Linda Livingstone

Baylor University President Linda Livingstone discusses her plans to strengthen the school’s academic core in the next five years. Friday marked her 100th day as president.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte

Friday marked Linda Livingstone’s 100th day as Baylor University’s 15th president. Taking over a university set on recovering from a sexual assault scandal, Livingstone faces the task of charming faculty eager for a stable administration as she pursues a new focus on research while maintaining the school’s Christian mission.

“I can remember on so many occasions when I said, ‘Oh my gosh, if I’m ever a university president, I’m not going to do that,’ ” Livingstone said with a laugh. She held roles as an assistant management professor, associate professor and business graduate program dean at Baylor between 1991 and 2002.

Coming from the academic side at Baylor shapes her approach, she said.

“It helps you think about how we frame things going forward,” Livingstone said. “If we really want to move forward academically, where are the levers we can pull that make the most impact?”

Her goals for this academic year call for a university with fundamental strength in leadership, financial security and an ambitious framework for academic strategy — objectives Baylor regents and senior administrators agree on, she said.

The broader vision, however, is called Pro Futuris Phase II: a continuation of a 2012 strategic plan meant to bolster student success and university development. For the next five years, Livingstone plans to lead Baylor on a path toward alternative revenue sourcing, better academic planning and enhanced research opportunities for faculty.

She felt comfortable keeping the name “Pro Futuris” in place to build on ongoing engagement and “put the meat on the bones” of Baylor’s academic core.

“We’ve made a lot of progress on (Pro Futuris) because we had those in front of us,” Livingstone said. “We had goals to focus on, but we haven’t really done that on the academic side. Frankly, a big piece of that was probably the fact we’ve had quite a bit of turnover in provosts over the last several years, and you really need consistent leadership in that regard.”

Three provosts, Elizabeth Davis, Edwin Trevathan and L. Gregory Jones, have held the role since 2014, excluding interim provosts. At a fall faculty meeting, interim Provost Michael McLendon urged faculty to “not read into every new situation the distrust or the disappointments of the past.”

“Old habits are quickly dying,” McLendon said. “New ones are taking their place, and I’ve never been more optimistic about where we are as a university as I am now.”

Livingstone said Baylor will not achieve tier-one status as set by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education in five years, but she expects to see a clear path by then. Tied to the status is a plan to boost Baylor’s professional programming and graduate student population of 2,743 students. Livingstone said it is too early to estimate where that number could grow.

“While we look at some of the traditional metrics the academic community looks at for being tier-one we also need to be cognizant about our Christian mission,” Livingstone said. “What are some of the unique elements of what we do academically are that tie very directly to our Christian mission? … We’re probably conceptualizing what tier-one means a little bit more broadly than you would in a different kind of setting or in a different institution.”

Lynn Tatum, a senior lecturer in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core and past president of Texas’ chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said Livingstone’s message has, in the first 100 days, aligned with faculty interests.

“As long as Dr. Livingstone supports academic freedom and shared governance, she’ll find faculty to be a great resource and tremendous ally,” Tatum said. “We’re eager to have academic leadership that encourages better academics.”

Livingstone said transformational undergraduate education remains a pillar for building Baylor’s academic reputation.

“There is sometimes a sense that if you put more focus on research, you lose your way with undergraduate education,” she said. “We are deeply committed to using that deeper focus on research and maybe even graduate education to enhance what we do with the undergraduate level.”

Funding both will take more than undergraduate tuition, she said. An inaugural, comprehensive campaign for Baylor’s academic core is in the works, along with searches for funded research opportunities.

At the faculty meeting, Livingstone said Baylor remains financially secure despite a sexual assault scandal that has led to a flurry of lawsuits and investigations.

Administrators have submitted a report to its accrediting agency, the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Livingstone expects Baylor’s warning status to be lifted in December after agency officials visit campus next month.

She also hopes the Big 12 Conference, which withheld a quarter of revenue distribution payments from Baylor in February, will approve of the improvements to sexual violence response made over the past year.

The issue will be discussed at the Big 12’s November board meeting, Livingstone said.

The university will also determine whether remaining Title IX lawsuits will be brought to settlement or continue through the court system, she said.

“At the end of the day, as we work through the victims of sexual violence, we really work with them in a way that brings healing to them,” Livingstone told faculty.

Specifics of Pro Futuris Phase II, including which departments will benefit most from increased academic objectives and how related financial models might adjust, will unfold over several years.

Broadly, Livingstone aims to reinforce Baylor’s place in higher education.

“When you do start talking about tier-one and research focus and graduate focus, it can cause anxiety,” she said. “We believe we can be great at the undergraduate level, we can have a really strong nationally-competitive athletic program, we can be a top-tier research university and we can continue to emphasize and grow our Christian mission. If we do those four things together, there’s just nobody else out there that is doing those four things. We believe wholeheartedly that we can do it and we can be a great example for them.”

Phillip has covered higher education for the Tribune-Herald since November 2015.

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