President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D.
Season 6 - Episode 601
As a new year begins, Baylor University President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D., examines growth at the University over the last year and shares what’s on the horizon. From exciting construction projects on both sides of the interstate to continued momentum in faculty hires, national rankings and recognition, President Livingstone examines how the University keeps mission at the core of the pursuit of greater impact and preeminence as a Christian research university.
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. Today, we are joined by Baylor University President Dr. Linda Livingstone. As we start a new year, we'll look back at 2022, and look ahead to all the exciting things that usher in a new year. President Livingstone, it's a busy time, but we really appreciate you joining us today.
President Livingstone:Happy to be with you, Derek. Happy New Year.
Derek Smith:Happy New Year to you too. We've had the pleasure of having you on the program numerous times around this time of year. I'll start off by asking you a question that I think we've asked a version of each of the last few years, but I think it's always interesting. As we start a new year, you look back at the prior year. When you think of 2022 at Baylor, what words come to mind? What moments come to mind? What do you think of 2022, the year that was?
President Livingstone:Well, I think 2022 was a really amazing year for the university. If you go all the way back to really the very end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022, that was right when we were able to announce that we had achieved R1 status. We really got to celebrate that during 2022, which was fun. We kicked off the year with a Sugar Bowl win. You can't hardly beat that as a way to start off the year. Then we hit our $1.1 billion campaign goal, and have kept moving forward on that process and continuing to raise money. We had the largest applicant pool we've ever had for students coming into the fall semester. So tremendous interest in Baylor University by our students. We had one of the best hiring classes we've ever had of faculty this year, a large class, but our most diverse class ever. So just, as you look at all of the measures of what we're trying to accomplish and the work we're doing, I think it was a very successful year, and just a credit to the Baylor family, to our faculty and staff, for all that they've put into helping us to get to this level of success and achievement.
Derek Smith:Each and every one of those, we could almost do a whole show on in some form or fashion.
Derek Smith:So many things took place. As we start the new year, I think one thing the Baylor family will probably be keeping their eyes on is construction. We've certainly seen the Hurd Welcome Center pretty dramatically come together. That's going to open in this 2023 year. Then the Foster Pavilion coming together as well. From your standpoint, as you watch these buildings grow, as you envisioned them, what aspects, to you, are the most exciting? What are you most looking forward to as these come to fruition?
President Livingstone:Well, when I'm out and about among our family and friends, the alumni base, I always get asked about the facilities, because they're just so prominent on campus, particularly if you get a chance to come to campus. When I think about those two facilities, the Hurd Welcome Center and then the Foster Pavilion, they, one, are just so visible, right off of Interstate 35. I think they're going to just continue, much like McLane Stadium has, give visibility to the university, to the millions of people that drive down Interstate 35. But more importantly for Baylor, I think, is that they're really places to bring people together. Whether that's bringing our prospective students together at the welcome center, whether it's bringing our alumni to the alumni center that will be a part of the welcome center, whether it's people gathering for basketball games and other activities we can do in the pavilion, they're just going to be amazing facilities for the Baylor family to gather, come together, celebrate, and really enjoy what it means to be a part of the Baylor family. So I can't wait for those to open. We're really excited about that in the coming year.
Derek Smith:That's something to build on, for sure, as we visit with President Livingstone. I want to ask you, as we start the new year, quickly, about basketball, and really even a little more specifically, the Big 12's momentum. Now, a little, just so people ... We're talking breaking ... News always breaks. You and I are recording this before we actually air, so you never know what news breaks. The Big 12 has some real momentum with Commissioner Brett Yormark. I'm just curious, after this first football season with him at the helm, what are some things you take away from his leadership and where it's going?
President Livingstone:Well, we were, of course, really excited last summer when we were able to announce Brett Yormark as our new commissioner. He hit the ground running. Of course, the day after we announced him is when UCLA and USC decided to announce they were leaving to go to the Big 10. So it, all of a sudden, caused lots of angst and trauma in the college athletic world, much like the previous summer had when OU and Texas announced leaving to go to the SEC. But Brett has stepped up. He's been proactive. He's been unbelievably active. He's an enthusiastic forward-looking type of person. So I think we've had a great fall with him. We, of course, have a team in the CFP, which is really exciting for the conference. We have eight of our current schools in bowl games. All four of the new schools coming in are in bowl games. I don't think there's any other conference that could say that in terms of the percentage of teams in bowl games. We have the outlines of a media agreement that will provide stability for the long run for the conference, once the new members come in. He's created a really impressive advisory board to help us think about what the future of the conference needs to look like. I can't say enough about what he's done to energize the conference, to really position us well for the future. He's worked extremely well with the athletic directors and with the board of directors. So we're excited about the future of the Big 12.
