President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D.

Season 3 - Episode 342

October 23, 2020

President Livingstone
President Livingstone

With the Fall Semester heading into its home stretch, Baylor University President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D., analyzes a variety of topics on this Baylor Connections. From COVID-19 safety measures, to Baylor’s growth in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, to encouraging participation and civility during this election season, President Livingstone shares thoughts on a busy season for the Baylor Family.

Transcript

Derek Smith:

Hello and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in-depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research, and student life. I'm Derek Smith, and our guest today is Baylor University president, Dr. Linda Livingstone. We are about two months into the semester coming off of Homecoming Week. Obviously, a busy time at Baylor. President Livingstone, it's great to have you on the program. Thanks so much for joining us today.

President Livingstone:

Glad to be with you, Derek. Always good to have a conversation.

Derek Smith:

Absolutely. Well, thank you. Well, President Livingstone, we'll dive right in. We celebrated Homecoming a little bit differently than normal, and normal being harder to find these days, so I'm curious, for you, are there aspects of your work these days or interacting with people in the Baylor family that give you that feeling of normalcy that amidst all the changes that are those little, maybe oases that feel like they always do for you?

President Livingstone:

Well, it's a great question because the world is so different right now and changing daily as we adapt, but in terms of what helps it to feel more normal, I mean, at the top of that list is the ability to be on campus and with our students, and whether that's, as we take walks occasionally on campus, my husband and I, along with our dog, Fu, we see students, playing spike ball on Fountain Mall or throwing the football around, or we go by the library and students are sitting out and studying and working together in small groups. We go eat in the dining halls and get to see the students and touch base with them and then we've had some sports, football, soccer, volleyball, and I think one of the times I really felt the most normal was when we went to the first volleyball game. It's like, "Oh, my gosh, this is like a real normal thing to do," and that felt good. But I think the other piece of it, this is really, I think, good for the long run of the university, even as we deal with the day-to-day issues we have to with COVID, we are also continuing work on our strategic plan, Illuminate, and engaging in activities that are making a difference for the long run of the university, and just a few that I'll mention, I mean, we didn't do as much faculty hiring as we normally would, but we did hire faculty, so I got to greet new faculty. It was done remotely on Zoom or Teams, but yet we brought in new faculty. They're going to bring new energy and perspectives to our teaching and to our research. We're in the middle of interviewing candidates to be new dean of our nursing school, we'll interview candidates for dean of our business school probably shortly after the first of the year, important decisions that have long-run applications for the institution. Then I think everybody saw last week, we announced the Hord gift, the $30 million matching gift for student scholarships that will help us long run to be able to make it possible for students to come to Baylor, so those kinds of things also give you a sense of normality that we are looking to the long run, even as we deal with the short-term issues of COVID.

Derek Smith:

Well, you mentioned, President Livingstone, the Hord scholarship, and obviously, the amount, 30 million, is an eye-popping number, but obviously, it's a transformative gift, but what are some of the ways you're most excited about seeing that live out, not only from their gift, but from the way the Baylor family can be involved?

President Livingstone:

Because it's a matching gift, it gives so many in the Baylor family, the opportunity to come alongside the Hord family, to come alongside our students to support them, and it is designed to help students with strong academic credentials, but also potential need to be able to afford to come to Baylor that might not otherwise, and so again, it gives us the opportunity to ensure that it's kind of the best and the brightest that want to be at a Christian research university have the financial opportunity to do that, and it gives the Baylor family a chance to be a part of that in a very significant way. It is a huge opportunity for us to grow our endowment in a way that directly impacts and supports our students for generations to come.

Derek Smith:

Visiting with President Livingstone here on Baylor Connections, and President Livingstone, we're about two months into the semester now, and as you look at where we are serving students, what stands out to you as being the most meaningful aspects of just really getting us to this point with everyone on campus, and are there some things that you've gleaned that will be useful in shaping future steps, however long we're in this sort of a pandemic scenario?

