President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D.
Season 6 - Episode 620
As another semester draws to a close, Baylor President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D., reflects on the 2022-23 year at Baylor and looks ahead to important initiatives and projects on the horizon. In this Baylor Connections, she shares more about next steps in strategic planning, Baylor’s live bear mascots, construction projects like the Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center and Paul and Alejandra Foster Pavilion, the Big 12 Conference 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 as an academic year comes to a close, we visit with Baylor University President, Dr. Linda Livingstone. Commencement is concluded, the academic year is in the books and now we get a chance to look back and look ahead as well. President Livingstone, thanks so much for taking the time to join us during this busy stretch.
President Livingstone:Oh, Derek, I'm glad to be with you. It's an exciting time of the year as we graduate our students and send them off into the world. So it's a great time to talk and catch up on Baylor.
Derek Smith:Does it feel to you like May and the commencement always gets here as quickly as it does to the rest of us? It seems like the spring semester you blink and it's gone sometimes.
President Livingstone:We were talking about that at graduation and we could not believe it was already time for graduation. And the seniors are so happy to graduate, but they're also sad to be leaving Baylor, so you hear some of that from them too, it's like, "I can't believe my last semester went so fast." But it's also such an exciting time with their families and everything. So great time of year to celebrate our students.
Derek Smith:And lots to celebrate with our students and what's happening. And I'm curious, maybe three is an arbitrary number, but if you think of the academic year, we just completed two or three things that stand out to you about what the year that was?
President Livingstone:Well, when you think about the whole year, I mean, some of the highlights, I love move in when our freshmen come in the fall and it's just so exciting when they show up on campus for the first time with their families and they're unloading their things in the residence halls and they're just so ready to go. And I find that such an invigorating and exciting time. You kind of book end that with graduation that we just had and love to see the completion of that. And I've been here long enough now that I've met these students when they were freshmen and now I've been seeing them as they leave. And it's just such a fun time to see that book end. But I would say kind of the other thing, and this is not a specific moment or experience, but just when you're on campus during the year and you're seeing the students, whether it's just them going back and forth to class or whether it's at special events that we have the Thanksgiving dinner or Diadeloso or whatever, just to see the students and hear the experiences they're having and kind of watching their lives transform while they're at Baylor. Being on a college campus is just a special experience and it's a privilege to do it. And you look back on each academic year, and they're special in different ways, but this one was great. Students were engaged, they were active. It was a really good year for our students.
Derek Smith:And we ceremonially closed it out with commencement as you and I were just discussing. I'm curious, are there aspects of commencement, I know you're pretty busy during it, but are there aspects of commencement that maybe might go relatively unnoticed by the rest of us, but are aspects that are meaningful to you or just impressive as you work with the people who make it happen?
President Livingstone:Yeah. I have a couple things I would say. One, and I always think, it takes like 50 faculty to pull off graduation, that are ushers and marshals and they line the students up and they make sure they're where they're supposed to be. And they're kind of these hidden heroes that we could not pull off graduation without them. So we're deeply grateful for them. And you need that many at every single graduation, so it is quite an undertaking. And I don't think the average person in the audience sort of knows that about that. I would say, and he's very front and center, but Sam Henderson reads our names now and that is such a hard job and he does such a good job. He's not 100% accurate, but he's probably 99.5% accurate. And you're not faint of heart if you agree to read the names of graduation.
Derek Smith:For sure.
President Livingstone:And so I hope people appreciate the commitment he's making and just how difficult that job is. I get to hand them a portfolio for their diploma. That's easy compared to what he's doing. But the other thing, this is actually just kind of fun. The people sitting on the stage, they watch the shoes that go by. Because they're sitting on the stage as all the students walk by. And so they like to pick out the coolest shoes or the most interesting shoes or the most fun shoes. I don't actually see the shoes because I'm looking at the students and such. So it's always fun after each ceremony for them to talk about who had the best shoes as they walked across the stage.
Derek Smith:That's fun.
President Livingstone:Probably people in the audience don't pay much attention to that either.
