President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D.
Season 4 - Episode 421
A school year like no other has drawn to a conclusion at Baylor and, even amidst the challenges presented by COVID-19, it was a time with much to celebrate. In this Baylor Connections, President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D., shares a top 10 list—the top 10 moments of the 2020-21 year (plus a few bonus points) highlighting the Baylor Family’s accomplishments in academics, research, athletics, health, giving and more.
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. And today, a very eventful year in the life of Baylor university. We're joined by Baylor University, President Dr. Linda A. Livingstone. President Livingstone presided over the first in-person commencement exercises in 18 months, and that capped off a 2020-2021 school year at Baylor. A year in which Baylor students, faculty, and staff showed their resilience, navigating unprecedented challenges to complete two in-person semesters and through it all, as we'll discuss Baylor continued to grow and advance a wide array of objectives and priorities for the university's future. Last week, President Livingstone shared 10 of those, it was actually a 10 plus a little bit in the past nine months at Baylor at her president's report to the board of Regents and looking forward to examine those with you today on the program. President Livingstone, thanks so much for joining us.
President Livingstone:Hey, good to be with you Derek. It's been quite a year and I'm happy to share more about it.
Derek Smith:Well, when you look at the top 10 list that we're going to review, it just puts into perspective how much took place in the midst of so much taking place in our world for you, just even looking at that as you prepared that for the board, what were the feelings as you synthesized all of that and reflected on just the events of the year amidst so many headwinds?
President Livingstone:It's interesting because as I went through the draft of it, was looking at it, it was almost a little emotional for me because it's been such a hard year for everybody. And you think it's all been about COVID, but then when you really look back on the year, you realize that we accomplished so much more. And in the midst of COVID, I think it says even more about our community and our faculty and staff, and the strength and the resilience of the university that even as we manage through a pandemic, we continue to make great progress on so many other things. So I'm excited to talk through all that went on at Baylor last year.
Derek Smith:Well, I think you may have just referenced this, but where do you begin when you think about what Baylor brought us to a moment like this and the things that we're about to discuss?
President Livingstone:Well, I think that at the end of the day, when you look at the totality of what we did over the last year, I mean, at the heart and soul of that story is the people of Baylor. It's our students who showed up on campus and did what we asked them to and made it a great year in spite of it being a hard year for them. It's our faculty and staff who sacrificed a lot to provide a great experience for our students and to continue to make progress in other work. And that frankly it's the Baylor family, our parents, our alumni that came around us, supported us in so many ways that made it a good year. So I think in many ways, we'll talk about a lot of events or actions we took, but all of those are only possible because of the people that are involved and that love Baylor and continue to support and work with us even through challenging times.
Derek Smith:Well, President Livingstone, let's dive into the top 10 moments. And I noticed you even put in your message to the board, with all apologies to David Letterman, this is what we're doing. Maybe we need a little bit of a music or drum roll for this, but let's dive in, and start with ignite. For those of us who were Baylor staff or faculty members, it's a term we know well and are still getting to know even better, but what has that meant to Baylor over the last year?
President Livingstone:So for those who are not so embedded in the life of Baylor every day, ignite is the name we've given to the implementation of an enterprise wide technology support system. So it's really our financial and HR systems on campus that had been very outdated. And so it's really transforming the technology that underpins the support system at the university. And then it... So it really is transforming our processes and our operations, and certainly expecting a lot of our staff, particularly that do this, but it's going to make us a much more efficient place, a better place. We'll be able to better serve the variety of stakeholders that we have. And I can't say enough, we did it under budget on time, and it was done during the pandemic remotely for the most part, as we finished up and launched on June 1st, so huge for the longterm health and wellbeing of a university from an infrastructure perspective.
Derek Smith:Next up, how has Summer of Discovery welcomed people to the Baylor family, especially in a time when they couldn't physically come to campus?
