President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D.
Season 5 - Episode 534
As a new academic year finds its stride, there is much to celebrate and anticipate at Baylor. In this Baylor Connections, President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D., shares insights on a variety of topics: national trust in Baylor, enrollment, spiritual formation, leadership in higher education and college athletics, future growth 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 joined by Baylor University President, Dr. Linda Livingstone. It's the start of a new year. We're a couple weeks into a new year now, but it still feels fresh. There's a lot going on. President Livingstone, thanks so much for taking the time to join us and talk about everything that's going on at Baylor right now.
President Livingstone:Well, I'm happy to be here, Derek. It's always fun to get a new year started off. So glad to talk about all that's going on.
Derek Smith:I know there's a cyclical nature to that, the rhythm to the start of the year, but every year's a little bit different. To you, what's unique about this one, 2022?
President Livingstone:Well, I think one of the most unique things after the last two years we've had is that we're really normal this fall. We are sort of thinking of COVID like we think of the flu. It's an ongoing issue that we've got to be attentive to, but it's not changing any of our protocols or issues on campus. And so students are fully in class, fully doing activities, and so it feels like the most normal fall we've had since 2019. And everybody's really excited about that and you kind of feel the enthusiasm among students on our campus.
Derek Smith:Exciting to see, for sure. Well, you met with, a couple weeks ago, at Move In and Welcome Week, you were able to meet with a lot of families across campus. I'm curious, were there common questions that you hear from people, or aspects of those meetings, that are particularly meaningful to you?
President Livingstone:Well, I think one of the things you hear at Move In is how fabulous our move-in process is. Many people have had kids go other places, and they just can't imagine the support we get from across the campus and across the community to make it so easy for families to move in. So it's a wonderful first experience for families. I also hear a lot of feedback on just how great the experience of deciding to come to Baylor, being prepared to come to Baylor was, and just how much hands-on touch we provide and really how easy it is to go through that process. It's part of the reason so many students want to come here and so many students actually show up. You get questions about things that are going on. What does my student need to do to be successful? What should I, as a new parent or an ongoing parent, do to help my student be successful? You get some of those kinds of questions, but generally, it's less about questions when they first get here and more about just helping them get settled, feel comfortable, and feel comfortable leaving their child with us. Particularly, if it's their first child they've ever sent off to college, which is pretty common among our students.
Derek Smith:Well, as you touch on the class and trusting leaving their children here, a couple of things come to mind. And one is that every year we get to learn more about Baylor's great incoming class. They keep bringing just impeccable academic standards, great backgrounds. This year's class, the demand is high, but the class is a little bit smaller. How is the university intentional about managing the demand that we enjoy?
President Livingstone:As you said, we had actually the largest application pool we've ever had for a freshman class, which I think is a testament to the quality of the university, the reputation we're building, and the experience that our students have. We had a very large class last fall, about 41, 4,200. The fall before that, it was about 3,700. We had anticipated smaller classes because of COVID, so our predictors weren't exactly accurate given some of that. But again, I think that's a testament to Baylor and the things we're doing. So this fall we felt like we really need to pull that number down some. Our undergraduate numbers had gotten up over 15,000. We'd really like to be more in the 14-5 or so range of that vicinity. And so we need to pull down the class size. So we're about 32, 3,300. I haven't seen the final class numbers. I'll hear those early next week. But we think we came in right in our sweet spot of the total we were looking for, around 32, 3300. It's a class that's very qualified academically, our most academically qualified. We're really getting close to 50% of our students from out of state. It's a very diverse class. And if anybody was at the football game Saturday, they're a very enthusiastic class too. And they are excited about Baylor, they're excited to be here, they're excited to be doing things on campus, so they're going to be great students for us in the years ahead.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Visiting with President Livingstone here on Baylor Connections, and you mentioned, I should say, parents entrusting their children to come to Baylor. And we received a pretty nice surprise recently when Morning Consult named Baylor one of the 10 most trusted universities in the nation, in really elite company, Johns Hopkins, Duke, Notre Dame, Cornell, MIT, Stanford, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton were all in there along with Baylor. What does that honor say to you, first of all?
