President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D.
Season 4 - Episode 413
This week, Baylor released the independent report of the University’s Commission on Historic Campus Representations. On this Baylor Connections, President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D., examines the purpose and impact of their work for the University and shares how an excavation of the past can help Baylor more fully live out its mission today. On the sports stage, President Livingstone delves into the success of Baylor’s two Sweet 16-bound basketball teams and the cultures they have built.
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. President Livingstone, it's been always a busy month of March but especially this year with so many exciting things going on with our basketball teams. And so many important things going on closer to home as the Commission on Historic Representations released their report this past week. So certainly a lot to talk about, a lot going on. And we appreciate you taking the time to join us today. Thanks so much.
President Livingstone:Happy to be with you Derek. And I'm always happy to be busy in March if it's about Sweet 16 basketball.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. You have the men and the women in the Sweet 16 this upcoming weekend and you've been able to be there for a lot of the games back and forth between Indy and San Antonio. And for you I know, just saw Baylor Athletics tweeted yesterday a picture of you and the First Gents as their number one fans. What do you enjoy most about getting to watch them compete, represent the university on this kind of stage?
President Livingstone:Well, both our teams are unbelievably talented this year. They were always good but they're really unbelievably talented this year. And so we love watching our student athletes whether it's our basketball teams, volleyball team, baseball, whatever it happens to be, competing. Because they compete at such a high level and they represent us so well and they have fun doing it, so that means a lot. And anytime we can watch our students no matter what they're doing on behalf of the university whether it's in theater or the arts, music, athletics, we love to watch them. Because that's what it's about. It's watching our students excel and be the best they can be at whatever it is they're passionate about. And so the Sweet 16 is just a wonderful example of that.
Derek Smith:I want to ask you about both the men and the women. What's special about them this year. The men won their first Big 12 title. They've got a chance to reach their first Final Four. And we've seen a lot even more. They've really been tweeting this year about their culture of joy, J-O-Y, Jesus, others and you. And I'm curious having played basketball, grown up in a coaching family, what stands out to you about the culture that they have and the way that faith plays into what they do at a high level?
President Livingstone:To me, what that's about is that they are playing for a higher calling and a higher cause. It's not just about them being successful as an individual. It's not just about the team being successful. It's about how they represent Christ in what they do. And then certainly through that they're representing Baylor and as a Christian university that's really powerful for us. And because of that you can see that they have true joy while they're playing and they have joy off the court. If anybody watched their social media this week, they were playing games, they were playing UNO, and they were playing soccer out on a field. They were just having fun no matter what they were doing because they really like each other. They're a true family and I think that culture that coach Drew and his staff develop around this concept of joy is powerful and it's part of the reason that they're so successful.
Derek Smith:Talking about success, obviously the Lady Bears have sustained excellence for a long time. They're the reigning national champions, over a decade now, they've won the Big 12. And I'm curious from your standpoint, what does that sustain to excellent... It's not an easy thing to accomplish. What stands out to you about what's led to their sustained excellence from Coach Mulkey and the players and the factors that you think most lead to that year in and year out?
President Livingstone:Well, certainly having an exceptional coach that has been with the program for such a long time is critical to that success. Because you build a reputation for success and excellence. You build a culture of that and student athletes know when they come that that's what's expected of them. That they're coming into this place that's been successful, expects you to perform at the highest level and that you're going to be successful if you do that and if you do what you're asked to do. And so Coach Mulkey and her staff deserve a tremendous amount of credit for building that culture, for sustaining that and then frankly for recruiting student athletes that they know will buy into the way that they coach and the culture of their program. And the long-term success shows how well that has worked for them and this team particularly they've improved dramatically from the beginning of the year. So you really see progress and commitment on their part. Do what coach Mulkey is asking them to do. So it's exciting to watch them. They're playing about as well right now as they played all year and they have just as much opportunity as anybody else to win the national championship this year.
Derek Smith:Well, when we talk about the team's excellence on the floor we talk about their culture. It's not every university President who played basketball and then was also a scholar in what organizational culture, leadership and creativity. So how much would you ever find yourself drawing on those as you're watching. Are you able just to kind of abandon yourself and have fun watching when you do?
President Livingstone:Well, my husband Brad and I were talking this last weekend as we watched the men and the women at different times play. And we were saying that when you know a lot about the game it's actually a lot harder to watch than if you're just sort of a casual fan and you can just kind of enjoy whatever's happening because when you played you understand the game well enough that you view it through a more critical eye and probably a little bit more of an analytical eye. So I think we get a lot more wound up in the game because of that, than just the casual fan would. But we still have a lot of fun and both teams are great, fun to watch, and we are always happy when we can be there to cheer on those teams.