Derek Smith:No, that's some good inside baseball for what's going on up there in front of a stage there. That's great. Visiting with President Livingstone here on Baylor Connections. And President Livingstone, as we look around the buildings here on campus, you don't have to look far to see construction and growth taking place, the Hurd Welcome center, the Foster Pavilion. Let's talk about the welcome center first, so the Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center. Grand opening is September 8th, but there's going to be plenty happening as it opens up this summer, people moving in. So could you take us inside that building through your eyes, whether it's what you've seen already or what's to come, what are some things that most strike you about the Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center?
President Livingstone:Well, it is going to be a fabulous new front door to campus. Everybody needs to stop by once we open it this fall to experience it. And it is going to be an experience. And some things I would say about it, there's going to be some really cool technology. Those light towers, you can actually go inside them and it will display things in those and it will be kind of this immersive experience about Baylor that will be very cool for people. And so we're excited about that. Another cool part of the Hurd Welcome Center is there's an auditorium and it has a big screen that comes down where we can project things, stories about the university, but then when you raise it up, it's a glass window and you can look out from there at Pat Neff Hall and it's a very, very cool part of the building. So there's like cool stuff like that. But then it's going to have a spirit shop, so you can buy Baylor swag. There's going to be a coffee shop, we'll have banquet facilities, meeting facilities. The McLane Alumni Center will be there. So alumni can stop and get an iced cold Dr. Pepper and a clean bathroom along the way as they run down I-35. So it's just going to be a fabulous facility. Everybody's going to be thrilled with it. And it just meets so many needs on our campus. We can't wait for it to be open.
Derek Smith:I may be wrong, but I'm guessing if you visited a number of different institutions or businesses or places that had a welcome center, if you visited 10, you might find 10 slightly different approaches to it. What does welcome center mean to us here at Baylor? What do we want that experience to mean when people visit?
President Livingstone:Well, I think you can even frame it in the context of being a Christian university where we really want to welcome everybody to our campus and help them feel a sense of belonging and engagement and really the love of Christ because they've stepped on our campus. And so our welcome center is really designed to be a place for everybody. It's for certainly our prospective students, it's for our alumni, but students will be able to use the space, community will be able to use the space. Because it's right off of I-35, I anticipate we'll have a lot of people stop in just to visit and see it that have no connection whatsoever with Baylor and it might be their first touch on the campus. So I think given where it's located, given the design, it's just a very open, welcoming place for anybody on their way through Waco, on their way to Baylor. So we're excited about it and know everybody's going to really get that sense of welcome and care and love from Baylor when they visit that facility.
Derek Smith:And as we look ahead to the fall, I know we'll talk again, that September 8th weekend is going to be a lot of fun as we open that up, some fun surprises in store as we visit with President Livingstone. And I want to ask you, across I-35 now, the Paul and Alejandra Foster Pavilion, we've seen some fantastic pictures of people inside as of late, the topping out ceremony a few weeks ago. How are things coming over there?
President Livingstone:Well, I had the privilege of touring it a few weeks ago when they were giving some tours before the spring football game. It's going to be amazing. It's so intimate and there's not going to be a bad seat in the house. It's going to be great for fan engagement. It's going to be a fabulous home court advantage for our student athletes. And the setting right there on the river is going to provide so many opportunities for the city and for connectedness with the city in ways we don't have at our current location. So I'm excited about that. I think January 2nd, the men open there and January 3rd, the women have a game there. So we're fast and furious for January 1st to get that done and have those early January games. And that will be over the holidays when our students aren't around, so we want to pack that place out and welcome our teams to the new arena in fine Baylor fashion.
Derek Smith:That's great. So mark that on the calendar, January 2nd and January 3rd.
President Livingstone:That's right.
Derek Smith:We'll make it loud in there for sure. Hey, speaking of sports, as this show airs, softball's going to be about to begin post-season play in Salt Lake City against Ole Miss in the Salt Lake Regional. They've really turned some heads nationally in the spring. How have you been able to enjoy their success this season?
President Livingstone:It's been so fun to watch them. Coach Moore's been here for such a long time and he had some great teams through the years. But I think this team in a way surprised people a little bit and he's got quite a few transfers and some pretty young players. But obviously that win over OU early, the only loss for OU all year long. And then they won several other against top five schools, including sweeping University of Texas, which was enjoyable, that last series of the season. Little bit of a difficult time at the Big 12 tournament, but we're excited to see this team develop and to perform in the post-season and love the way the coaches on that team and the players on that team live out our Christian mission so well in certainly the way they play and the way they live their lives. So we're proud of that team, proud of all of our teams and the way they represent Baylor.