President Livingstone:I think it's a testament to the work that our faculty and staff and the Baylor family broadly across the country have done in the last few years. We would not have been on that list five or six years ago because of some of the things that we were dealing with. And so the work that's been done since then to work on our strategic plan, our fundraising, to build our national reputation in academics, in integrity, in athletics, has been really important. And I think it's what has led to that ranking and that rating, which we're really pleased with and it's great company to be in. And I think we were ahead of five Ivy League schools, so can't say enough about the, really, team effort across the Baylor family on and off campus that results in that kind of a result, from that survey.
Derek Smith:You've talked on this program in episodes and years past about the alignment and the hard work people have done, whether it's moving towards our research goals or working through the things that we were dealing with a few years ago, with real sense of purpose and mission. As an organizational scholar yourself, what are the biggest ways that an organization builds trust, particularly if maybe it might not have been as high at a level a few years back?
President Livingstone:Well, I think there's a number of things you have to do. First, you have to do what you say you're going to do, right? People have to believe that if you tell them you're going to do something or you're going to be a certain type of institution, then you have to do that and be that and do it, be that very consistently. And then frankly, if you aren't doing that or being that for some reason, unexpectedly or because you made a mistake, you've got to be very honest about it and transparent about it. And I think the other thing is communication is just so very, very important. And I think we knew that always, but I think during the pandemic, we leaned into communicating more and more and being very honest about the situation on campus, what we were doing, what was working. If we didn't know something, we told people we didn't know something, we let people know we might have to change and shift. And then we did change and shift, and we tried not to surprise people. It didn't mean we didn't at times. And so I think people felt confident that they were getting honest stories, honest pictures of what was going on, and they could trust that we were doing everything we could to keep the campus safe and healthy and taking care of our students and faculty and staff. And so I think that was kind of an illustration of a ways in which we built trust over time, because of the way we handled the pandemic. Didn't always get it right. We learned as we went, just like everybody else, but also the way we communicated about it. And I think it takes a lot of those things together to build trust. And you can lose trust much more quickly than you can build trust. What do they say? It's like rain dripping in a bucket, that's how you gain trust. The bucket dumping over, is how you lose trust. Right? And so it's something that takes a lot of time to build trust. You can lose it overnight or even faster than that. And so you always have to be diligent about maintaining that level of trust and confidence in your institution. So we take that very, very seriously, especially as a Christian institution, but we've got to represent our values well every single day. And we work hard to do that. And when we don't do it well, we need to be willing to acknowledge that and do better next time.
Derek Smith:Well, we've seen so much of what you just described lived out on campus, whether among faculty, staff, administration. And I'm also curious, the Baylor family in general, what role do they share in this honor as they represent Baylor?
President Livingstone:Well, clearly the Baylor family has the biggest influence across the country and around the world because they're out there, everywhere. And every time somebody meets one of our members of the Baylor family, whether that's an alum or a student or a faculty or staff, if they're traveling, or a parent, and they talk about Baylor, they wear their Baylor clothes, they get asked about Baylor. What they say about us is our reputation to them. And then it's spread to the people that they know. And it's, frankly, part of the reason our enrollment numbers have been strong and the reason our application pool has been strong, because the word of mouth from our students, particularly, those out of state that go back home and share about their experience, has been fabulous. Their parents talk about it, and it's a different experience than a lot of people have in other institutions. And so they're huge in terms of having impact on a survey, like we talked about the trust survey, and on our reputation, on our ability to attract students to the campus. So can't say enough about the Baylor family broadly defined and the impact they have on our ability to accomplish the things that we do.
Derek Smith:That's true. And I should mention too, in that survey, they broke it down by different demographics, and among parents we're number two in nation most trusted. So you mentioned talking to parents about entrusting their kids to Baylor. That's got to be a nice validation of that?
President Livingstone:Well, it is. I do think COVID was certainly a part of that, but I also think the experience their students have on our campus is a critical part of that. And I talk to parents all over the country and get such great feedback from them on the things that we're doing. And that is a credit to our faculty and staff and the experience they're creating for our students on campus, in and out of the classroom. And so, so appreciative of everybody here on campus that makes that possible and actually leads to that kind of a result from parents.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Baylor University President, Dr. Linda Livingstone on the program today. And President Livingstone, you recently mentioned in your presidential perspective email, that Baylor's faith and character study, it provided us with insights about their faith journeys, excuse me, that could help us better understand where they are in serving them. Could you tell us about that study a little bit? What's beneficial about it and how is it useful?