Derek Smith:Well, that's great. And they will play both teams in the Sweet 16 round tomorrow when this show airs tomorrow in Indianapolis and San Antonio. And you've been back and forth between both places and I guess we'll be free hopefully a couple more weekends.
President Livingstone:We are hoping to be able to travel a lot more in the next two weekends. And I said, "That's a really good problem to have." I'll take that problem every single year if I have to figure out how to manage between two championship runs for a men's and women's basketball.
Derek Smith:Well, and personally having grown up a half hour right outside of Indianapolis, the Lady Bears won their first national title there and now hopefully the men will too. I have a little extra pride in seeing a lot of green and gold up there. So hopefully a little bit more to come as we visit with Baylor university President Dr. Linda Livingstone and President Livingstone. President Livingstone, I'd like to transition here because it's been an important week at Baylor. Over the course of the last year, we followed along as the Commission on Historic Representations have taken a look at Baylor's history. And we know that amidst all the exciting aspects of Baylor's history, the vision that the founders had, there were personal aspects of their lives that were imperfect and especially as it related to slavery and support for the Confederacy. In this week they released their findings which you can find at baylor.edu as they talk about the many recommendations for whether it relates to the Burleson Quadrangle or statutes being moved or even added which is the addition of statutes. It could be an exciting part of this as we honor some of our pioneering trailblazing graduates like Barbara Walker and Robert Gilbert. But I'm curious as we think about this, let's just rewind just a little bit. As you started thinking about this, what kind of historical study or excavation like this mean for a university and particularly a Christian university like Baylor?
President Livingstone:I think it's really important for us as a university, really any institution, particularly at a university and a Christian university, to be willing to be sort of introspective and humble and honest about our history. And in many ways, and we've framed it this way as we talk about it, we view taking on this task, we view this report, as really a reflection of our witness as a Christian institution that we are willing to acknowledge the dark parts of our history as a university. And then really think about how do we then seek redemption, reconciliation and healing, all deeply Christian concepts, from that dark part of our history. And how do we use that then to build an even stronger foundation for the future. Because we've been willing to be honest about who we are and what was good about that history, what was not good about that history and how we need to think differently about where we go as we go to the future. So we view it as being deeply tied to our Christian mission and very reflective of Christian principles that we should really all think about how we live them out each day.
Derek Smith:We talk a lot about Baylor being a caring campus community. And as we think of that caring community, what role can this play in shaping that even further?
President Livingstone:Well, we know that this part of our history is deeply painful to some members of our community, our students, faculty and staff of color, our alumni in those populations and certainly others in our community. And when you're not willing to acknowledge how you've caused pain to individuals or to communities that adds more pain to them. And so we viewed this as a way to be really honest and open and to show that we're willing to acknowledge the mistakes that were in our past and then to learn and heal from that. That we hope brings our community together, helps our communities of color to feel valued and to know that we're sort of willing to acknowledge that we weren't always very welcoming and supportive of communities of color in the history of this university and certainly even well past the time of slavery and the Confederacy. And that's actually a piece of the history that we're going to have to do some more work on as well to even beyond the time of slavery and the Confederacy. Look at how we continue to build out that history not just for our black community but for other communities of color that are a part of Baylor.
Derek Smith:We first started hearing that. I say we, most of us started hearing about this work about a year ago, last summer. But when did the Genesis of this begin just in terms of really taking a deeper look at Baylor's past ties?
President Livingstone:Well, when I first came to Baylor I was made aware of some work that had been done to look at how we had done namings on the campus and where those might be tied to issues like slavery and the Confederacy. So I had some sense of that and we knew that it was something that we were going to have to spend more time on and drill deeper into. And so last summer, as we began to have conversations with our board and certainly given some of what was going on in the country at the time. We said, "Really this is the right time to dig into this deeper, to take a really honest look at our history and to determine what that means about how we should think about moving forward." And so that's when the board met in June and provided the statement on racial reconciliation healing and then also charged or set up the Commission on Historic Campus Representations. So really on a specific action oriented level, much of this started in June of last year. Then of course the report was shared with Chair Rountree and me in December. And then the board has had the opportunity to begin conversations about it early this spring. And certainly then it's formally accepted the report and charged the administration to begin looking at implementation at their February meeting.
Derek Smith:Visiting with President Livingstone. And President Livingstone certainly Baylor not the only university that is examining the scrappiness. Whether it's state universities like Virginia, schools with historically religious ties, Wake Forest has been in the news and others. To what extent if at all do you look at what other universities are doing and to what extent do we want to maybe forge our own distinct approach in terms of living out our mission through this?