President Livingstone:Well, we had to completely rethink summer school last year, because we were fully remote. We still were learning about the pandemic, and we knew students didn't really have internships and jobs in the summer. So we completely redesigned summer school, did it all remotely. We began to include high school students, juniors and seniors in that, and provided more diversity of classes. And it was huge for us. I mean, we had the biggest summer school enrollment we've ever had. We discounted tuition to make it easier for students to do it, made it more accessible for them, and really helped our students continue their progress towards their degree, it helped attract some high school students to Baylor and give them a taste of what being a Baylor student was like. And then we learned a lot from that, and we're actually continuing a similar model this summer, because it was so successful last year. And we certainly are coming out of the pandemic, but still have some of the vestiges of that with regard to internships and other things. So learned a lot from it. We probably never would have tried if it weren't for the pandemic and it's been extremely valuable to our students.
Derek Smith:That's fantastic. Well, next up, we celebrate an in-person fall semester, of course, the spring semester as well, but particularly the fall semester, not every university could say that. And as you think back where they're uncertain moments and challenges that you look back now were especially meaningful to have overcome?
President Livingstone:Well, I don't know, there's so many. I think about that late spring and summer, as we were planning for the fall, and we had so many questions and not a lot of answers, but honestly we had our 8/24 task force for August 24th, the first day of school, just did such fabulous work over the summer to help us plan and prepare for all the health measures. We had to have to be able to bring our students back. And I just can't say enough about that. And then our students doing what we asked them to do. Many, many universities did not come back face to face, stayed remote really all semester, many, some of them most of the year. So we were pleased to be able to do that. Our students so much wanted to come back, their families wanted them to come back. So we were thrilled that we were able to have an in-person year, but particularly the fall semester. And while it wasn't the same as a normal semester, it was so much better than keeping them in a fully remote environment. So we were thrilled to be able to do that. There was certainly a lot of uncertainty along the way, and I tell you, we learned and adapted daily, leading up to the fall and through the fall. And so kudos to all of our folks that were involved in that made it happen.
Derek Smith:As a corollary to that. Of course, we went through a spring in 2020 with that NCA tournaments, and the cast suspension of our spring sporting seasons. But this year, fall, winter, spring, we've been able to get them off or continue in the case of spring sports. How has teamwork enabled that to take place?
President Livingstone:Well, one of the wonderful things, because we were able to play sports, even though we had social distancing and limited fans and, bless our student athletes and the staff supporting them, the health measures that they had, the testing they had to do was just a high level in order for us to have successful seasons. But it was one thing that felt a little bit normal on campus when you'd go to a football game or a soccer game or a volleyball game or into the spring and basketball and other things. And so I think it helped us to feel like it was a more normal fall in campus experience. And of course we had such great success, too, that it was fun and it provided some energy and excitement and enthusiasm for our campus as well. And then I think you saw the announcement this week, that we're going back to a hundred percent capacity in all of our outdoor sports venues. So we're excited about that as we finish up our baseball season this year, but also go into the fall and football and such. So it's exciting to see what's happening.
Derek Smith:Yeah. I think a lot of people, myself included will have goosebumps when those moments for the crowd hear the crowd roar again. Yeah, it's been a little while for sure. To people wondering why we're not mentioning one successful in particular sporting event that took place this year. Well, we'll talk about that here in just a little bit,
President Livingstone:We will get to that.
Derek Smith:We'll get there, yes, as we visit with president Livingstone here on Baylor connections. Another aspect of the year that was meaningful, were COVID-19 precautionary measures, very comprehensive, successful... That comprehensive probably doesn't do justice in just the number of different ways that we took into account the safety of students. To you, what was most meaningful about that, and are there any things we learned from it?
President Livingstone:Well, it was certainly a comprehensive approach to support the safety and health and wellbeing of our campus community. From masking to, in the fall, we did surveillance testing for COVID. In the spring, we did required testing of everybody weekly for COVID. We built our own lab in partnership with my labs direct, so we could do much more extensive testing and keep the prevalence of the virus down. We did obviously cleaning. We had tents all over campus that are coming down this week. It's been great to see them come down, because again, that's another sign that we're moving forward, but those tenths were huge to help us with social distancing. We changed the classroom structure and makeup had more kind of hybrid and online classes. So there's just an enormous list of things that took place and what we had to do to keep everybody safe and healthy. In fact, we had just under about, well, we had about 4,000 COVID cases on campus. If you go back from August 1st forward. We have done probably over 275,000 COVID tests and with a positivity rate of less than 1.5%. So we've been really good at keeping things in line, but again, the staff, the faculty, the students made all that possible. They collaborated with us, they did what we asked them to and not every university had that success. And so again, it's due to the people and their willingness to partner with us on these things.
