President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D.
Season 4 - Episode 436
The start of a new semester heralds much to celebrate. In this Baylor Connections, President Linda A. Livingstone Ph.D., shares the excitement of a new year, and discusses a variety of important topics with the Baylor Family, including the University’s record incoming class, R1 research momentum and ongoing conference realignment developments.
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 today we are pleased to be joined by Baylor University president, Dr. Linda Livingstone. It's the start of a new year here at Baylor, much to celebrate with record incoming class, a lot of hard work going into bringing everything together in another year, especially after the strangeness of last year and great to see the Baylor family celebrating more normalcy than last year at this time. So, President Livingstone, lots to talk about today. Thanks so much for joining us.
President Livingstone:Derek. I'm glad to be with you. Glad to get the new year kicked off and excited about what's ahead.
Derek Smith:There's always a lot of emotions, pleasant emotions, at the start of a new year. And in a welcome email to the campus community last week, you referenced the Bible verse, Psalm 47:1, "Clap your hands, all you nations, shout to God with cries of joy." What does that verse mean to you at the start of a new year?
President Livingstone:Well, what brings me the most joy as we start a new year, is seeing our students come back to campus. They are so excited to be back on campus. They're excited for a more normal semester and year, with the way we're structuring classes and activities. And many of them, the freshmen, especially, spent their whole senior year in high school in lockdown and online, many of them. And so there was just a lot of joy and excitement on their faces, from their families, and that brings me great joy to see them so excited about being at Baylor. They love that they're here and they're excited about the year.
Derek Smith:I know there's probably some overlap here, but are there any little things that maybe just you notice, or just little things at the start of the year that really are fun for you or make you happy, or really kind of tell you the calendars here at a new year?
President Livingstone:Yeah. Well, we always do a lot of activities early in the year. I mean, move in is always... And that's where you really see the first time they're on campus. There's a little bit of stress, but lots of joy. We handed out ice cream and popsicles the first day of class, and got to find out how student's first day of class was. And you know, everybody's like, "Oh man, I love my classes. I got to make stuff in a biology lab. It was very cool." We gave watermelon to the Golden Wave Marching Band. They're out there in the, they say the very cold weather, and I've learned to say that when you're around the Golden Wave Marching Band, and just sweating and having a great time. And we take watermelon to them, and they're so appreciative and we've seen so many of them since then. And they love that. We went to the Mosaic Mixer and we celebrate the great diversity on our campus and those students are performing, and dancing, and singing; and just to see the talent, and the joy, and the diversity on our campus. We got to go to Meet the Bears last weekend, and those student athletes are so excited about the year ahead. And there was a huge turnout from the community, from the student body, just so looking forward to the new year. So, there are just so many aspects of the start of the year that just give you great enthusiasm and anticipation and hope for a good year ahead. So, I mean, I could go on and on, but those are some of the kind of experiences I've had in the last week, or week-and-a-half, that just remind you what a special place this is and are really fun to be able to be a part of.
Derek Smith:Yeah. There's a lot of great events you talked about. I want to ask you about one in particular, move in day, as you serve and help families take their students' belongings into their residence hall, into their room. Well, what are your biggest takeaways from that experience year in and year out?
President Livingstone:Well, it's really hot and there's a lot of stairs at Collins, so I take those things very serious. My knees are just recovering. But a couple of things. One, is just the excitement of the students coming to campus for the first time, moving in, getting settled in, and maybe meeting their roommate face-to-face for the first time. And there's this... You know, I had some teary-eyed parents saying goodbye to their students. I had one mom put her arms around me. She was crying. She said, "Is she going to be okay? And I said, "Yes, she's going to be fine. She's going to do great." The daughter seemed perfectly fine. And so, just that transition, in some ways, of an adulthood transition in what the students see and what the parents experience is just kind of a really important moment when they're moving in like that. But then, I look around and we've got thousands of students and faculty volunteering across those days of move-in, and what a beautiful symbol of the Baylor family and our care and concern for one another, to be willing to get out there in that heat and carry boxes and TVs, and who knows what, up and downstairs. And I just love that picture of the Baylor family and the way we come together and love and support one another.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Baylor president, Dr. Linda Livingstone. And President Livingstone, a lot of you're welcoming freshmen and their families, and we've got a lot of them this year, a record-setting class, over 4,200. Obviously, that's good news and exciting news to see, but from your seat, what stands out to you when you see something like that?