President Livingstone:Well, that study was started, I think, the first year it was administered was my first year here. So they had already made that decision to do it before I arrived. It's a longitudinal study. Students take the survey when they're freshmen, when they first arrive, their end of their senior year, and then, I believe, it's five years out as alumni. Because this is done it for five years now, this fall's our sixth year of data collection. We're beginning to get longitudinal data on some of our students, which is fabulous. And it really helps us understand what factors, while they're here at Baylor, have the greatest impact on where do they start spiritually, where do they end up spiritually, character formation as they graduate, and then ultimately when they're alumni, and then what are the things that impacted them while they were at Baylor that influenced their spiritual and character development and helped it to be kind of sticky and sustainable as they leave us and move on. So it's a really important study for us as we learn from that and adapt on campus because of what we found.
Derek Smith:Are there any ways we see on campus now that have fruits of that already?
President Livingstone:Yeah. A couple things I will mention. One of the things that we've learned in that was, our students come to us from very different places spiritually. Some of them are very mature, broad and deep spiritual experiences. Some of them come to us with very little spiritual background and experience. And that's for a lot of different reasons. And so, one of the things we've learned from that study is you can't expect everybody, let's say in chapel, to get the same thing out of a generic chapel service serving all of our students, because they're all coming to it from different places. And so what we've started doing, because of what we've learned from that survey, is creating mini chapel experiences that are more personal, smaller groups that help us ensure that students can be in a chapel that meets them where they are and helps them grow spiritually while they're at Baylor, from where they start spiritually. So we have worship chapels, some are like contemplative worship, might be contemporary worship, we have prayer chapels, we have chapels that are tied to their professional interests. So we have some in the medical professions, like in nursing and medicine, we have some for our student athletes. And so we are, over time, over the next three to five years, going to broaden that and we're getting tremendous feedback. We started those last year and we've expanded them dramatically this year, and we will continue to grow those over the next several years. And we're already getting tremendous feedback from the students and then from the faculty and staff that run those. And we believe that's going to have a huge impact on satisfaction with the chapel experience, but also in the actual impact of the chapel experience on the student's spiritual development. The other place that I was in, there's many more learnings from this, but these are two that are pretty significant and we've made some real changes recently. The other thing we've learned from that is, that students' engagement in a local church community, while they're in college, has the greatest impact on long-term sustainability of their spiritual development, which is not surprising. And so we'd actually restructured in student life, not just the chapel area, but a staff position that is specifically focused on working with our local church community and our student groups on campus that focus on spiritual development. We have over 30 of those on campus and probably more this fall. And so to really help connect our students into faith-based communities while at Baylor, but also in the church community in Waco. And one of the other things we learned from that study is our underrepresented students, students of color, Black students, Hispanic students, Asian students and others are less engaged in local churches than our majority community. And so we're working really hard to broaden the base of churches that engage with our students on campus so that students from all different kinds of backgrounds and experiences can find a local church that meets their needs spiritually, culturally, in other ways, so that they feel connected while they're here. So we've made some really significant changes because of what we've learned from that study, and we still have several more years of it to go, and it's going to make a difference in the lives of our students, really, throughout their lives.
Derek Smith:That's fantastic. Meeting students where they are in a lot of ways, as we visit with President Livingstone on Baylor Connections. And President Livingstone, let's look at sports and then leadership a little bit. First, in the Big 12, we've got a new commissioner, Brett Yormark, who's coming in at an important time and he is off to a running start. As you've got to know him, what stands out to you about the leadership he brings?
President Livingstone:Well, we're really excited about Commissioner Yormark and his leadership of the conference. And I think what I've seen since he's been here, in a very short period of time, at a really tumultuous time in college athletics this summer, really reinforces why we hired him to begin with. We believe he's going to be very aggressive on behalf of the conference. I think he's going to think innovatively about the ways we can develop and promote the conference that we can drive business opportunities for the conference. He's very forward looking. He engages people, really gets people involved in what he's working on. So we're excited. I think he's going to modernize the way we think as a conference. And he talks about us being a hipper conference. I'm really not the right person to talk about what it means to be a hip conference, but you need to really attract that younger generation of folks to want to stay connected and sticking to the conference and to their schools. And yeah, I think he's the right person to do that. So we're excited about it. And he's enthusiastic. He's loving his time in the Big 12. He's loved his time in Dallas. And so we're really excited about the future of the conference.