Derek Smith:Yeah, absolutely. Lots of successes to celebrate there. At number six, we learned a new word this year, SnowVID. So we have a pandemic going on, We've got all these challenges and then the state of Texas sees a snow and ice storm and power grid challenges, unlike any other. How did those moments impact the semester, and what even stood out to you in there just watching people overcome that amidst a double whammy almost?
President Livingstone:Well, that was quite an event in Texas. And like you said, on top of COVID, I don't know, there's a bit of it that gave us a reprieve from thinking about COVID for a week, or week and a half, because we were so intent on managing power that went out and water that went out, I will say campus was beautiful with all that snow and ice on campus. We did have students skiing through the middle of campus. We had a few sledding behind trucks on couches down the streets of Waco, but we also had students that didn't have power, didn't have water, food issues, access, faculty, and staff. And again, the Baylor family came alongside everybody. We sheltered folks in place on campus, students and faculty and staff took others in that were having problems with power and water. It was just a real example of the Baylor family coming together and taking care of one another in a difficult circumstance and really proud of everybody. We were fortunate, we had some water breaks and stuff on campus, but nothing real severe. So it allowed us to be able to take care of our students. I think in a good way, even some of those that were off campus that had some challenges, but we hope that that is not something we have to experience again anytime soon, though.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Visiting with President Livingstone. And President Livingstone, next up, let's turn our attention to Baylor's commission on historic campus representations. You were on the program a few weeks ago talking about that, but that commission worked in concert for months to analyze the university's history and historic ties to slavery and the Confederacy, presenting a number of recommendations this spring. And now people can go back if they really want to hear an in-depth conversation on that to our late March program, but just where are we in that process now that it's been in presented, first of all?
President Livingstone:Yeah, so the commission one, we're just still deeply grateful to the commission members, the 26 members and the work they did, the heart and soul they put into that, the courage of our board to be willing to take on this question of what's the real, complete history of Baylor and how does that impact things on our campus. So right now we're in the process of really evaluating that report, and we have a task force now, an internal administrative task force that is working through potential recommendations to our board for how we might go about implementing recommendations. So the board can consider those. We are going to be working with a design firm, Sasaki. They've done this kind of work, they do lots of campus design work, but they've also done historic design projects. And they met with our board last week to give them a bit of sense of the process. So it will be a collaborative process on campus with our design firm, with the board, as we determine how best to move forward on this, and really use it as a way to tell a more holistic story and really to make the campus experience a really special one when you're on our campus.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Visiting with President Livingstone here on Baylor connections. And President Livingstone, next up at number four, the university continued to advance towards illuminate goals. Even when in some cases can be a challenging funding environment. And I know we've got even more grants and major research projects that we'll be celebrating in the weeks ahead. What can you tell us about how Baylor was able to move towards those goals this year and how faculty and staff have... Just the important role they obviously play in that?
President Livingstone:Well, we were concerned that we might lose momentum on our research endeavors and on illuminate, and that just didn't happen. Our research expenditures, our support for research, our external grants, those numbers continued to go up, even in the midst of this. Now, certainly there were elements of that research that were tied directly to the pandemic, and some of our faculty were doing research on how to address some of the challenges of the pandemic, whether that was food insecurity through our Baylor collaborative on hunger and poverty, or whether it was more related to finding ways to treat COVID or to prevent it. But we also are recruiting for five endowed chairs to support the aspirations in illuminate. And we've got some really big research grants coming down that we'll be announcing soon. So it was an unbelievably successful... So I think it shows the faculty focus continued to be on their research on how they can help us solve some important problems in the world. And the results of that were fabulous and moving us forward on illuminate
Derek Smith:President Livingstone, another area, a new deans, and new coaches, we've welcomed a variety of visionary leaders, both in academics and athletics. As we talk about [inaudible] school of business or the nursing school, and a women's basketball coach, just to name a few. What excites you about this time in Baylor's life? As we welcome new people into the family, who can advance the Baylor's mission with some perspectives that they bring?
