President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D.
Season 5 - Episode 517
This summer marks five years of leadership for President Livingstone at Baylor University. In this Baylor Connections, we look back at major benchmarks from the past year, and revisit 10 significant moments from her first five years as president in academics, athletics, student life, culture 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. I'm Derek Smith. And today we are visiting with Baylor University, President Dr. Linda Livingstone. As the 2021, 2022 school year draws to an end in the next couple of weeks, there's been a lot to celebrate and even more to celebrate as we're approaching the fifth anniversary of President Livingstone's, re-arrival back to Baylor as president in 2017. It's been an exciting time, and I know a busy time President Livingstone. So thanks so much for joining us today.
President Livingstone:I'm happy to be with you Derek. It's a fun time of the year and great to talk about it with everyone.
Derek Smith:Well, there's a lot going on and I'm curious for you, if you were to run into a colleague from another institution and they said, "Well, what's the spring semester been like for you at Baylor?" What would you say?
President Livingstone:I think the first thing I would say is it's actually been a very normal semester. The first sort of truly normal semester we've had, I think for the last two years. And so that's been a lot of fun for everyone on campus, our students, our faculty and staff, and even for the community around us. So I think that would be the first thing I would say about the spring semester. And then I would say, I think it's been a very productive semester for us just in terms of the work that continues academically, the ongoing success of our athletic teams, watching our students finish up their degrees and get ready to go out into the world. And it's been a very productive and I think fun semester for everybody.
Derek Smith:Well, what do you enjoy most about this time of year whether it's this year specifically, or in general?
President Livingstone:One of the things you notice when you walk across campus this time of the year is how many students are out taking graduation pictures. They've got the robes on and they've got family with them and that's just a real joy because that's what we're here for, is to graduate students, send them out into world and make a difference. And so they're just so joyful and you get to hear their stories about where they're going and what they're going to do. So that's really one of the most joyful parts of this time of the year. And then even our students that aren't graduating, what they're going to do this summer, whether it's being a camp counselor or doing an internship or doing international travel or working, it's great to just hear what they're going to do, how they're going to use their summertime. And, everybody's really looking ahead when you get towards the end of the semester, which is great.
Derek Smith:Visiting with President Livingstone and there's been a lot that we're celebrating now. We talked at the end of December when Baylor reached R1 recognition, recently able to celebrate with Baylor faculty more officially, but what's it been like for you to enjoy sharing in that with Baylor faculty over the course of this semester?
President Livingstone:Well, it's been really exciting because it was a big lift for us. One, frankly as everyone knows, we were kind of surprised we got to by December of this year and we anticipated it about three years down the road. And so I think faculty rightly so, we're very proud of the accomplishment and the work that they did. And it's an accomplishment campus wide. It took staff to support faculty. It takes faculty doing great research. It takes faculty teaching. It takes all of that to get us to this point. And so it's really fun to talk to faculty about it, but I'm amazed how many students have commented on it. And I heard one story about a young man the baseball game and we were playing TCU and they're not an R1 institution. And he started an R1 cheer at the baseball game. And so I'm like, man, that's really awesome that students are that aware of what's going on and what it means and that we were in TCU wasn't. So-
Derek Smith:That's true.
President Livingstone:Anyway, it was fun. And we had a wonderful time celebrating with faculty and thanking them for just their tremendous focus on this, even in the midst, the last two years that have been so trying with COVID and everything.
Derek Smith:Well, that's one team win. And another one that certainly tied into our R1 designation, was Give Light. We surpassed the $1.1 billion mark over the course of this semester. So many people sewed into that. What does it mean to celebrate with people who made that happen and see its impact is really right now and in years ahead?
President Livingstone:Yeah. Well, this year's the first year we're out in the last three, really that we've gotten to do our big end of year giving celebration and that was a real joy as well because we bring donors together with students that they're supporting. But what a joy to do that and to see, I think over 80,000 members of the Baylor family that have contributed so far to the Give Light campaign, and you really only have success in a campaign that large and that significant, if the entire family comes alongside you. And we had huge gifts up to $100 million, and we had very small gifts, $10 gifts. And every single one of those matters. And it really showed the deep love and commitment Baylor family has for Baylor and their deep desire to help us to continue to improve and get better and accomplish our goals and illuminate. And so it's fun to get to celebrate that. And while we reach that $1.1 billion mark, we're continuing to move forward. We still got lots of work to do to support our faculty and our staff and our students to continue to make Baylor a better place.