Derek Smith:Visiting with President Livingstone. President Livingstone, at the top of the show, you ran down a list of so many great things that happened in 2022, great momentum in the university. You've talked some about stewardship. When we think about this time of growth, of success here at Baylor, what does it mean to steward that? What does it mean to make the most of this in ways that benefit the university long term, to you?
President Livingstone:Well, when I think about stewardship, and we think about it from a faith-based perspective, that God has given us a lot of gifts and resources, both individually and then as an institution, and how do we take the best care of those we can to honor him, but also to advance the university. At the core of that is being good stewards of our mission, to prepare men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community. So stewarding that in all that we do is critical. But then it's also about stewarding the people that are a part of our institution, the faculty and staff. How are we engaging with them, taking care of them, helping them to be the best that they can be so that our institution is the best it can be, whether it's the teaching, the research, the service? Then of course, at the core is our students, and so we have to be really good stewards of our students. We know they've been through some really challenging times over the last couple of years. How are we helping them to ensure that they're successful academically, they're growing spiritually and personally? Frankly, we know there's a lot of mental health challenges and a lot of stress students are going through. So how are we wrapping a lot of care around them to help ensure their success and their wellbeing? It's a comprehensive mindset that really influences everything we do at the university.
Derek Smith:Well, it's not just about metrics as you talk about stewarding faculty, but you look at some of the honors Baylor has received in the last year, it paints a picture of a university that's excellent in both ... that's elite in both teaching and research, a university that has an A rating in core curriculum, top ten first year experience, learning communities, undergraduate teaching. We can unpack these a little bit as we go on on the show. It's not all about those numbers, but when it comes together, to you, what does that say about the job that the university as a whole, and the people who have these individual areas underneath their purview, are doing them?
President Livingstone:I've always said that you shouldn't focus on rankings and ratings for the sake of those rankings and ratings, that you should do what you do really, really well, focus on your mission. Then what you hope is that the rankings and ratings that are out there reflect the excellence that you've tried to achieve as an organization. I think that's what you see here. Baylor's always been deeply committed to the learning experience of students. More recently, we've really focused on the research endeavor. So I think what you're seeing is that consistent focus on that, over many years, as resulting in the quality of what we do on campus, and then the recognition of that, and a true credit to our faculty and staff, and their dedication to these areas, to teaching, to research, to service, for so many years, and frankly, to having a board that supports that, and has been a wonderful partner in helping us move forward with our strategy, Illuminate. I think you have to think about the holistic experience at a university that only happens, you only have that excellence across a broad array of activities, when you have a deep commitment from your faculty and staff to be excellent at living out your mission every day.
Derek Smith:Well, I think you just answered, really, at least in part, one of the questions I have here. Worth noting, for people who don't know, that US News recently put out rankings for best undergraduate teaching and undergraduate research. Baylor was one of just eight institutions nationally to be in the top 25 in both teaching and research, along with four Ivy League schools, Harvard, Dartmouth, Princeton and Yale, and then some other elite institutions in Duke, Michigan and Elon. You said there's that commitment there. Intentionality is a part of it. I'm curious, from your standpoint, just your sense of that commitment from our faculty to be great in both.
President Livingstone:Well, I think that starts ... Because those are rankings related to your undergraduate educational experience, and doing teaching and research both really well, and engaging your undergraduate students in both of those activities. So what I think that shows you is that, at Baylor and with our faculty, there's a deep commitment to the undergraduate experience, and to helping them to have an excellent learning opportunity both inside and outside of the classroom. I think that's been a core principle of Baylor for many, many years. It's one of the pillars of Illuminate, transformational undergraduate education. I think the research piece of it has grown over time and has just enriched what was already a really great learning experience. So it's wonderful to see that recognized, and to know that our peers ... Rankings like that come because your peers say they think you're really good at those things. I think that's a testament to the work that our faculty and staff have done, over so many years, to really build a high quality undergraduate experience on this campus, in a very holistic way.
