Baylor’s top academic administrator to become president of Furman University

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Posted: Friday, February 7, 2014 12:01 am | Updated: 1:11 am, Fri Feb 7, 2014.

Baylor University’s top academic administrator will leave her post this summer to become the president of Furman University.

Elizabeth Davis, Baylor’s executive vice president and provost, will assume the reins of the Greenville, S.C., liberal-arts college beginning July 1, Furman officials announced Thursday.

Davis is expected to formally step down from her duties at Baylor in June. She oversees all of Baylor’s academic programming, including the 11 colleges and schools and Baylor’s research enterprises.

“She has the respect of the faculty, and that’s extremely important,” Baylor President Ken Starr said in a phone interview. “She’s extraordinarily intelligent, she’s collaborative yet she’s decisive, and those are qualities that were key to her earlier success and those are qualities that we’ve seen in abundance during her service at Baylor.

“She’s thoroughly prepared now for this next step.”

Davis said a colleague from another university told her last year that Furman would be searching for a new president and eventually nominated her for the position.

Like Baylor, Furman is a private, Christian university. It has about 2,600 undergraduate students, compared to Baylor’s undergraduate enrollment of about 13,300.

“Their commitment to undergraduate education and residential living really resonated with me and what I value in higher education,” Davis said by phone Thursday. “It’s very similar in nature to what we do at Baylor, just a lot smaller scale . . . it seemed like a great opportunity for me.”

She spent Thursday in Greenville in receptions with students, faculty and Furman’s administrative leaders and board of trustees.

Davis, who graduated from Baylor in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, first joined Baylor’s faculty as an accounting professor in 1992.

By 2004, she had become the university’s vice provost for financial and academic administration.

She was named interim provost in 2008 during the university’s restructuring after the firing of president John Lilley and was fully elevated to the position by Starr when he became president in 2010.

Most recently, Davis played a key role in guiding the development of Baylor’s new Pro Futuris strategic plan, which emphasizes expanding Baylor’s engineering and science programs and focusing efforts to become a top-tier research university.

Jim Patton, a neuroscience and psychology professor and chair of Baylor’s Faculty Senate, wrote in an email that Davis will be missed for both her adept hand in managing administrative affairs as well as her efforts to encourage and incorporate suggestions from faculty and staff on initiatives that would strengthen the university.

“She seizes upon good ideas no matter the source and she will unfailingly and generously give credit where credit is due for those ideas,” Patton said in the email. “She has all the hallmarks of a servant leader, and that fact is confirmed by her selection as the president of a very fine university.”

Starr said the university will begin conversations with faculty, deans and the board of regents in conducting a search for Davis’ eventual replacement.

“The chief academic officer is at the heart and soul of what a university is,” Starr said. “To oversee the academic enterprise is a heavy and vitally important responsibility. The vastness of the enterprise creates constant challenges. Elizabeth, however, is someone that takes challenges and turns them into opportunities.”

Davis lamented that she will miss the opening of the new, on-campus McLane Stadium this fall, but that she looks forward to watching Baylor from afar and seeing the university continue to implement its Pro Futuris goals.

“Baylor has shaped who I have become,” Davis said. “It has always been a great university, and we know the excitement surrounding the university is maybe higher than ever. It’s been a wonderful place, and I’m going to miss being there.”

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