Derek Smith:Yeah, they've been a recent highlight for sure. But there's been plenty of excitement over the course of the year and it's probably hard to single out, but are there any athletic moments or aspects in the past year that have stood out to you or been especially meaningful to you?
President Livingstone:Oh gosh, there are so many. But this was a really special moment, and you were probably at the game when Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua came back to play. None of us were sure he would actually get to play again this year. And that was such a special moment when he walked on that court and got recognized by the fans and had a really great game and really helped us out during that last part of the season. So that was special. On a very personal level, you have to love our acrobatics and tumbling team winning their eighth straight national championship. That is hard to do no matter how good you are. So kudos to Felecia Mulkey and the way she's built that program and sustained the success of that program as that sport has grown nationally and will continue to grow. And she's been such a force in making that an NCAA emerging sport and getting close to having enough teams to be a full-fledged NCAA sport. And then I think the other thing I would say, I was at graduation and we had a ton of student athletes walk the stage, ton of them. And at the end of the day, that's what you want for them. You want them to have great success on the field or the court or the track, but at the end of the day you want them to get a degree and to be able to walk that stage and be proud of that Baylor degree. And had a lot of them do that this graduation, every graduation. So that was really rewarding as well to see them walk at graduation.
Derek Smith:Oh, very cool. They represent the university very well along with the student body as a whole. This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Baylor University President, Dr. Linda Livingstone. And President Livingstone, as we turn the page to June, you're going to be as sending to the role of Big 12 chair. You've talked a little bit about this on the program before, but for those who don't know, can you tell us a little bit about that role and what it's going to allow you to be a part of with the Big 12?
President Livingstone:Yeah. So June 1st as we finish our annual meeting of the Big 12 board, I will take over as chair. I'm vice chair currently. Lawrence Schovanec that's at Texas Tech is the current chair of the board. Doug Girod, the chancellor at Kansas, is the treasurer, so he will move into the vice chair role. So I'm really looking forward to that. I mean, you chair the board and the board is made up of all of the presidents and chancellors of all of the Big 12 universities. So for next year that will be 14 as we bring in the new schools and OU and Texas remain for one more season in the conference. So we're excited about that next year and what that means. And I feel honored that the conference feels like I can lead the conference and work with Brett Yormark as we continue to build the quality and the reputation of the conference. So it'll be a big year ahead as we bring in new schools and work on that transition and a big year as we really continue to grow the brand and the profile of the conference on a national level.
Derek Smith:Well, you touched on what I was going to a ask you, but maybe you could elaborate even a little bit more, what's exciting about this time in the life of the Big 12 and maybe what's going to go into integrating these new schools into the Big 12 Conference?
President Livingstone:Well, it's actually a big step to bring new schools in, especially bringing four at the same time. I mean, just the scheduling and trying to figure out how to navigate that schedule. Now presidents were not involved in that. The athletic directors get that fun task to do that. But that's just a huge job, especially when we decided not to go with divisions and then you got to figure out how to navigate that and you've got a much broader geography now than we had before, so you've got to take that into consideration. So that's a big task. Also, just assimilating the leadership of the institutions into our structure, whether it's the presidency, athletic directors, the senior level administrators, the faculty athletic reps, the compliance folks. And we actually, beginning a year ago, last June at our last kind of annual meeting, we began inviting all of the new schools' leadership to the Big 12 meetings and board meetings. And we did that on purpose so that they were really almost as if they were members of the conference a year in advance so they could meet people, get to know us, understand the things we were working on so that when they started officially this summer, it wouldn't be like they were starting from scratch. And so the four presidents have been fabulous and they've been active participants. When we went through the interview process for Brett Yormark and we hired him, they were not able to vote, but they were involved and they provided feedback and really participated like everyone else in the process. So I think in this coming year it will be just adjusting to 14 schools in the governance process instead of the 10 that we've had in the past and continuing to assimilate them into the conference. But I think it's exciting because we're all getting to visit new places this year. So in football this year we play Houston, we go to UCF, we go to Cincinnati. Cities we haven't been to before. Teams we haven't been to. We're excited about going to Orlando. I think we're going to have a great crowd there and we hope we'll have a great crowd in Cincinnati. We have eight home games this year, so we don't have a lot of traveling to do, so we hope people will choose to travel when we are traveling this year. But that's going to be exciting. And new teams coming to our place here in Waco over the coming year, in all of our sports, I think it's just going to add some in interest and excitement to the conference.