President Livingstone:

The most important thing I think I've seen to allow us to be where we are today, back on campus, trying to do things, certainly different, but as normal as possible, is the deep commitment, really, everybody in the Baylor family has made to follow the health guidelines that we've laid out, to do what it takes to make it happen, whether that's our faculty adapting their teaching modality, whether it's staff that have shifted how they're supporting students, what they're doing in their job because of what we need to have done may be different, students adapting and being flexible, wearing their masks, washing their hands, social distancing, which we know is hard to do when you're a college student and want to be with your friends all the time. As we look to the future, I think we know that we have to be adaptable, we have to learn and continue to adapt as we have, really since March of last year, but I also think in many ways, it's a significant lesson in perseverance and resilience. While it's difficult going through it, I think we'll all look back and know we learned a lot about how to persevere through difficult times. I'm really reminded of the Scripture in Galatians 6:9: "Let us not grow weary in doing good, for we will reap at harvest time if we do not give up," and I think that's just a real encouragement to us because if we keep doing the things we're doing now and into the spring semester, it does give us the opportunity to be together on campus, it gives us the opportunity to phase in more face-to-face activities for our community, and frankly, most importantly, it helps us ensure the health and wellbeing of ourselves and others in the broader Waco community, so it's a challenging time, but it's also an opportunity for us to be good stewards of our campus and of our broader community.

Derek Smith:

Absolutely. That's great. As we visit with President Livingstone, President Livingstone, a lot of people have monitored the dashboard and the numbers, and really, there's been thankfully a lot of positive momentum over the course. I know it ebbs and flows, like it does everywhere, but even with the best defenses, obviously, sometimes students, or people in the community, particularly students right now, I'll ask you about, are going to get COVID, so when they do, what should people know about the way Baylor cares for the students who test positive and then how contact-tracing aspects further protect those people, particularly close community with them?

President Livingstone:

I've been so impressed to see the way our community has come together to support students in isolation that have tested positive and we make sure that they have the food they need, we make sure that they're getting daily check-ins from someone to make sure they're doing okay. If they need any help or medical support, we ensure that they have that, and then we've got a whole group of several hundred folks that have stepped up to do contact tracing, because as we know contact-tracing and identifying those close contacts and then quarantining them for a period of time is really key to slowing down and stopping the spread of the virus, and I know it's hard for our students to isolate and to quarantine, but it is so critical that we do that quickly and protect the broader community, so I've been pleased with the way the community has come together and done this. We need to continue to encourage folks to follow those isolation quarantine guidelines so that we can continue to keep the campus safe, and I think for the most part, people are doing that well in spite of the challenges that go along with it.

Derek Smith:

I remember earlier in this semester when there was a residence hall that essentially sheltered in place for a few days. Once you were given the all-clear you and the First Gent, Brad Livingstone, went and visited them, which I thought was cool to see. What was that like, going just to maybe being able to encourage students and let them know that you all and that you and the administration are thinking about them in those times?

President Livingstone:

We had a lot of fun doing that in Martin Hall and the young men were so appreciative of us being there. I think we handed out hamburgers and popcorn, but they were appreciative. I think it broke up a little bit of the monotony of being in quarantine, and it gave us an opportunity to just encourage them as we were asking them to do something that's hard. They're freshmen, they had not been on campus very long, so I can't say enough about the way the men of Martin handled that and were really a wonderful example for the rest of our community.

Derek Smith:

Visiting with President Livingstone and President Livingstone, at the talk at the top of the show, you talked about Baylor's momentum in areas like Illuminate and others. Just last month, we saw the news that Baylor moved up three spots in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, up from 79 to 76. From your standpoint, what are some of the factors that you think helped that helped shape that jump?