Derek Smith:Visiting with President Livingstone. And President Livingstone another thing to celebrate is the number of scholarships that our students are receiving. These internationally competitive, very prestigious scholarships, 13 Fulbright this year, a previous university high was seven. There's been a Truman and a Gold Water scholarship one. Probably by the time people listen to this, we'll have more added to the list, but what does that mean when you see those releases and meet the students who have earned these?
President Livingstone:Well, of course, we're extremely happy for those individual students that have been recognized in that way. And if you've read any of their materials or you've met any of them, they are impressive young people. And it helps you to understand the quality of what we do at Baylor, the quality of students that we bring here. But I think it's also just an affirmation to the community, to our faculty that are working with students, that what they're doing on our campus is producing students that can compete at the highest levels nationally and internationally with anybody, anywhere else in the country from an academic perspective. I'm so thrilled with the kind of engaged learning office that supports this effort. And I think we're going to continue to see these numbers grow in the future as we continue to grow the quality of our student body, the quality of the academic enterprise here and the research that we're doing.
Derek Smith:That's fantastic. So much to celebrate. I didn't even ask you yet about, every day we see the construction of the welcome of new visitors center. I know behind Robinson tower, we're going to be seeing movement for the new basketball pavilion. How is it for you to see these facilities that begin to take shape?
President Livingstone:Well, it is so exciting. I've seen all the plans and everything, but it's like, wow, that's a huge facility and it's going to be so spectacular right there on interstate 35, right across from the football stadium. And of course it will be kind of caddy corner to the new basketball pavilion. And it just shows that we're continuing to make progress. We're continuing to find ways to better meet the needs of our students, our faculty, our staff, and the Baylor family. And it's just going to provide us with more and more opportunities to bring people together, to tell them about Baylor and to help us move forward in really significant ways. Now this is not our project, but I did hear last week that they think I-35 is going to be done by the end of this calendar year. That may be the most exciting thing that happens in construction in let go in a long time. And that will just make those projects we're doing along the interstate much better and easier to access and everything. So it's an exciting time to see all this work happening.
Derek Smith:Well, you'll get a hardy aim in from I'm sure being a lot of other people when they see that eventually done and wide open and really flowing in the fruits of that improvement as we visit with President Livingstone. And President, let's shift gears a little bit, because it's a significant anniversary. It's been just over five years since you were announced as Baylor's 15 president, April of 2017. And then it's been just under five years since you took office, you took over, it was an understatement. There's been so much that's happened during that time. So it would be fun to revisit some big moments here of your time as president over the next few minutes, but as we start out, I want to ask you, a half decade, how does that feel to you? Does it feel like more or less?
President Livingstone:Well, I think, obviously I came in at a fairly difficult time for the university. And so I think if I could go back and tell myself anything, I would say, you're going to get through this, and as good as you want it to be, it's probably going to actually end up better than what you expect it to be. Because the Baylor family's so amazing. And you kind of knew that at the time, but you don't really know how it's going to play out. And so I would go back and encourage myself and I would encourage the Baylor people that it is going to get lots, lots better, much more quickly than we could anticipate. And it's going to be really good for Baylor and for the community.
Derek Smith:Well, let's look back at a few of those big moments here over the last five years. Now this is my best attempt to capture the big moments. So five minutes, if you have anything to add you can please let us know. So the first one is, thinking back to your inauguration, the world needs a Baylor, casting that vision, your inauguration. So look back, what are some of the ways that Baylor has lived up to that calling to that vision?