President Livingstone:Well, I think, certainly, that large class shows us how much interest there is in Baylor and how much people want to be at a place like Baylor that is distinctively Christian, has strong academics, is kind of a mid-size university where you still get that personal attention, and then we play big time athletics. And those things matter. We're unbelievably unique in this country, along that combination, those dimensions. And so, I think it just shows really that we continue to grow and develop our reputation, the quality of what we're doing, that our Christian mission really matters, and that there's a great hunger and demand for that type of an educational setting for students from across the country. Our yield from out-of-state students on this class was twice as high as it's ever been. It's really why the class is so large. We did not anticipate that unusually high yield of out-of-state students. So we're really building a national reputation. It's the most academically qualified class we've ever had as well, and one of the most diverse classes we've ever had. So it just brings a lot of positives to the campus. And we're excited about those freshmen and integrating them with our upper-class students and having a great year ahead.
Derek Smith:Absolutely, excited to see. So the numbers are great. But as you described, the numbers inside the numbers, are really great too; a lot to be excited about. And as we visit with President Livingstone, and certainly, we've talked about more normalcy this year, but I know you and a lot of people are working on navigating the Delta variant of COVID-19. How are we walking through this phase of the virus as we start the new year?
President Livingstone:Well, I think we've gotten off to a good start. You know, we had a lot of work again over the summer to plan for a more normal fall, and what that would look like, to give more normalcy, but also to protect the community. And so, we are masking in classrooms and labs. We are really encouraging folks to get vaccinated. We can certainly talk more about that. We are really trying to encourage all of those healthy behaviors that students need to... We're testing folks that are not vaccinated, because they are certainly much more likely to catch the virus and to spread it and are at greater risk. But I think we're in a good place. We've had great buy-in from our faculty and staff on what we're doing. We've got a great health management team with significant expertise in public health issues, and certainly on these kinds of public health issues. So I feel good about where we are. We're certainly continuing to monitor the data on campus, as well as the science as these things develop. And we will continue to make choices that are in the best interest of the safety and health and well-being of our entire campus, and frankly, the broader community.
Derek Smith:As I walk across campus, you see the signs. You mentioned vaccines, the Vax to Normal signs, encouraging students to get vaccinated, and opportunities for them to do so. How are those efforts going so far?
President Livingstone:Yeah, we've had really good success. Our students vaccination came back, frankly, to campus at a bit higher rate than we'd anticipated. You know, last week we were getting about 40 students or so a day vaccinated. I haven't seen those numbers this week. But right now, our students are vaccinated at a 70% rate, our staff at 79%, and our faculty at 88%, for an overall total of 72%. And now we know that with the Delta variant, as contagious as it is, as fast as it spreads, getting above 80% as a campus community, 80 to 85% is probably where you need to be to have herd immunity. So we'll certainly continue to provide access to the vaccine, to testing, and really encourage everyone to take advantage of that, to protect our campus community, and then the broader Waco community. And I will say, the broader Waco community is struggling right now. The community itself is only about 44% vaccinated. Our hospitals are at capacity. So we certainly want to do everything we can to protect our community, but also to ensure that we're helping protect the community outside of the Baylor campus.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. I'm visiting with President Livingstone. President Livingstone, the start of your fifth year here at Baylor, and obviously, every year has been different in its own way. But, for you, what's different as you start year number five, as opposed to maybe thinking back to year one or two, in any number of ways.