President Livingstone:

Well, we were really pleased to see that. It is hard to move up in those rankings because everybody that's in the rankings wants to move up, so you're sort of assessed relative to everybody else in the rankings, and as we're all trying to improve and get better, it is certainly challenging, but there were several areas where we saw improvement. We improved in regard to the expert rating that was given to us as an institution, so this is university presidents and others that give you a score for how, really, good they think your institution is and how good you do at delivering undergraduate education, so moving up in that score is a hard score to get movement in, so I think that's wonderful. It really sends the message that the broader academic community sees what's happening at Baylor and values the work that we're doing.

President Livingstone:

We also improved in our graduation and retention rate. This is an area we have to continue to make progress on because it matters so much to our students. We want anyone that we bring here to stay at Baylor and to graduate, but we did improve in that area. It is certainly an area we can continue to improve in. Where we saw the most improvement, however, we moved up 10 spaces in terms of our ranking on faculty resources, and so the investments we're making to support Illuminate with regard to support for faculty teaching, faculty research, the research enterprise made a huge difference and was very significant in that improvement. We hope we continue to see that progress, but we were pleased with where we ended up this year compared to the past.

Derek Smith:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Baylor was also ranked in those rankings as one of the top 25 most innovative schools. When U.S. News & World Report talks about innovation, what does that look like?

President Livingstone:

In their definition, they indicate that they wanted to understand universities that make innovative improvements in terms of curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology, and facilities, and this is a ranking that is based on what other university presidents, provost, and admissions deans have to say about you, so you basically are asked to list the universities that you believe are most innovative along these dimensions, so it actually says a lot that we've moved up so much in that ranking, and I think it really says a lot about the work that our faculty and staff have done. We revised the core curriculum in arts and sciences, which was of very significant importance. We've seen growth in our graduate and professional programs. I think our student life area is unbelievably innovative in how we engage and connect students, and so all of those things together, as we communicate and share those with the broader academic community influence this ranking, and so we were really pleased to see that others in higher education included us in this category.

Derek Smith:

Another area of good news for the university is once again the Chronicle of Higher Education's Great Colleges to Work For listed Baylor as a great college to work for, it actually put Baylor on the Honor Roll, which is funny. We're looking at 10 years in a row now on the Great Colleges to Work For list, almost like the Lady Bears winning the Big 12 title, you just kind of start counting on this every year now, and it's great news to see, but particularly in a time like this, times of challenge, what impact does a positive work environment have on advancing the Baylor mission?

President Livingstone:

I actually might reverse the phrasing of that, Derek, because I think that it's the Baylor mission and our mission to create a caring campus community, a caring Christian community is really what creates the type of work environment that leads us to be in those Great Colleges to Work For and on the Honor Roll each year. It's a commitment of our people to care for one another, to care for our students, and I think it's deeply rooted in our tradition as a Christian faith-based university. We always learn from that. It's wonderful to be in that honor roll and to be on that list, but one of the most important things about that survey is we learned from it the areas that we need to continue to work on and continue to improve and we're deeply committed to that and we'll certainly continue to hope we score well on it, but also continue to look at how we can improve based on the feedback we get from that survey.

Derek Smith:

This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Baylor University president, Dr. Linda Livingstone, and President Livingstone, we've seen a lot in your messaging lately encouraging students to vote, and we are rapidly approaching Election Day 2020. I know the university is providing students with transportation to early vote and a registration drive earlier this month to make sure everyone was registered. From the university standpoint, what's been most important to you in communicating with students? For most of them, it's going to be the first election in which they're eligible to vote.

President Livingstone:

Yeah, I remember my first election to vote when I was at Oklahoma State as an undergraduate, it's actually very exciting, and it does give you this opportunity to exercise a unique opportunity that we have. I was asked to speak on a panel on Constitution Day back in September, and one of the things I was asked is what the ideals and precepts in the Constitution mean to our nation. One of the things that I talked about was that in our Constitution, it's really an agreement between our government and American citizens. It indicates what responsibility the government has and what responsibility the citizens have, and really, one of the privileges we have in this country is that we get to vote and we get to have an influence on who our leaders are and the decisions that are made, and so I think one of the things that I want students to understand is that's a privilege and having a privilege like that gives us a responsibility to engage in civic processes, including getting out to vote. Millions of people around the world do not have that privilege and if you start doing that when you're young, early, it becomes a habit, it becomes something that you can engage in and have a say your entire life. As you mentioned, we had a voting drive, we're helping students to have transportation to vote, so we really want everybody to get out there, express their opinion at the ballot box, and to really take seriously the role that we have as citizens of this country to have a voice in the political process.