Derek Smith:Well, you also get to play a leadership role in the Big 12, and it really extends beyond campus. We'll talk about here. You'll be taking on the role of Big 12 Chair next year. What does that role entail?
President Livingstone:Well, the chair of the Big 12, really the chair of the board, which is made up of the presidents and the chancellors of the 12 universities now... No, 10 universities now, 14 and then 12. It's going to be a little bit of a roller coaster here for a few years. And so I chair the board, which is really the fiduciary oversight of the conference, much like our Board of Regents is the fiduciary oversight for the university. So I chair that board. Brett reports to the board and really provide leadership and guidance to Brett in the conference on that. The next few years, a lot of the work in that conference will be transitioning new members in, transitioning members out, and just the work that takes to help people adapt and accommodate through those changes that are coming. We've obviously got a media rights negotiation that is, I would say, ongoing. It's kind of going now and beginning that process. So there's a lot of important decisions that are going to be made in the conference in the next few years, and the board will be an intimate part of supporting Brett in that work and in helping make those decisions.
Derek Smith:Well, you serve that role with the Big 12, and then at the NCAA level, you're elected chair of the Board of Governors. How is that board structured and what's its impact? Is it similar to what you described with the Big 12? How can we envision that?
President Livingstone:So the Board of Governors provides oversight of NCAA association wide issues, and that board was just restructured based on the new constitution of the NCAA that was approved in January. So the new board started in August. It used to be a much larger board. It now has nine voting members and seven ex officio members. And so I chair that board. It consists of individuals from all three divisions, Divisions One, Two, and Three. And so it focuses on those issues that relate to the entire association. And then each of the divisions has their own board of directors. I also sit on the board of directors of Division One, and so they serve as an oversight body to ensure that across the association of divisions, we're kind of living up to the principles of the organization. The president of the NCAA reports to the Board of Governors. Two specific activities the board's working, just to illustrate, we're doing a search for the new president, because Mark Emmert's going to step down once we name a new president. And so we have a search committee that's composed of members of the board, not the full board, but part of the board. I'm on that search committee as well. So the board's responsible for that hiring, and so we'll do that. There's another task where the board has put together that is looking at legislative issues and where we might need to work with Congress or states on legislative issues as it relates to where we think college athletics needs to go. This gets into the issues of antitrust and NIL and some of those kinds of things. So those are just a couple of examples, because those are association wide, they impact the entire organization. There are other things that just the Division One board is dealing with, or just the Division Two or Three board is dealing with.
Derek Smith:Certainly, as you describe, it's a pivotal time in the NCAA. There's a lot of change, a lot of adjustments taking place. What's it mean to be able to have a role during this time, in particular?
President Livingstone:Well, I think it's a real privilege for Baylor, and a school out of our conference, to be able to have a voice at that level. This is really important. We care deeply about college athletics here at Baylor in the Big 12 conference and the important connection that it has to our educational mission. And so I think it says a lot that there's that much trust and confidence in our institution, that they would believe that the leader of our institution could serve in that kind of a role. So I think, in many ways, it's a testament to Baylor and the way we're viewed broadly in the academic community as well as the athletic community, that I would've been asked to serve in that role.
Derek Smith:Well, and with the academic community, vice chair of the American Council on Education and moving to the chair role. American Council on Education, how would you describe that organization's mission and impact?
President Livingstone:Yeah, so ACE is what we call it. It is a membership organization, has over 1,700 schools that are members, and it really focuses on trying to shape public policy to support higher education. And then it really works on how we help institutions to be more innovative, to enhance the quality of the educational experience that they're providing. And it's the only organization in the country that represents all of higher ed. So we have two year institutions represented, four year doctoral granting, privates, publics, and so on. So it really is a comprehensive support group, membership organization for all of higher education. Does lots of work in Washington, D.C. and does a lot of work supporting what we're doing on our campuses to be more effective.