President Livingstone:Well, gosh, a lot has happened since I came in summer of 2017. Of course, that first fall, you don't really know people. So you're getting to know everybody. Every face is a new face. All the events are new events. And you're really trying to get to understand the campus, understand its strengths, the opportunities, and then think about what we want to do as we go to the future. So, there's a lot of learning and listening and getting to know the campus and the people. Now going into my fifth year, you know the people, you know the campus, and you've built out a strategic plan. You know that our strategic plan is Illuminate. We've got this great fundraising campaign, Give Light. And now as you go into year five, you can actually see, you can look back and see how much significant progress we've made in just four years towards that campaign, over a billion dollars. We should hit the $1.1 billion mark, hopefully this fall, which is the goal of that campaign. We made great progress on our strategy Illuminate to be a preeminent Christian research one university. And so, it's so heartening to me to, you know, you go from where you really are just learning the people and the places and planning, to really seeing the tremendous progress because of the tremendous work our faculty, and staff, and our community have come together and done. It's really exciting. It also gives me great optimism and hope for the future that, if we've done this in four years, how much more opportunity we have in the years ahead as we all come together and work on the priorities of the university.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Talking to President Livingstone. And, President Livingstone, you know, you mentioned Illuminate. So, there were some exciting numbers this year. Obviously, well even Give Light, as you said, getting very close to that very ambitious goal. And ambitious goals characterize a lot of what makes up some of these initiatives like Illuminate, for one. Some numbers to the board this past summer that you shared, from 110 doctorates awarded in 2016 and 17, to 167 last year, just under 30 million in research expenditures to 47 million in that time, and faculty received $11 million in research awards in 2017, now up to 27 million in 2021. I'm throwing a lot of numbers there, but it signifies just the great work that's gone into building Illuminate and the success in reaching those numbers. Those are some stretch goals that everyone put together. How do these numbers in your mind measure up or exceed what you and everyone who sowed into this were hoping?
President Livingstone:Well, we have been unbelievably pleased with the way those numbers have moved up so substantially and so quickly in really exponential ways, faster than we probably would have originally anticipated when we began our work on Illuminate. And I think that goes to a number of things. One, we have tremendous alignment in leadership of the university and focus on Illuminate; from the board who's bought into that and gets regular updates and continues to support that effort, certainly through me and my president's council who are fully committed to focusing what we're doing at the university broadly on the goals of Illuminate, and then the deans have been unbelievably supportive and focused as have the faculty, and then we've seen the Baylor family come alongside. We couldn't do these things without the success of our fundraising campaign, the Give Light campaign. And so, that alignment on our strategy and focus has been critically successful to that. And then, on those research numbers, specifically, bringing in a provost and having stability and leadership in the provost office. Provost Brickhouse has been just exceptional and made tremendous progress very quickly on some of these goals. Dr. Kevin Chambliss, he's our Vice Provost for Research, has really structured that office, provided support for faculty to help them to be able to go out and seek grants and contracts that help drive those numbers. And then, certainly, our deans and our faculty have bought in and are doing tremendous work. So, it is truly a campus-wide team effort to make that happen. And again, the numbers have moved up faster than we thought they would, and that's great because it gets us towards that goal of being a research one university, much sooner. We will be close to that this December, when they come out with those new numbers. We anticipate that it will be three years from now. They do this every three years, the Carnegie foundation does. So we anticipate it will be three years from now when we'll actually make that list, but much more progress than we might've anticipated in the last several years, and couldn't be prouder of the campus community for rolling up their sleeves and making it happen.
Derek Smith:Visiting with President Livingstone. And, President Livingstone, when we talk about reaching R1 levels and what that can mean for the university; when you look at other leading universities like those in power five athletic conferences, for instance, how important or prevalent is high level research, really across that landscape?