Derek Smith:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). You talk about having a voice and people can exercise, can use their voice in conversations with others, and I know, obviously, election years can have a natural contentiousness in some cases and there's been a lot of talk about just the overall tone in the political process these days, and last year, Baylor had a lot of great events encouraging civil dialogue, and just revisiting that a little bit, what are some ways that Baylor hopes to equip students and faculty to really bring something different into that conversation and maybe is being exemplified elsewhere?

President Livingstone:

We did the series on civil discourse last year, and as I reflect on that, I think we learned several things from that, and first was the importance of listening to others that might think differently, believe differently than we do, to hear their perspective, to understand why they believe something, and then I think another piece of that is a curiosity of why they believe what they do, what's motivated them to believe that, and so that curiosity, that willingness to ask questions, that willingness to engage in dialogue rather than to shut down those different perspectives is really important, and hopefully we're teaching our students to do that, not just through the conversation series, but through our classes where we're teaching critical thinking and the ability to look at different views on issues, and struggle with those to come to terms for ourselves what we believe in situations and I think it's an important part of what higher education is all about with our students, and so we hope that they're learning some from this, and frankly, can be good models and examples for others about how to deal with really difficult issues and topics in a civil and respectful way.

Derek Smith:

You had a recent op-ed in the Waco Tribune-Herald where you talked about the role that fear and anger can play in the ways people interact in stressful times and you shared examples from both biblical examples and past moments in Baylor's history that point the way in addressing societal tensions. Could you share with us some of those lessons from that op-ed that apply today?

President Livingstone:

Sure. Yeah, I really enjoyed having the opportunity to write that and I've got some wonderful feedback on it. I think one of the Scriptures I referenced in there was out of Matthew where it talks about loving the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. Those are important lessons. Of course, it doesn't say "Love your neighbor if you agree with them," doesn't say, "Love your neighbor if you believe the same things they do," or if you even like them. As the body of Christ, we are to love our neighbor care for them and seek to reach out and help them in times of need. I think there's another aspect of this that's important for us as Baylor. In that article, I also talked a little bit about kind of the tension that Jesus and His disciples faced of being ruled by the occupying Romans and yet also having these deeply felt religious expectations about the coming of the Messiah, but in spite of those tensions and that conflict between those, the pressures of what is expected from the powers versus the expectations of your religious views, they leaned into bringing healing into a conflict-ridden world, and in many ways, Baylor lives in that space of tension. Our motto says "Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana," which is "For the church and for Texas," for the world, more broadly, and that's a place of tension to resign in as you think about how do we live out our faith and live in the world and impact the world. In that commentary, I quoted Abner McCall, who was, of course, president here for many years, and in 1969, he gave a speech called Change Within the Unchanging, and in that, he said, "This university is founded on the belief that only the truth proclaimed by our Lord gives real freedom and that this truth is unchanging." He also went on to note that "Change is the chief characteristic of this age and that the rate of change is ever-accelerate." Now, it's interesting, he said that in 1969, and as you think about the world we're in today, it's probably accelerated far beyond that. But I think for Baylor living in that tension between our faith commitment and the world, it also goes back to the founding of the institution where our founders said that they wanted to create a Baptist institution, a Christian institution that was susceptible to enlargement and development to meet the needs of all the ages to come, and so as we face all this change in the world, as we deal with the conflict in the world, we have a responsibility as an educational institution to stay grounded in the truth that comes, the biblical truth, the truth in Christ, but to continue to adapt and develop, to meet the changing needs, the changing context in which our students are living and working so that they can really continue to have a significant impact in the world.

