leadership group Starr made a point of meeting early in his visit was the executive committee of Baylor's Faculty Senate. Executive committee chair Dr. Dennis R. Myers, professor of social work and associate dean for graduate studies, said Starr is committed to faculty.

"President-elect Starr expresses a deep respect for the role of the Faculty Senate in the Academy," Myers said. "He seems to invite opportunities to hear both supportive and dissenting voices as an important aspect of his decision-making process."

Another executive committee member, Dr. Jaime L. Diaz-Granados, chair and associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, also served on the Presidential Search Advisory Committee.

"It's our bias that the measure of the success of a president is directly related to the success of his faculty," Diaz-Granados said. "You can imagine from our perspective how important it was for us to find the right person. I believe that we have found that person in Judge Starr."

Diaz-Granados went on to praise Starr for his "academic credentials, his administrative experience in academia, and his consistent track record of success."

During his stay, Starr met with the leadership of Baylor Staff Council and learned what role the Council plays at the University. Staff Council President Patricia Pack appreciated the chance to get to know Starr and begin a good working relationship.

"He was extremely warm and engaging in our conversations with him," Pack said. "We expressed our desire to work with him to continue to make Baylor a great place to work, and he expressed his desire to do the same. The Staff Council is eager to begin our relationship with Ken Starr as the next president of Baylor."

Texas Baptist leaders -- a diverse group including journalists, pastors, Baptist General Convention of Texas officials and leaders from other Texas Baptist universities -- had the chance to sit down with Starr and discuss his faith and ideas about Christian education. One of the persons attending the meeting was Dr. Samuel "Dub" Oliver, a former Baylor administrator who left in 2009 to become president of East Texas Baptist University.

"After spending just a few minutes with Judge Starr, his keen intellect and curiosity, his gracious spirit and his thoughtful leadership were easily
evident," Oliver said. "One of the things I also observed was his deep appreciation for Baylor. It seems to me that through the presidential search process he has come to know and love Baylor as many who have had a much longer association with the University. I predict that he will be a great president for Baylor and that he will assist us all as we advance Christian higher education in the world."

Another Baptist leader at the meeting already was familiar with Starr. Dr. Ken Hall, chief executive officer of Buckner International and a past president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, chaired the search advisory committee that provided counsel to Baylor's presidential search committee.

"I was asked to participate in this process because of my ties to the Baptist community of faith in Texas and around our country," Hall said. "Looking at the choice of Kenneth Starr through that particular prism, I can tell you that our new president brings to this task an uncommon and even uncanny understanding of Baylor's unique and distinct mission as a national Christian university with historic Baptist ties. He represents the very best of what it means to be an active churchman who, along with his wonderful wife Alice, puts his belief into action through his local congregation of faith."

It was important to Judge Starr that he meet and continue to build on strong relationships with community leaders and University supporters. On Feb 15, Baylor alumni Jim and Nell Hawkins hosted a dinner in honor of Judge Starr and his wife Alice where he got the chance to interact with many of these supporters.

One of Starr's priorities during his visit was to meet with Baylor students, whom he called "the heart of the University" in his public remarks. He was successful in that endeavor, shaking many students' hands and introducing himself as he walked around campus. In addition to these informal talks, Starr met with student leaders, such as members of Baylor Student Government. After their meeting together, Baylor Student Body President Jordan Hannah said, "We look forward to partnering with Judge Starr and the University administration to continue to build a better Baylor. Student Government is committed to working with Judge Starr to further the interests of the student body."

Chelsea Saylors, a Baylor graduate student who was chosen to represent her fellow students on the Presidential Search Advisory Committee, also professed optimism about the type of relationship Starr will have with students.

"Baylor students have a vision for and investment in the future of the University, and it was my privilege to communicate those views to the search committee," Saylors said. "As we continue to work together to make Baylor the best it can be, I am more than hopeful for the future. I am overwhelmingly pleased by the selection of Judge Starr as Baylor's next president."