President Livingstone:Well, we're really excited about these new leaders and they come in deeply committed to our Christian mission, deeply committed to advancing the excellence here on campus. They're appreciative of those that came before them and helped build the foundation on which they get to build, which I think is fabulous. So we really look forward to what's going to be happening with these new leaders across our campus and the opportunities they're going to provide our students the way they're not only going to help, whether it's a basketball coach, it's helping them become great basketball players or a business Dean that's going to help them become great business leaders, but also helping to develop their faith foundation and their character commitment. So, thrilled about these leaders in the way they represent Baylor and the way they're going to form and shape students in the future.
Derek Smith:That'd be great. And I'm sure we could look forward to down the line, getting to know some of them a little better on Baylor connections and learning more about their backstories and what brought them here. That should be a lot of fun as we maybe move into the fall semester here on Baylor connections. Well, we're in some rarefied air now, President Livingstone, that's number three. nd now at that number two, the first men's basketball national championship. And of course, what a time that was before I asked you about its impact. I'm just curious, is there a favorite moment, an image for you of the season? Is that hard to pick just one?
President Livingstone:Well, it really is. I think that, and there's probably several of these images, but when the buzzer goes off at the end of the... Whether it's the semi-final game that qualified you for the championship, whether it's at the end of the championship, when you know you won and to see our team running off the bench and just the pure joy and excitement on their faces for what they've accomplished and that they did it as a team in a really hard circumstance. So just that pure excitement and joy that you see on their faces in some of those pictures, it really says it all. And I think it's a picture of just how we all feel back in through the year, but then to top it off with a national championship for our men's team was really, really special.
Derek Smith:Yeah. Joy is a good word and certainly a key word for the team this year. As a university president, when you have a moment like this, how do you even begin to quantify or even envision the impact of that championship, whether it's short term or long term?
President Livingstone:Certainly those types of events, a championship like that gives you tremendous visibility. And tremendous visibility with populations that might not normally be paying a lot of attention to Baylor. And I think this year, especially because everybody just so much wanted to watch it, it's like it was one of the most watched sporting events in the last two or three years, right? And so- outside of football. And so it gives us great visibility. And then for our men's team to have done it with such class and grace. And I think the world really saw the hearts of those young men, the hearts of our coaches, and they reflected so well, the mission and purpose of Baylor. And you just... It's almost hard to do almost anything else you could do to get your story out in such an authentic way. So absolutely proud of those young men and what they did and the way they represented us, but certainly a fabulous impact for the university and building our visibility and reputation in a such a positive way.
Derek Smith:Now we are getting to one A and one B, if you will, as we have so many good moments to sift through. Spring commencement. That's obviously something that last year, at this time, we weren't able to hold it in person or in the winter as well. What did it mean to you to be there, to hand out diplomas, to call out names and to allow families the chance to celebrate, be they 2021 graduates, even those who walked a few months or 12 months later when they would've been a year ago?
President Livingstone:Graduation is always one of my favorite times of the year, because it was the culmination of our students experience at Baylor. So I love graduation, but this one was, I have to say even more special, particularly because of 2020 graduates got to come back. And I got to see every single student as they came across the stage. We had over 3,600, and across six ceremonies over three days. And just... again, we've talked a lot about joy, just pure joy and appreciation for their experience, for the opportunity to come back families so grateful for the experience. And it was a really powerful time for our students and our families. And I was blessed to just be able to be a part of it. And to be able to experience a tiny piece of that for every student that walked across the stage, but loved being able to do it. It was actually fun to do it out at McLane stadium. It was a little warm in the afternoons, but what a special time
Derek Smith:I heard family members drank a lot of water on those warm afternoons, but enjoyed every minute of it.