Derek Smith:

Visiting with President Livingstone and President Livingstone, part of that tension is obviously very good. People are sometimes going to disagree on issues, and the Baylor family is so large and so broad that you're going to find people on all different sides of the spectrum. What does it mean to be a marketplace of ideas in that Baylor has really charted a more moderate course than some universities associated with either wing, so what does it look like to be a marketplace of ideas more practically in occupying that space?

President Livingstone:

I think that's one of the great differentiators of Baylor and one of the joys at being at a place like Baylor, even though it is a place of tension is that ground where you're really trying to bring people together with diverse perspective. "Marketplace of ideas" means we bring people together that might not agree on things, might come to things from different perspectives, bring different issues to the table, but it is in that struggling together, that sharing of different perspectives and ideas that we actually can find truth. We talk a lot about all truth being God's truth, and what higher calling can you have as a faculty member than to seek out and find God's truth and then to apply that truth to the problems of the world? I think that being in a place where we have a diversity of perspectives within the context of our Christian mission, while it can create tension and conflict at times, it is how you get to better solutions. You get to a better resolutions of issues because everybody doesn't think alike and everybody's not going to approach the issue in the same way and that intellectual diversity that comes from being at a place like Baylor creates a much richer learning experience for our students, it leads to better, more significant research for our faculty, and truly differentiates us in the world of higher education

Derek Smith:

Visiting with President Livingstone, and President Livingstone, as we head into the final couple of minutes, I wanted to ask you, we are not going to probably get to visit with you before Veterans Day here on the program. There's always some good news there in the terms of, I know Baylor is recognized as a veteran-friendly school with the vets program, and we also saw the news recently that two Baylor alumni who were honored with the Medal of Honor, Jack Loomis and John Kane, are going to be honored outside McLane Stadium with statutes thanks to the generosity of Haag and Millette Sherman. Obviously, that's one very visible way to honor the contributions of veterans, much like the lampposts around campus. For you, what does that, Baylor's role in serving veterans and having them contribute something to the community here at Baylor and then in getting to honor them in this way at McLane Stadium, mean to you?

President Livingstone:

Well, we have a very long legacy at Baylor of supporting the military, a long tradition. We had one of the very first air force ROTC programs on this campus. It is really among the top in the country. We have an Army ROTC program. You mentioned our veteran education transition service. We have a wonderful support program on our campus for veterans who come to school here, whether it's to get a bachelor's or a master's degree, and then we have the lampposts across campus where we recognize alumnus of this university who have died in service to our country. I think that the dedication of the statues of Jack Loomis and John Kane, that we're so appreciative of Haag and Millette Sherman of helping fund and bring to fruition, is just a very visible symbol of that rich military legacy and tradition we have on our campus and it reminds us, particularly those statues of Jack and John to not only just honor them for the amazing bravery they showed, we think they're the only two student-athletes from the same university to receive the Medal of Honor, it's quite an amazing thing, but it also reminds us of all of those that have served through the years. Certainly, members of our Baylor family, but others outside of that. Then I think it also, I hope, serves as an inspiration to all of us to take the time to support and thank those who are currently serving or have served in the military for the amazing contributions they've made to our country, and frankly, the ability we have to live in a free and safe country where we can go to the ballot box and vote and have that freedom, so it's a wonderful opportunity. We look forward to dedicating those statutes and honoring our veterans.

Derek Smith:

Absolutely. That's going to be a special moment outside McLane Stadium. Well, President Livingstone, we really appreciate it. There's obviously so much to talk about these days and we really appreciate you sharing your insights on these. Thank you so much.

President Livingstone:

Oh, it's always a pleasure, Derek.

Derek Smith:

Thank you. President Linda Livingstone, our guest today here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this and other programs online, baylor.edu/connections. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.