As I head into the final days of my interim presidency at Baylor University, someone reminded me of a quote from Abraham Lincoln: “I want it said of me by those who knew me best that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.”
We have plucked our share of thistles at Baylor since I assumed the interim post last June. I took office days after the board of regents released the Findings of Fact that catapulted Baylor into the national headlines and sent shockwaves through the Baylor family.
The university openly admitted it had failed the victims of sexual violence and vowed to make dramatic changes. Those changes, among many, included leadership changes within both the university administration and athletics.
The thistles were real and had to be uprooted. If you have ever pulled up thistles, you know that their thorns have a propensity to poke the skin and cause pain. The painful details of Baylor’s past, however, are not the whole story. For every thistle removed, we sought to plant flowers.
More than 80 faculty, administrators and students worked on 11 task forces across campus to implement all of the 105 recommendations issued by the Pepper Hamilton law firm to enhance the safety of our students and improve our policies and procedures related to Title IX compliance. On May 12, nearly a year later, the university announced that these 105 recommendations are structurally complete and we are working to ensure they remain operational across the campus for years to come.
Our Title IX Office is operating at full strength, the result of a $4.3 million investment in new staff positions and greatly expanded office space. Our Title IX coordinator and her staff can now more quickly conduct sexual violence investigations, as well as arrange the academic and psychological support that can help survivors of sexual violence. The Title IX Office also provides robust training, prevention and education programs focused on eliminating sexual violence and harassment.
One of the richest resources for victims on their way to becoming survivors is our Counseling Center, which serves any Baylor student in distress. We have doubled the number of counseling positions to 36, far exceeding national standards. Many of those new hires are trauma-informed counselors who have the skills and qualifications needed to best accommodate the unique needs of sexual-assault survivors.
Our campus police force also has been revamped and equipped with upgraded technology. We have added 11 officers for a total of 38. Every officer must now become a certified sexual-assault family-violence investigator, familiar with the best practices available to pursue complaints. To provide additional help to survivors, the university has hired a victim advocate to guide them through the Title IX process, police investigation or both.
Our ultimate goal, however, is to prevent assaults from ever happening, and our outstanding student life team has worked diligently to address this topic with students. You can find stories of Baylor’s commitment, response and progress at www.baylor.edu/TheFacts.
Meanwhile, the board of regents has been planting its own flowers. It recently adopted a comprehensive slate of reforms following the recommendations of an independent governance review task force. Among the many improvements is a new leadership and committee structure designed to be more open and responsive, as well as a website containing regent bios, agendas for upcoming meetings, university founding documents and a forum for public input. The board now holds press conferences after its regularly scheduled meetings.
The board formed a new Regent Selection Committee, asking a diverse group of Baylor stakeholders to help identify future candidates of differing ethnic, racial, geographic and professional backgrounds. This change will result in a board that is more reflective of the student body and our alumni. And the board recently confirmed Baylor’s first alumni-elected regent.
I leave the office of the president confident that what has been planted this past year will further Baylor’s grand ambitions as a national research university grounded in Christian principles.