Derek Smith:Lot's going on for sure as we visit with President Livingstone. And President Livingstone, let, let's shift gears a little bit and talk about strategic planning. We've seen some of your communications to campus and Illuminate and Illuminate Forward, we've had some incredible successes under that that you've shared with us a lot over the years, but we're looking ahead now and looking at a new strategic plan. Could you take us through what that is, what means for the university and how you go about that?
President Livingstone:Yeah. Well, we've had such great success with Illuminate and really built a great foundation on which to develop a new strategic plan. That plan was approved in spring of 2018 by our Board of Regents. And because we've had such good success, we're probably about a year ahead of schedule where we thought we would be going into a new strategic planning process, but I think that's just a tribute to the Baylor community and all the support that we've gotten. And so each strategic plan you have builds on the ones before it. So Baylor 2012 was a foundation for Pro Futuris, which was a foundation for Illuminate, and now we're ready for the next one. We don't know what we're going to call it yet. But it really is, what's the roadmap for Baylor in kind of the next iteration of where we go from here? How do we strengthen our positioning as an R1 university? How do we strengthen our mission? How do we continue to support our students in significant ways and really advance our mission as a preeminent Christian research university? And we're unbelievably well positioned to do that. We're strong financially. Our fundraising has been unbelievably strong over the course of the Give Light campaign. And so we're really excited about engaging the Baylor community in a conversation about what are those next big steps we can take? What are the next initiatives we need to be involved in that continue to grow the impact that we have in the world as a Christian university. So excited about the coming activities that will really begin in the fall. We're doing a lot of planning this summer.
Derek Smith:I see there's going to be a great interdisciplinary team involved. They're going to be helping shape this. What's that look like? How do you all go about together undertaking such a massive project the right way, and like you said, building on the successes of the past, looking in a new direction?
President Livingstone:Yeah, we've got a great team that was selected to do that. The chairs of the, we call it the Strategic Planning Group, are our provost, Nancy Brickhouse, and my chief of staff, Tiffany Hogue. And they're leading a group that is a diverse group of people from all across campus, faculty and staff. And we really identified people for that group that we believe could represent the university at a broad strategic level. They're really not on there to represent their units. They're on there to think and vision and plan for the university as a whole. And so we're excited about the group that's doing that. But we also know that we need broad feedback from the broader Baylor family. And so next fall, really beginning in August through probably November up to Thanksgiving, we will be doing listening sessions across campus with constituent groups and others to really help us think about where we are, where we want to go, and what some of those opportunities are. We are using an outside consultant to work with us. Tod Bolsinger, he's a professor at Fuller Seminary. He's written a couple of books, Canoeing the Mountain and Tempered Resilience that I would commend into anyone, and they're really about how you navigate in difficult times and how you build resilience both individually and organizationally to be successful in the long run in turbulent times. And we know the world we're in right now is pretty turbulent. So we've worked with Tod a lot at Baylor and some of his colleagues do work a lot with churches, but with other organizations on strategic planning. So we're excited about that. Our goal, of course, is to have a plan to present to our regions to affirm and accept in May of 2024. So it's a pretty aggressive timeline, but we believe we can do it and that it will accomplish what we need to to set us on a path to continue to build on the wonderful work of Illuminate.
Derek Smith:Great. So I know there'll be a lot of communications about this, but the Baylor family can be looking at those listening sessions and really more discussion about it as we head into the fall. Visiting with President Livingstone. And President Livingstone, as we have in the final few minutes, I want to ask you about Lady, our beloved mascot graduated earlier this month, and it was a special moment in a lot of ways. I'm just curious for you, how did it feel to see the Baylor family's outpouring of love to her during this time?