Derek Smith:Well, as you said, it is pretty neat to see Baylor and you with that opportunity to speak into these important issues in so many different areas as we visit with President Livingstone. And as we wind down on the program here, you never make it about you, but I do have to ask, how with all that do you find time? We see you at the sporting events, we see you at stage productions, concerts, you and the first gentleman, Brad, sometimes even your mother as well, on campus with you.
President Livingstone:Yeah. Yeah.
Derek Smith:Where do you find the time to make sure all of those things, you're able to be at so many different things?
President Livingstone:Well, those are just fun things to do. We love that. We love being with our students. We love watching them perform or engage in whatever activities they're really talented at. So in some ways, that's kind of the fun part of a job, is getting to get out and do that. And it also keeps you grounded in why we're here and why what we're doing on this campus matters and is important. And so that's going to always be an important part of what we do. And you mentioned my mom, Memaw, she's actually coming this fall. She's going to spend a few weeks with, she'll be here for the Oklahoma State football game. I'm going to make sure she wears her green, even though she lives near Stillwater and goes to OSU games all the time. She loves being on our campus and loves being around our students, and we always make sure we take her to some of these student events while she's here. And it's just a privilege to be able to engage on campus in these kinds of activities.
Derek Smith:So there's a lot of families that have a loved one who roots for Baylor up to a point, but they've also got another university they like too. I guess they're in good company, if even the presidential, your family has to work through that too?
President Livingstone:We do, we do. That's great that there's people like that. I tell people we want you to root for, we certainly always want you to root for Baylor, but we want you to root for your alma mater or others because universities of all types need strong supporters to ensure that we remain strong as individual institutions, and then as an industry of higher education. So I encourage everybody to be very supportive of their alma maters.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, President Livingstone, final question for you as we wind down today. It's been a momentous year at Baylor, whether we talk about RO1, Big 12 championships, national titles. But as we look ahead to this coming year, we've got Illuminate Forward forthcoming and plenty more. What are you excited about as you look to the months ahead?
President Livingstone:Well, there is a lot to be excited about at Baylor. I'll hit on several different areas. First, I'm really excited about the new faculty hires that we're making. Our new faculty group this year was the most diverse we've ever had. We brought in five or six more new endowed chairs, that were funded through our Foster Academic Challenge, that's part of the Give Light campaign and then the Illuminate Academic Challenge that's following up on that. They're going to have a huge impact on our campus for years to come. We will continue that hiring over the next several years. And so that's going to be transformational for the academic side of the institution, the research, the academic program. So that's really exciting. We're going to see the completion of some of the beautiful facilities on our campus. Well, next summer as we go into the fall, we'll be into the Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center. So that's going to be huge for our recruitment process, but in our alumni, and it's just going to be a beautiful front door to our campus and be transformational in so many ways. We will begin to see the basketball division coming out of the ground, and we will be in that, hopefully, all things going well, the spring of 2024 for Big 12 basketball, in the actual arena. The building itself will be completely done. We are going to open Collins up next year, completely remodeled. Then we'll start work on the Honors College system. Great facilities work going on. And so I think people will see that transformation over the next several years. And then we had such a great run in athletics the last couple of years. So of course we'd love to see a few more of those championships, bringing home trophies. So it was kind of fun at the welcome rally for the freshman, where we teach them all of our cheers and songs and everything, they laid out across the front of the stage, all the trophies we've earned in the last four years. So the students that came before them, and we didn't even have room for all of them. They didn't even have them all there.
Derek Smith:That's great.
President Livingstone:And so I challenged those students to be such great fans, that when the freshmen that came the year after they graduated, got here, there were a lot more trophies up on that stage to show off for them. So that's just a fun part of what we do. So whether it's academics, our facilities, our athletics, there's just a lot of excitement and a lot of opportunity ahead for Baylor.
Derek Smith:Well, President Livingstone, so many exciting things and a lot going on, and I know you've got a lot going on, and we really appreciate you taking the time to join us on the program again today to share all that's happening here. Thank you so much.
President Livingstone:Oh, you're welcome. Always great to be with you, Derek.
Derek Smith:Thank you very much. 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, at baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.