In a separate meeting, Starr was introduced to students from the Baylor Chamber of Commerce. Chamber member Scott Neumann said afterward that he was "excited and grateful" about the leadership Starr will provide.

"Judge Starr is an incredibly kind, gracious and funny man who truly cares about the Baylor family," Neumann said. "His values and personality will fit in perfectly here. He believes in the importance of faith and learning and is committed to Baylor's success."

Chamber members also accompanied Starr when he visited Baylor's Bill and Eva Williams Bear Habitat and was introduced to mascots Lady and Joy, posing with the bears for a traditional "Sic 'Em" salute.

Judge Starr was formally welcomed into the Baylor community during a 3 p.m. ceremony Feb. 16 in the Barfield Drawing Room of the Bill Daniel Student Center. In his introduction, Regents Chair R. Dary Stone called Starr an "outspoken Christian leader" and someone who "embodies all that characterizes Baylor University with his commitment to his faith and his family." He also predicted that Baylor will quickly appreciate Starr's style of leadership.

"He's not only a great, strong, tough-minded leader, but he does so with a servant leader's heart and manner," Stone said. "He's going to be a fantastic president for Baylor University."

After leaping to the podium to the sound of a rousing standing ovation, Starr acknowledged the start of Dr Pepper hour elsewhere in the building by telling the audience, "I know I am the last thing standing between you and a Dr Pepper float." He then spoke of his respect for academic freedom and the University's heritage and Christian traditions, and stressed his desire to work cooperatively with all members of the Baylor family to achieve shared goals.

"All voices are welcome to the community," Starr said. "We ask only that the voices treat one another with dignity and respect and that we have a conversation, and not a shouting match."

During his visit, Starr lost no time in dressing in Baylor green and gold and professing both his love for sports and his admiration for Baylor's commitment to a quality athletic program. Starr was given a guided tour of the University's athletic facilities by Ian McCaw, director of athletics.

"I was impressed with Judge Starr's engaging personality, strong interpersonal skills and gracious attitude toward the coaches, staff and student-athletes whom he encountered," McCaw said. "My sense is that he is a servant leader who possesses extraordinary intelligence, wisdom and humility. He said that he and his wife Alice are big fans of athletics who look forward to cheering on the Bears and Lady Bears."

Starr met many Baylor players and coaches during his visit, including head basketball coaches Kim Mulkey and Scott Drew and head football coach Art Briles.

"Judge Starr is a man of calm confidence, who has a very engaging personality. I'm very anxious to be involved with his vision for Baylor," Briles said.

As part of his Baylor athletic tour, Starr found time to speak with student athletes in a workout session, including Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin, and to be introduced to the Ferrell Center crowd on hand to watch the Baylor men's basketball team beat Texas Tech, 88-70. Starr attended the game with his wife and grandchildren, all dressed in Baylor spirit wear. When introduced to the audience, Judge Starr unzipped his Baylor jacket to reveal the traditional green and gold striped bear pit jersey and turned to cheer on the student spirit group.

After the game, Coach Drew had words of welcome for the president-elect.

"We are honored to have such an extraordinary man such as Judge Ken Starr join the Baylor family as our new president," Drew said. "We look forward to many more prosperous years of success for the University under his watch."

On the morning of Feb. 17, just hours before he left to return to California, Starr toured classes and met with a number of students at the Baylor School of Law. He then invited the law faculty to eat breakfast with him. Bradley J.B. Toben, dean of the School of Law, said that Starr's actions during his visit showed an important aspect of his character.

"Judge Starr, upon entering the suite where the breakfast was to be served, took special pains to quickly go to the galley and thank the serving staff for their early morning work," Toben said. "It was not a happenstance encounter or a mere courtesy. It was a heartfelt effort to express appreciation to folks whom all too often are ignored."

Judge Starr's final stop on his Baylor visit was to the McLane Student Life Center where he took a few minutes for himself on the treadmill. Starr typically runs four miles several times a week.

Judge Starr will take office as Baylor president on June 1.
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