President Livingstone:Well, our bears are so special on this campus, and they've always been much loved by the Baylor family. Of course, we were so sad to lose Joy last summer. And then it really then provides a special opportunity to graduate Lady and move her onto retirement that's much deserved. I do commend people to the video that we shared at graduation about Lady receiving a alumni Bear choice decree because she's been such an important member of the Baylor family. It's a wonderful tribute to Lady. But the outpouring of love and the reaction we got at the ceremony to the video was just spectacular. And we will wish lady well. She will be very, very well taken care of in her new habitat. And then we'll certainly look forward to welcoming some new cubs in the not too distant future.
Derek Smith:You're looking for the right time and the right place for Lady, this is a broad question, but just what goes into making that decision and doing what's right for her?
President Livingstone:Yeah. Well, you do take it very seriously. And so we of course have our bear trainers that know the bears so well because they take care of them really 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. So they have a good sense of how the bears are doing and how they're aging. We of course have veterinarians at Texas A&M that are dear and close colleagues and help us understand when it's going to be the right time. So it's a very thoughtful decision, we don't take it lightly. But we're also trying to do what's in the best interest of Lady's health and wellbeing. And she's 22 and bears in captivity usually live 20 to 25 years. And so we've been very, very fortunate that Lady and Joy lived such long healthy lives in captivity. So we feel like with the advice of some experts in this area that now's the right time for her to transition while she's still doing well and can enjoy that retirement and probably be a little less... she will not be visible to the public and won't have to sort of perform and do some of the things that probably become harder and harder as she ages. So it's going to be a lovely retirement for her, and she will be well taken care of and continue to be much loved by our bear trainers.
Derek Smith:That's great. Well, I know you're probably getting a lot of questions or people are anyway about, well, what's next? I know Baylor's in the process of examining that, what does that look like welcoming new bears to campus when the time comes?
President Livingstone:Well, it's a pretty involved process. We actually have a committee that's been working on this for a number of months as we realized it was time to retire Lady and think about bringing new cubs on board. And we always go through this process very thoughtfully. Again, it's been years since we've done it. We work with bear rescue programs around the country to identify cubs that have either been abandoned or born captivity and cannot be released into the wild safely. So we're really giving cubs opportunities to live in a very healthy and safe environment in a certified zoo, and bears that could not live and survive in the wild. We have an expert we work with who lives in California that has worked with us and is working to help us select cubs. You have to be very thoughtful. You want to know their genealogy, you want to know their temperaments. You want to have a good sense of how they're going to engage when they're in the public eye a lot, even though they're not physically with people, they're out in a habitat with lots of people going by. So selecting the right cubs is actually a pretty in-depth process because you want ones that have the right temperament to be in the setting that we're going to be in. And then once the cubs are selected, there's an acclimation process where they're taken away from their mothers, weaned from their mothers begin to get acclimated to new settings. And so it's a multi-stage process to do that before we actually bring them to the habitat on campus. The other piece of it is cubs need a different type of security on their habitat than older bears. So Lady and Joy could didn't climb anymore. They were too big to do a lot of climbing. Cubs climb a lot. And so we are having to do work on our habitat to make sure that the cubs stay in the habitat. That will be a high priority for us. Bear cubs, I did not know this, they're much like human babies, they actually have to be bottle-fed for a full year. And they eat a lot, apparently. And so just the care of bear cubs versus the care of adult bears is very different. And it's a very high touch activity in terms of the time and energy and everything that it takes. So we're working through all of those aspects so that when we do have cubs on board and here, we have a habitat in place, we have the plan in place to ensure that they're cared for in a very healthy and safe way. And it'll be wonderful to have cubs. It will help us continue our program of education, of stewardship. And so we're excited about that prospect and hopefully we'll have an announcement fairly soon for the community about what's happening next with cubs.
Derek Smith:Well, that's going to be a lot of fun, very exciting to welcome them to campus when the time comes. And obviously a lot of really thorough work has gone into that. Well, president Livingstone, we covered a lot of ground here. Thanks so much for taking the time to visit with us today as always, and hope it's a great summer ahead for you and your team.
President Livingstone:Hey, thanks Derek. Always good to talk to you.
Derek Smith:You as well. Appreciate it. Baylor University President, Dr. Linda Livingstone, our guest today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. Reminder, you can hear this program online, baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us on Baylor Connections.