President Livingstone:If you look at the 64 power five, plus Notre Dame, the 65 schools that are kind of considered in that bucket of schools, all but three of them, are research one universities. So, the only three that are not are Baylor, Wake Forest, and TCU; and we're very, very close. I think it's really important for people to recognize that athletic conferences are just about athletics. That's certainly the core and what you always hear about, but they care about the academic reputation of the schools in there. The better resourced schools for research also tend to be the better resourced schools for athletics. They tend to be the more prominent universities in the country. And so, those two elements really support and influence one another. The better you are academically research wise, the better you are athletically, the better it is for the university broadly across all aspects of what we do.
Derek Smith:You know, the metrics are exciting. The numbers are exciting. What it can mean for the university is exciting. But as you kind of envision, maybe 2024, as you said, three years from now when the next rankings come out, obviously, there's a bit of a celebration to reach R1 once we get there. But what are some ways the university is thinking about building on that where that's more than just a finish line, but a springboard?
President Livingstone:Yeah, well, we did not view R1 as a finish line. It's certainly a goal that we're seeking to achieve, but it's just a marker on our pathway to continue to be among the preeminent universities in this country, while ensuring the integrity and strength of our Christian mission. And at the end of the day, the better we get academically, the better the quality of our research. It attracts high quality students. It attracts high quality faculty. It helps us to have the visibility, the reputation, to have an influence and an impact in the world. And as I've said many times, the world needs a Baylor. The world needs a preeminent Christian research university, so that we have that Christian voice, that respected Christian voice in higher education and in the world more broadly. And that doesn't end with becoming an R1 university, that is really just a marker on the way to continue to have impact and influence in ways that really matter and that we need in higher education in the world from a significant Christian university.
Derek Smith:I'm going to be very excited to see that as we move towards that, and then building on that in the years to come, as we visit with Baylor University president, Dr. Linda Livingstone. And President Livingstone, let's shift gears to sports now. They are underway. We're heading into Labor Day weekend. As we visit, football kicks off at Texas State, volleyball is underway. Volleyball up to number nine nationally, after a couple of tough matches, a big win over Minnesota, and then tough loss to a very good team in Wisconsin. And, of course, if people know your daughter, Shelby Livingstone, coach on the team, grad assistant, and what's that mean to you all? Obviously, a fun start for the team. And what are you most looking forward to seeing for them this year?
President Livingstone:Well, of course we have a personal attachment to that volleyball team. So, we try to watch them as much as we can. And we're unbelievably excited about the possibilities for our volleyball team. It is probably the most talented and deepest volleyball team we've ever had at Baylor. Coach McGuire has done an exceptional job recruiting. We got a great transfer in Avery Skinner, who was a first team all-American for a national champion in Kentucky last year. And then you've got Yossi Pressley, who was the player of the year two years ago. So, we've got a great talent deep bench, and I'm unbelievably optimistic about what they can do this year. And they're just a fine group of young women. They love each other. They are just deeply committed to playing for the right reasons and getting joy out of what they do. So they're fun to watch. Everybody needs to come out and watch them. We play Texas twice at home later in the season, we want to fill the gym for that. So come out and watch them. You're going to have a great time. But we're also excited. We've been out and watched soccer already, and that's playing right now. You need to get out and enjoy that. And then, of course, football season is getting started. So it's a great fall to get out and watch Baylor sports.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. And football, as we mentioned, starts this weekend. And, obviously, last year was a tough year to be a first year head coach. That's what Dave Aranda... The situation that he found himself in. You know him better than most of us will get to. What stands out to you about the fact... He seems very relationally driven, someone who wants to really get to know his players. How big could it be for this team that this year there's been that normalcy, as opposed to Zoom and all of that that they had to deal with last year at this time, but he's had that year to build?