President Livingstone:When you read the report you will see that in the appendices there's actually information about the many other schools that the Commission looked at. And we certainly talked about how to set this up, how to structure, what we wanted the Commission to do, we certainly learn from the experiences of other schools some of those you named and certainly others. And then the Commission studied pretty deeply what other schools had done, how they had chosen to respond to the issues on their campus around namings and monuments and so on. And so absolutely it was really important to us to learn from them, to see what had worked well, what had caused them challenges. But in terms of kind of uniqueness we really wanted to focus on not just the history and not just what you do with this monument or that monument or this naming or that naming. But how do we use this to reflect our mission as a Christian university, how do we use this to bring the community together because this can be very divisive in colleges and universities. And then how do we use it to move forward and to learn from it and to be a better place than we were. So really, kind of a mission centric faith-based component as well as a deeply educational component. I think you see both of those reflected in the work of the Commission and the way they approach is the way they expressed the recommendations and what they hope to see come out of the work of the Commission over time.
Derek Smith:We know when we think about that ex, diving into that and some of the more unpleasant parts. When we think about the mission and Baylor's impact on the world, how can a more complete telling of the past help us live out the mission today? What is it about that, and I think you've alluded to this already I've asked specifically the past, and addressing that white matters now?
President Livingstone:I'm going to actually go back to the words of our founders and why they founded Baylor university. So we were founded in 1845 as a Baptist university susceptible to development and enlargement to meet the needs of all the ages to come. And I actually see what we're doing now as fulfilling that charge from those early founders who were flawed human beings, and who owned slaves, and who were involved and supported the Confederacy. But yet they created a university with a vision that would prepare it to actually be willing to go back and look at that dark history. Be honest about it and say how do we develop and enlarge ourselves as a university in 2021 based on that history from 1845 that we're not proud of and then use that to be a better place in the future. To be a place where all of our communities of color, all our faculty, staff and students of color feel supported, cared for loved and engaged for generations to come. So I just really see this as another step in the development and enlargement of Baylor to meet the needs of all the ages to come exactly as our founders wanted us to do.
Derek Smith:I know the work of the people on the Commission played a big role in working towards that and achieving that at this point as we look and see some of the recommendations and moving forward from there. I'm curious, what has stood out to you about the ways that the Commission approached the task that they were charged with? Certainly a challenge to wrap your arms all the way around that but what stood out to you or surprised you or was most meaningful to you about that?
President Livingstone:I'm deeply, deeply grateful to the Commission and to our three co-chairs Dr. Monroe, Dr. Mortenson and Mr. Abercrombie. They just did an exceptional job leading in a very difficult task that we charged them with. It was 26 members, it was a diverse set of individuals on many dimensions, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and we didn't know how it was going to go. It's hard to bring together a diverse set of people that have never met each other and give them four months to do a really big job, right? And so I think multiple things impressed me. One, just how seriously they took the tasks they were given and the charge they were given and how sort of prayerful they were about it, how committed they were to doing something that would matter for the university. It wouldn't just be a report that we put on a shelf and thought, well, that's nice but let's move on. And it would be something actionable that we could do something with. And then the report was unanimously approved by all 26 members of very diverse individuals from all kinds of perspectives. And yet they came together and really deeply agreed on what they thought would be most meaningful and helpful to the university. And so I can't say enough about the way they did their work, the seriousness and care with which they did their work and Chair Rountree has said this a lot, that really the Commission report is a gift to the university. And it will be a gift that we continue to benefit from for many, many years to come.
Derek Smith:I'm going to ask you a little bit about what's next for those implementations, how we implement those and what that looks like. But before I do I want to ask you, recently we had a great perspectives on our History Series. In which we talked a little bit about the history, I think leading up to the release of the report, a little bit of historical background and if people were to go back and watch those if they weren't able to. What are some of the things that were meaningful in sharing that, that I guess maybe sort of helped lay a little bit of the groundwork for the environment in which these recommendations were made and the history that informed that?
President Livingstone:I really encourage people to go back and watch all three of those conversation series of events. The first one had historians that really looked at the history of slavery generally and in Texas. And then the second one focused even more specifically on Texas, but in the church and in the Baptist world in Texas. And then the third one, I moderated with our Commission, Co-chairs and Chair Rountree where we really talked about the process of the Commission, the motivation behind it, kind of how the chairs approached it. And those three are wonderful foundations to actually reading and understanding the report. And as I think about all three of those, One, they're just... Especially the first two, if you love history, fascinating to hear these historians talk about history in the way that they did, very thoughtfully. And frankly I think shared particularly with the second one where you talk about the history of the Baptist and the church in Texas, the Baptist church in Texas, as it related to slavery, I think a lot of people just didn't know a lot of that. And it certainly, has been made very aware to me as we begin to have conversations with our board and others, many people on our board deeply connected to Baylor. Multi-generational members of the Baylor family knew nothing about this part of our history. And so they were surprised by it. They struggled with getting their mind around that, understanding how that could be part of the history of a place they loved so deeply and dearly and their families have for so many years and yet they never knew this. And so I think those series kind of help you kind of process this and get ready to read the report and understand it and understand the context in which it was written. So they're very valuable to the whole process and to understanding kind of the hearts too of the Commission Chairs and the Co-chairs and the Commissioned members in terms of how they approach the report. So I highly recommend them as foundational to the report.