President Livingstone:Well, we talked about those scholarship recipients and if you think about out the quality of students that we are producing, the quality of graduates that we're producing, who have been sort of raised through an educational environment, infused with our Christian views and values, that's critical to the world. And those young people are going out and going to make a huge impact in the world, probably the most important impact. So I think that's been fabulous. The world needs the research that our faculty are doing. And if you look at the progress our faculty have made in the last five years in the quality and breadth and depth of research, the research grants for getting the faculty that we're hiring, they're going to be doing amazing things in the years ahead. That research is going to make a difference in the world in really significant ways. I think we're seeing more and more folks on our campus being asked to be involved in national and international organizations and having a voice in things that are done, whether it's in academics or in healthcare, in business, or in other ways in education. So I think we're becoming even more and more respected in that regard. And then kind of in the more fun side of things, we've had a great run athletically, and they've brought a lot of joy to a lot of people and frankly, the visibility of our athletics program on the national stage, that when they compete so well and represent our Christian mission so well, the world needs that and Baylor has a real ability to impact because of the visibility that athletics gives us. So there's lots and lots of reasons the world needs a Baylor, but at the end of the day, I think it's mainly about our people. The world needs the kinds of people Baylor has, whether it's our students or faculty and staff and the impact that they're having in the world.
Derek Smith:You look back to when you came here, obviously there were some big things on the plate, and it's a good time to talk about. It's the month of April, marks sexual assault awareness month. And we've experienced a purposeful culture shift in our approach to sexual assault and support for those impacted by it. When you look at that, what areas of that culture shift and the work put into getting therein out as most meaningful to you?
President Livingstone:Well, I think probably first and foremost is that we are willing to acknowledge that this is a really important issue on our campus and one we have to deal with, and we're willing to talk about it, and have really honest, open conversations about sexual assault issues, impact it has on our students, how we prevent it. And then frankly, we've changed a lot of infrastructure. We've changed policies and procedures. We've strengthened, whether it's our title IX office, our ES, equal employment office, our civil rights office. We do much, much more in education and training. And then I just think because people are more willing and open to talk about it, we're doing so much better at reporting and following up on those reports, and hope that we can even get better at that so that anyone on our campus that feels like they've been assaulted or mistreated in some way, knows that they can trust the system to address their issues and to listen and to help them work through them. So, it's one of these areas where you're never done and you've got to always keep improving and learn and changing, but I'm really proud of the institution and our people for all they've done on over the last really, probably six or seven years to address these issues.
Derek Smith:Visiting with president Livingstone, looking back at five years of her presidency, 2018, the illuminate vision was launched. We're seeing the fruit of that now, but when you look back at that, what is some of the important work that went into craft, into crafting that collective vision?
President Livingstone:Well, I think the most important thing that was part of crafting it, and then that's come out of that, is that it brought alignment to our focus as an institution. So our board is brought into illuminate, my team and I, everybody to illuminate, the deans and endowed through the faculty and staff. And when you have alignment on direction and purpose, it is much easier to focus your resources, focus your time and talent and energy to get things done. And I think that is part of the reason that we've been successful.That was because we all came together, got behind that and were aligned in the direction that we needed to go and how we needed to direct our energies.
Derek Smith:Just three and a half years after the launch of illuminate, Baylor reached our one. And now that was only one part of it, but it just speaks to the success of that for sure. So another launch that came shortly thereafter, as we talked about, fueled that in some ways was Give Light. In what ways has that fueled and strengthened the future?
President Livingstone:Well, we would not be able to accomplish what we are with illuminate without pairing that with the tremendously successful campaign we've had in Give Light. And that's helped us raise scholarship dollars so that we can really do everything we can and continue to make progress there to ensure that students who should be at Baylor need to be at Baylor, that want to be at Baylor can afford to be here. So that's critically important and be an important part of that campaign, but the money we've raised for endowed chairs, I think we're up to about 19 endowed chairs now, initially with the foster academic challenge. And now with the Baylor academic challenge, game changer. Complete game changer for us. As I said, before we had like three endowed chairs at 3 million or more before we started this, we've added 19. We're continuing that process. We already have probably four or five of those faculty on campus and more will come in the next three to five years. And they're the top scholars in their fields in the country. And that's helping in the classroom, in our research bringing in research scholars, helping our academic profile and just enriching academic life on campus. And that would not have happened without the Give Light campaign. And then we talked about the facilities plans earlier, that campaign is making it possible for us to really continue to change the physical face of our campus. And that will continue as we move into the next phase of illuminate, as we continue to remodel our residence halls, as we really build out the honors college space, in addition to the projects we've already mentioned. And so it's exciting. Again, it shows the deep love of the Baylor family for Baylor and wanting us to continue to advance and move forward. And again, without the Give Light campaign, illuminate would not been able to be a success at the rate it has been in this period of time.