Derek Smith:Another ranking, another honor Baylor recently earned was for core curriculum. Baylor's one of just 22 schools in the nation to earn an A rating in core curriculum from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and one of only two R1 schools on that list, the other being University of Georgia. If someone from another institution just happened to see that and asked you about that, "How has Baylor managed to earn recognition there?," and really in all these areas that I think we need to talk about, eight schools in both research and teaching, just two R1 institutions, what would you say about how Baylor has done that? Again, I think you probably already said that, in part.
President Livingstone:Well, that A rating is one we're quite proud of and have had for quite a while. It is one that a lot of institutions that used to get it don't, because they've created a much more flexible core. Now, there's value in having some flexibility. But at Baylor, we have concluded ... Frankly, our faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences just redid the core curriculum. It had not been changed for many years. They spent hours thinking about what should an undergraduate student know and have experience with during their undergraduate education that prepares them for a lifetime of continuing to learn and grow and develop, and makes them a well-rounded, not just student, but a well-rounded human being. That's really what that rating gets to. We still have some really significant core requirements that a lot of schools have gotten away from, because we believe there's just a core set of knowledge that a well-educated person should have. I think it's because we've been so thoughtful about it, so concerned about putting out students that are not just really good in their discipline, but are well-rounded students, and can think holistically about the world and how they relate that back to whatever specific disciplinary they have. I appreciate the diligence our faculty has put into that. Again, I think that's one of the things that feeds in to some of these other rankings as well, is the thoughtfulness by which we bring students into the university and into a core curriculum before they go out into their major fields of study.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Baylor University President Dr. Linda Livingstone. President Livingstone, it was just a little over a year ago that we got the news that we had reached R1, really three years almost ahead of what we thought we might, with those rankings coming out every three years. We've got a different vantage point here a year in now. I'm curious. What impact have you seen R1 having on the university? We're a young R1 university, but how is it already having an impact?
President Livingstone:I think one of the first things you see is just, it was such a wonderful affirmation for our community, for our community on campus, faculty, staff, students, but also for the broader Baylor family, that the work we were putting in, the effort we had, the strategy we had was actually paying off, and that the efforts and energy and resources they'd put into it were worth it to get us to that point. But I think we've also seen some really tangible outcomes from it when it comes to faculty hiring. We hired a set of faculty for several years that wanted to help us get to R1, but then there's a set of faculty that will really only consider you if you are R1. So we had such a great year hiring last year. We've got a great hiring process going on now, especially for some of our endowed chairs, through the Foster Academic Challenge and the Illuminate Challenge. It just makes it easier to attract really high quality faculty when you're already in that R1 status. We also know that students, many of the best students ... Actually, I was a little surprised by this when I first started to learn, but students actually ask about that. It matters to them, when they're looking at a university, because that tells them something about the commitment of the university to education, to research. Many undergraduate students want to do research now. So it's really been powerful in terms of attracting students and high quality students. Then I believe it also helps us nationally with our reputation and engagement, and gives us opportunities to be a voice in areas, probably at the disciplinary level, as well as at the national level, for the university that we might not have had otherwise. So it's been really fabulous. We just have tremendous opportunity to build on that, and continue to grow and develop in the years ahead.
Derek Smith:You mentioned hiring. Baylor announced, through Illuminate forward, even before we got to R1, 100 new faculty, continuing growing those endowed chair positions, as you said. How exciting is it to think about ... Whether you want to talk about the rising tide or just ... That was going to be designed, I think at least in part, to help us continue to progress towards R1. Well, now you're doing it as an R1 institution.
President Livingstone:Well, you're absolutely right. I was just having a conversation yesterday. We're hiring for some endowed chairs. We hired several endowed chairs last year as part of fulfilling that academic challenge. Now, we're in the second year of hiring endowed chairs. Well, some of the candidates for endowed chairs this year are in those pools because some of the endowed chairs we hired last year have encouraged them to be in these pools for these new endowed chairs. So it really is a domino effect. Once you get some of those people on your campus, they attract other people, they attract great doctoral students, they'll bring in research. Success breeds success and builds on itself. I think the more of these faculty we hire, the more we'll continue to be able to hire, and the more wonderful students we'll attract. It's just going to be a fabulous cycle for the university in the years ahead.
Derek Smith:Visiting with President Livingstone. President Livingstone, you've talked about the fact that R1, it's a significant benchmark, but it wasn't the finish line. In fact, I believe R1 doesn't actually appear in Illuminate. It's a great goal, but that goal of preeminence as a Christian university, what do our aspirations, what does that pursuit look like now that we're R1, which was a very tangible goal in a lot of ways? What does it look like without that tangible goal, but still going forward?
