Baylor University will officially introduce Ken Starr to the community and local media today, Starr’s first day as the school’s president.
The event will be a picnic-style come-and-go for students, faculty and members of the greater Waco community to meet Starr and his wife, Alice. It will be held from 3-4:30 p.m. on the steps of Pat Neff Hall on the Baylor campus.
Baylor Board of Regents Chairman Dary Stone said the casual nature of the event is befitting Starr’s demeanor.
“It’s an approachable event for a very approachable person,” Stone said. “And not just him, but Alice, as well. I think both Alice and Judge Starr are very approachable people.”
Despite his personable nature, Starr has been a lightning rod for controversy since serving as the lead investigator into former President Bill Clinton’s Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky scandals. Starr’s investigation led to Clinton’s impeachment by the House of Representatives in 1998.
Starr’s career, though, is marked by success. Most recently, Starr served as dean of Pepperdine Law School, where he raised the school’s U.S. News & World Report ranking 45 spots to 55th nationally in only six years.
After being named Baylor’s 14th president Feb. 15, Starr told the Tribune-Herald that the Whitewater and Lewinsky investigations were “an unhappy chapter in the nation’s history” and said he was happy to move on into higher education.
Baylor Faculty Senate Chairman Dennis Myers said Friday he doesn’t think controversy surrounding Starr will prevent him from bringing continued unity to the Baylor community. He said an inclusive, unifying leader is important for the school, which has seen its share of division in the past 10 years.
Myers said Starr has made a good impression on faculty leaders in the months since being named president.
“Judging on everything we’ve seen so far, we’ve probably never had such a strong initial indication that a president is wanting to engage the faculty, through the faculty senate, in such an inclusive way,” Myers said.
“When the guy hit the ground for the first time, really, after the appointment was made, almost the first lunch he had was with the executive council of the faculty senate. . . . He’s a busy guy, and he’s made significant time to make that connection (with faculty), and that speaks volumes.”
Stone agreed with Myers’ assessment of Starr as an inclusive leader and, he hopes, a unifier.
He said the Whitewater and Lewinsky investigations were but a “small slice of his career” and pointed to Starr’s record of success, both as a legal mind and higher education administrator, as an indication of what’s to come.
“He has a constructive, not a destructive, personality,” Stone said.
Starr’s introduction to Baylor’s key constituents has been a whirlwind tour for the past three months. He has met with Baylor students, faculty, deans, supporters and Baptist leadership, Stone said.
Functions have been held in San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth to introduce Starr to key donors and university alums. He was also visible in the stands during the historic runs by the Baylor men’s and women’s basketball teams deep into their respective NCAA tournaments.
Stone said he thinks Starr’s increased familiarity with the Baylor community will help the new president hit the ground running.
“He’s really logged an extraordinary amount of time with a number of people,” Stone said.
He added, “I think, although technically (today) is his first day actually getting paid for doing what he’s been doing for the past several months, he’s been working hard getting ready to be the CEO of Baylor.”
In February, Starr told the Tribune-Herald that he would take some time taking the pulse of the campus before determining short-term and long-term goals for the university.
Stone, though, said he thinks Starr will adapt quickly and determine some key challenges that need to be faced.
Starr was unavailable for comment Friday and Monday.
Myers issued an initial challenge for the new president from the faculty’s standpoint. He noted the “tension” that Baylor faculty deal with in trying to balance Baylor’s history as a strong teaching university with its aspirations to be a leading research university.
“So, how you — as an administrator, as president — enable both to occur in some kind of a balance, it will enrich the students and enrich this place,” Myers said.