President Livingstone:Yeah. Well, Coach Aranda came into an unbelievably difficult circumstance as a first year head coach, and frankly, a first time head coach. And anytime you're a leader, and particularly a coach, building relationships, building trust, he's trying to put a new offensive and defensive schemes [inaudible] coaching staff for the players, for the most part, that is unbelievably difficult to do remotely in a sport that's so physical, right? So, just commend them for the way they brought that team together and have worked with them. So being able to be face-to-face with them to work with them on the field, in the film room, in one-on-one situations, has to be extremely valuable to him and his coaching staff. And Coach Aranda is... I'm just so impressed with him. He's a thoughtful person. He's a deep thinker. He has an unbelievable football mind. I mean, I think I know a little bit about football, and I listen to him talk, and I'm like, "Oh, I have no idea what he's talking about." Because he is truly a serious football thinker. And I love hearing it. He knows the game and he will teach those young men. But I also love that they talk about great people, make great players, and they really are caring deeply about building the character and integrity and quality of those young men, far beyond what they're doing on the football field. And, at the end of the day, that's going to carry them a long way in life. So, I love seeing that love that that's such a priority for coach Aranda and his staff.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. So again, as that kicks off this weekend down at Texas State, the first home game, Saturday, September 11th against Texas Southern. Well, of course, president Livingstone all sports this year. You know, I know fans back of their minds are going to be thinking about conference realignment as that's become a topic in the last month. What should fans know about what those discussions are like here at Baylor and how the university is navigating as we move into the fall?
President Livingstone:Well, we certainly going into summer, did not know that was what we were going to be spending hours of our time dealing with, Mack Rhoades and I, but I would say the big 12 is committed to being a successful conference, to being a power five conference and to building strength and success in the days ahead. And I think you can also be... Mack Rhoades is honestly the best athletic director in the country, and he's been intimately involved in all the discussions that are going on at the conference level and is unbelievably well-connected across the country. And there's a lot of unity among the eight big 12 presidents and a lot of focus on building for the future. So, I have great confidence in the conference of where we're going to be, and really look forward to that future. And frankly, Baylor will continue to be a strong player in athletics nationally and within the power five conference. And so, I'm looking forward to what's ahead. I think we have some good opportunities before us.
Derek Smith:I don't know if there's a direct line between this and that, but you've been able to play a leadership role within college athletics. I don't know how many university presidents were student athletes themselves across the landscape these days, but obviously you bring that. You've been able to serve as vice chair of the big 12, on the NCA board of governors, and on the NCAA constitution committee. What opportunities do those present to to shape college athletics and for you to speak into that?
President Livingstone:Well, now's a very tumultuous time in college athletics with some of the recent court rulings, the Allston case, with the NIL issues that are going on, and then certainly with conference realignment, and now the NCAA looking at its structure and how should college athletics be structured in terms of governance and such going forward for success. And so, I feel privileged to have the opportunity to be kind of in the middle of all of that, whether that's at the big 12 or at the NCAA level. I certainly think that my experience as a student athlete, as the parent of a student athlete, and certainly now as a president of a university in a power five conference, does give me some experience and background that a lot of presidents would not have. And I certainly hope that I can be valuable in those processes, certainly to get the conference to a great place from a strength perspective, but also to really help position college athletics appropriately and structured properly going forward because college athletics is just a great part of our culture in this country. People love getting behind their college team and cheering them on. And we want to find ways to sustain that experience, not just for our fans, but certainly for our student athletes and for their ability to not just excel at athletics, but to have the opportunity to get an education along the way. So, I'm glad to be a part of those conversations and, hopefully, we can come out on the back end of them with some ways of doing things that will be very positive for athletics in the future.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for that President Livingstone. We are just about out of time. We covered a lot of ground, a lot to talk about at the beginning of a new year, and I really appreciate you sharing with us. Thank you so much.
President Livingstone:Glad to be with you, Derek. Looking forward to what's ahead.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Baylor University president, Dr. Linda Livingstone, our guest today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder you can hear this and other programs online, baylor.edu/connections. You can subscribe on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.