President Livingstone:Well, it's one of the most common questions that I get is, "Now what that we've accomplished R1?" If you go back to why R1 was a goal, we over and over said, "That's a marker that helps us know if we're making progress. That is not, in and of itself, why we're doing this, or the ultimate outcome that we're looking for." What we're really wanting to do is be a preeminent Christian research university. As you've heard me say many times, the world needs a Baylor. The world needs a tier one research university with a deeply committed Christian mission. R1 is just a marker of that. What we really want to continue to do is build the infrastructure, to have the facilities, to hire the faculty that allow us to continue to improve and enhance as an excellent university from an educational perspective, but also doing research that matters and is solving problems that are critical in the world. So it's really about, as a Christian university, again, going back to your first question about being good stewards of the resources we have, and then how do we take those resources and have the greatest impact we can, as a Christian university, for Christ in the world. You're really never done getting better and better at that. It's an exciting mission, and one very few universities have. We're so excited about so many people that are inspired to come and be a part of that.
Derek Smith:We're R1 now. That was something the Baylor family shared in, and other institutions congratulated Baylor for reaching. We shared some of these other rankings, top 10 in a number of different areas, pretty elite company when you talk about the top 10 most trusted universities, research and teaching undergraduate, one of just eight. Do you get a sense of how people, whether in the Baylor family or out, are thinking about Baylor differently? I think the circles in which Baylor is listed now continues to grow. It's more rarefied air.
President Livingstone:It is, and it's really good air to be breathing along with other people. But I do think you have to ... It's a bit of a change of a mindset for us that we are now talked about in the same breath with Ivy League schools and top research universities. You really do have to own that you're now in that set of higher reputation, more elite types of institutions. With that comes higher expectations of what people expect when they come here, whether it's as a student or as a faculty member. So how do we continue to build the infrastructure, to create the environment and the culture that continues to build on that success, so that we can continue to move forward, and really not just meet those expectations, but exceed them. Also, and I say this a lot with my team, I say it with our Board of Regents, is as we have success, whether it's this type of academic success, some of the athletic success we've had, or other success that's happened across our campus, we also have to maintain an attitude of humility. We have this privilege and opportunity, as a Christian university, to do these things, to be excellent, to be a representative in the world, but we have to remain humble in that, and recognize where our strength and resources come from. That's really from our faith commitment. We can't become too proud of ourselves. We need to really appreciate it, take advantage of it, continue to get excellent, but remain humble in the success that we've had. I think if we can do that, we'll continue to see ourselves advance in terms of the quality of what's going on this campus.
Derek Smith:Well, those are great thoughts. As we head into 2023 now, what are you most excited about, or what most animates you and your team as you look ahead to the year ahead?
President Livingstone:One of the things we say often is that, in many ways, even though we reached R1 earlier than we anticipated, we really have just scratched the surface of the opportunity that Baylor has to have an impact in the world. So as we go into this next year and look to the future, it's really building on that success. I've mentioned infrastructure a lot. We actually have grown in success almost faster than some of our infrastructure has. So how do we make sure our facilities, our research support and other things are of the quality to sustain this kind of success? Facilities, we've already talked about, making sure that those facilities are in place. Faculty hiring continues to be critical. We need to continue to hire really great faculty to sustain the growth in our research, and frankly, the quality of students that are coming, and the expectations they have. I would say the other thing we're really leaning into is student affordability. We want the students that should be and want to be at Baylor to be able to be here, to be able to be successful and to graduate, and not to have financial burden be an issue in that. That's something that we're really evaluating and looking at. What can we do that helps ensure the success of our students, not just academically, personally and otherwise, but also financially while they're here? So there's lots of opportunity to continue to grow and improve. We're just so thrilled to have the Baylor family walking beside us in this endeavor and helping us to make this possible.
Derek Smith:Well, we'll look forward to talking to you about those in the year ahead, and having you get on the program to dive into some of these. Well, President Livingstone, Happy New Year to you. Thanks for coming on. Thanks for always taking the time to communicate with the Baylor family through this, and your emails, and through a lot of other mediums.
President Livingstone:Well, I'm happy to do it, Derek, and really wish everyone a wonderful 2023. It's going to be a great year. Really look forward to enjoying it with everyone.
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, and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.