President Livingstone:I think we used over 11,000 bottles of water during that time. So yeah, lots of water. Would have been good to have the water a concession that day.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well now at number one, President Livingston, we just saw just last week of the exciting news, the give light campaign. Again, we can say this a lot in the midst of a pandemic, the Baylor family's generosity was just incredible surpassing its goal of $1 billion. A lot of people played a meaningful role. So this is a broad question, but just how are we able to accomplish this? What stands out to you about us getting here?
President Livingstone:Unbelievable accomplishments. So, what stands out? I've said this multiple times during this conversation, it's the people at Baylor that came alongside us believe in where we're going, believe in our Christian mission, and our aspirations to be a preeminent Christian research university, and to support those things that will allow us to do that. So we've had over 77,000 people contribute to that billion dollars some at small level some at very large levels. And the individuals that came alongside us are passionate for what we're trying to accomplish. I just... I can't say enough about it. It just shows people's deep, deep love for Baylor, their deep commitment to what we're trying to accomplish and the impact that we have on our students. So grateful to so many for us getting to that point.
Derek Smith:Well, we saw a number of meaningful gifts even late last week, including one kind of fittingly from, from Paula [inaudible], she brought the campaign across the finish line and she and her late husband Mark launched the campaign. As we talked about the welcome center, which the board approved this past week. So what can you tell us about the fruits of those gifts? As I think Baylor fans are looking forward to now think, okay, what's ahead? What's some of this going to look like?
President Livingstone:Well, those two gifts are critical, obviously, as you said, the herd, the gift for the herd welcomes that are launched the public faith of the campaign that will change the faith and the gateway into campus. And so huge for us and will be tremendous. We're all, whether it's alumni, prospective students come and their first touch of campus, fabulous new facility for us, that we're actually going to break ground on very shortly this summer, but then the pavilion, we're all excited about that. Obviously our men's and women's teams have been so successful for so long. They deserve a new facility that's very fan friendly. And so having folks like Paula come alongside us and give us such a significant gift to name the court makes those kinds of things possible. And so we're not quite ready yet to announce that we're going to break ground on the pavilion, but we are excited about that. And it's going to be such a fabulous addition to campus and to the community and will be such a fabulous venue for basketball. And then it will actually free up a lot of space to support our really nationally recognized women's volleyball team, our national championship women's acrobatics and tumbling team. So it will do a lot to benefit multiple teams on our campus, not just our basketball programs.
Derek Smith:It all adds up to a lot of excitement throughout the university. And you've just painted a picture of an incredible year here at Baylor. And after you're like this, I think everyone wants to know what's next. You mentioned even things like the fact that outdoor sports are at a hundred percent, I know that the teams that think about the health of our Baylor family are continuing to work. As we think about what's next, as you look ahead towards the summer and then the fall, what do you see ahead? What would you like to preview for the Baylor family?
President Livingstone:Well, we do hope that the fall is much more normal than it has been in the past. And you've referenced some things like attendance at football games that we're going back to normal, classroom structure and delivery in the fall. And so we're excited about that, and then as we came out of the board meeting, we have some great plans around our facilities. We approved a new budget that's going to really support continuing to move forward on our academic and student life efforts. And we've got more work to do on our campaign. So we are going to continue work to raise funds to support the university. But I do think bottom line, we continue to be focused on living out our mission as a Christ centered university and helping our students to really become the gifted individuals that God has intended them to be and all the work that we do is really centered around that. So just so appreciative of everybody in the Baylor family, that's a part of what we do, that it makes it possible for us to serve our students every day. And we're excited about the future. There's so much going on at Baylor, lots of opportunity in the future, and just a great time to be a Baylor bear.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. It is. It's been an exciting year and looking forward to seeing what's ahead as we move towards the fall semester, President Livingstone, I know you've had a lot going on, so thanks so much for taking the time to join us today here on the program.
President Livingstone:Happy to be with you Derek. Thank you.
Derek Smith:Baylor university president, Dr. Linda A. Livingstone, our guest today here on Baylor connections. I'm Derek Smith. Reminder, you can hear this and other programs online, baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor connections.