Derek Smith:And if you just Google Baylor Perspectives on our history, that's the easiest way they'll pop right up there. So people can watch those and hopefully have read the report by now. I know that certainly Baylor social media has done a great job tweeting and summarize and we've seen reports in the stories. But the whole report is available for people to read as you said with footnotes and everything. So now the recommendations, we've heard those. What's next, where do we go from here in terms of evaluating that further?
President Livingstone:Well, as I said earlier the board kind of tasked the administration with developing potential implementation plan of the recommendations. And then we'll work collaboratively with the board to determine exactly how to approach those recommendations, and how we might think about their implementation. Whether it's very specific to how it was recommended or whether it's in the spirit of what was recommended. One of the things I appreciated about the report, is the Commission really gave us a lot of flexibility. Said, "Well, we would recommend you do this, you could also consider this or here's why we think this is important and consider how you might do X, Y, or Z." Right? So there's quite a bit of latitude and flexibility in how we might implement many of the recommendations and so we have set up an internal administrative task force that will review those recommendations, begin working on an implementation plan. And then that will come to my President's Council for review and consideration and then we will take it to the board for review and consideration. These are pretty extensive recommendations, some of them relate to things like putting out new monuments, rethinking plaques, some of which are Texas State Historical Association Plaques. So some of these will be pretty extensive and take some time to work through how best to do it but we will certainly begin to make progress. We will certainly keep the Baylor family informed as we move down the path of implementation. We, of course also announced the Commission report that we will be commissioning two statutes to honor Mr. Gilbert and Ms. Walker as part of this process, even so, that's outside the Commission's purview, it is a way to begin to honor our diverse communities in very visual ways on our campus. And so we felt like that was a nice partnering with releasing the Commission report particularly as we are working on the Tidwell Bible Building and hopefully we'll reopen that in the fall or early spring of next year. And so to have those two statues commissioned and be able to dedicate those at some point in front of that newly designed Tidwell Bible Building, I think will be a wonderful addition that really just builds on the Commission's report even though it doesn't come directly out of the work of the Commission.
Derek Smith:So we talk about that more complete, telling of Baylor's history. That's a more proactive way to honor some people who played a very pivotal role in moving Baylor forward and Mr. Gilbert and Ms. Walker as we visit with President Livingstone. And finally, President Livingstone, you've touched on this but I'm going to ask you specifically this too. What are your hopes and the hopes of others you've been working with on this project for this specific time in Baylor's history and the fruit of this work that goes beyond any physical changes or any recommendations? But what you hope this does in terms of just Baylor's a witness and bringing the Baylor family together?
President Livingstone:When we talk about our aspirations to be a Research One university, we share regularly that all truth is God's truth. All truth is open to inquiry and that we have the privilege at Baylor of revealing God's truth and applying God's truth in the world and so in many ways to me this is a reflection of that. Our history at Baylor is God's truth whether it's a history of darkness as part of it is or a history of light which much of it is. It's God's truth and we need to be willing to inquire about that. And then we have the opportunity now to learn from that and move forward and make application from that learning that can make us a better university. And so I hope that people approach the report with open hearts and open minds. That they understand the intent with which it came from the board, from the Administration and from the Commission. And I hope that they are open to what they read in that report. They're open to learn and to listen and to just be a part of the ongoing conversation. This is not the end all and be all of what we're going to do around these diversity issues and thinking about our campus culture in terms of being supportive of our diverse community. And we want the community to be a part of that conversation and we want to learn together and continue to build a campus community that meets the needs for ages to come and I hope that this is part of that process for us in the years ahead.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, again, we appreciate you sharing about this and again if people want to see this they can go online and Google the Baylor Commission report. Or if you want to see the Perspectives on our History Video Series it's all there and worth diving into, really diving into beyond even though there's some great stories out there on it. So we hope people will do that and appreciate you taking the time to join us today. I know it's a busy time, appreciate your work on this and hope for sharing on the Bears and the Lady Bears here a couple more weekends this year.
President Livingstone:Thanks Derek. It's a pleasure to be with you. Let's Sic 'em Bears this weekend.
Derek Smith:Sic 'em Bears, absolutely. Baylor President Dr. Linda Livingstone, our guest today here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith, reminder you can hear this and other shows online, baylor.edu/connections and you can subscribe on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.