LETTER: How Extraordinary the Stories Are

June 15, 2010

Baylor University is an extraordinary place. On this first day as an adopted member of that long and ever-growing Baylor line, I give thanks for the countless words of warm welcome and cheerful encouragement that have come my way over the past three and a half months of learning and preparation as I have met with members of the Baylor family in cities across Texas. For 165 years, Baylor has faithfully served both Ecclesia - the church - and Texana - the vast community that now extends not only throughout my native Texas but also to the farthest reaches of the globe. It is my fond hope and fervent prayer that, through God's grace, I will be able to serve this great and beloved institution with energy and enthusiasm, using the full extent of my abilities to empower our important work together. Baylor deserves nothing less.

Baylor has a critically important role to play in higher education. As the oldest continuously operating institution of higher learning in Texas, and the largest Baptist university in the world, Baylor has never lost sight of the magnificent goal of transforming lives for leadership in service of church and community. That is why we gather on our campus throughout the academic year - and indeed in the heat of summer as well - on the banks of the Brazos River, under the beautiful soaring spires towering above our lovely "sacred spaces and quiet places." In the spirit of the parable of the talents, we are to work hard, to grow, to be transformed by the unparalleled experience that brings almost 15,000 students to Baylor's campus year after year, and to reveal and apply new knowledge through research and innovation. It is my pledge to the extended Baylor family, on this first day of service, that Baylor University will continue to be a place of transformation, learning and discovery through unity of purpose.

My pledge is made in a sacred context. Baylor's "great cloud of witnesses" summons us to seek excellence in a caring, loving community of truth-seekers. From the founding generation that came together before Texas entered the Union, and over the generations that have since passed through Baylor's storied halls, first in Independence and for over a century here in my now-adopted city of Waco, a distinct call has issued, rallying the faculty and staff and summoning forth the students who become, with their devoted faculty, co-discoverers with servant hearts. All truth is God's truth, and we, as students and teachers, unapologetically seek the truth - from Scripture and from the world that God has given us to explore and understand. In 1891, Baylor president, Rufus C. Burleson, called upon the extended Baylor family to "put Baylor in front of the greatest universities on this continent." That clarion call continues to beckon as we commit ourselves, as the founders so powerfully stated, "to meet the needs of all ages to come." It was a bold vision in the mid-nineteenth century, and it remains so today.

Much has been done to accomplish that dream. We give thanks for those cross-generational efforts, often deeply sacrificial, of giving and serving. Baylor has much of which to be justly, and non-vaingloriously, proud. From academics to athletics, to research and residential life, to community service and service to the Kingdom, the Baylor family has been and continues to be a mighty force for good. How extraordinary the stories are, and they are legion, of our students, faculty and staff giving of themselves time and again, here at home in Waco and far away in the neediest places in the world often inhabited by those whom Jesus described as "the least of these." We will share those unfolding stories in the weeks and months to come, for they encourage and inspire all of us to do our best in seeking excellence and in serving others.

This is a time for me to listen and to learn. But while that process will unfold rapidly over the coming weeks, there is also much to be done right now. Perhaps Baylor's most clear-and-present challenge is its low endowment level per student. We must do better. Each member of the Baylor family - whether students or parents, or faculty or staff, or those privileged to have graduated at a time of comparatively less daunting financial challenge - is painfully aware of the increasing cost of higher education. Cutting-edge technologies for research and teaching, student services that operate around the clock, and facilities demanded in the twenty-first century for universities competing in a global economy - all these come at a cost. We cannot stop the process of building and improving Baylor University; to do so would betray the noble vision of the founders and of the generations who have gone before. And so, with the blessing and encouragement of the Board of Regents, endowment expansion will be one of my early - and continuing - priorities.

All of this is, above all, for the students, those now on campus and those destined to come. We seek to foster and nourish future generations, well equipped with truth-seeking skills - intellectual competence, leadership and character, an integrated life, and a perspective that is grounded in hope - secure in the knowledge that they can make a difference through service to their local, national, and international communities. Our work is focused on our students - and about the impact that Baylor has had and must continue to have in our hurting world.
This is Baylor in 2010. The founding generation who gathered together 165 years ago in Independence would be proud, as am I to join now that long Baylor line.

May God bless each and every one of our students, their loved ones, our dedicated alumni, and all those called to serve Baylor as faculty and staff in this extraordinary place that as of this day I too am privileged to call home.

In grateful friendship,
Kenneth Winston Starr
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