Derek Smith:You mentioned President Livingstone, Baylor students, and the strength of the student body it's become even more academically accomplished, diverse. We've seen more graduate students, and really there's a lot of superlatives. Those are just a few. And we look back particularly it's the challenges the last few years. How have we been able to continue to do that and grow that in exciting ways?
President Livingstone:Well, I think it's really important that you set that as a priority. Our students are of the highest priority on this campus that we ensure their safety and health and wellbeing. And even as we went through COVID, I mean, we said at the beginning of COVID that we want to ensure the safety and health and wellbeing of our students and faculty and staff. We want to give them as normal of experience as we possibly can while keeping them safe. And we want to come out on the backside of COVID stronger than we went in on the front side. And I believe that we accomplished all of those things. I think that because we did that, we were able to do things that other universities didn't. We certainly had more flexibility in Texas than some other states did. So I think it was really important to the experience of our students. And we heard over and over from many of our students that what we were able to do on this campus while keeping students safe and healthy was a much more normal experience, even in the depths of COVID than what many of their friends saw at other institutions. And so it's a huge credit to our faculty and staff to those that helped lead us through, our health management team that led through that. And I think, again, it shows how much at Baylor we care about the people. And when you care about your people and do things to support your people, I think it helps strengthen you over time, in particular, during really difficult times.
Derek Smith:Well, so many people put in a lot of hard work to maintain that environment over the last couple of years. And that was actually one of the areas to discuss if you covered that well, along with athletics and the impact of Give Light and in R1 as well on, just so many fun things to look back over the course of your five years as president. President Livingstone, we head into the final couple of minutes. I want to ask you to, if you could reflect a little bit on, those are a lot of exciting things that Baylor has done, managed to stay on, to use the sports metaphor, to stay on offense and go after high level goals for the future, while having to play some defense as it relates to COVID. And so many things that were unexpected, not every institution has been able to do that as well as Baylor. From your standpoint, how have we been able to do that? What factors have made that possible?
President Livingstone:Well, I mentioned alignment earlier, and I think that happen not just around our strategic plan, but around how we handled COVID and many other things, so that alignment. And that alignment is driven very deeply by our mission as a Christian institution. And I do think there's underlying values as a Christian institution about, care and concern, loving your neighbor, seeking to be good stewards of what God has given you, really critical to us because we have those foundational values that drive everything that we do. And so I think that's been critically important to us, as well as having really exceptional people, providing leadership, whether it was our health management team, whether it's my president's council, whether it's our deans, partner of chairs, that have been critical in our success over this time.
Derek Smith:Well, I know the people are a big part of it, certainly. And I'm curious, Baylor is a large diverse organization in a very changing landscape. What's one thing that stood out to you? You're an organizational scholar, so you've studied this topic well over the course of your career, but I'm curious, what stands out to you about what it takes to do that? And whoever is in stewardship throughout the university, or even in their own roles, wherever they might be listening to this, what's something that they could take away?
President Livingstone:There's a lot of things I could say in response to that question, but I do think one of the things that's really important for leaders as you go through really difficult times is to be really honest with your organization about what you're going through, the hard stuff, the good stuff, what you know you can do and what you're not sure about what you can do. I think we tried to do that during the pandemic, and we communicated a lot. When there's uncertainty and fear in a system, the more you can communicate about what you're doing, why you're doing it. I think the better off you are. And then frankly, just being real, authentic, and genuine with people and having empathy for what they're experiencing and where they are as they go through a lot of these things. So I think it's really about being an authentic leader, about caring deeply about people to help them walk through these difficult times and keeping them focused on the things that are most important they should go through there.
Derek Smith:Well, we've seen that for sure. Well, President Livingstone, thank you so much for your time and happy anniversary. Happy five years at Baylor, and look forward to what's ahead.
President Livingstone:Thanks so much, Derek. It has been a blessing to be here for five years. I can't wait for the next five.
Derek Smith:We're excited to see. Congratulations. Thank you so much on that 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, and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.