Great pomp and circumstance accompanied Linda Livingstone’s inauguration as Baylor University’s 15th president Thursday afternoon at the Ferrell Center.
Top school officials and community leaders welcomed Livingstone as Baylor regents formally charged her with leading the world’s largest Baptist university through a time of transformation.
“We are entering a key transitional moment in the life of our university, when we must dedicate ourselves to finishing the race we have started,” said Livingstone, who became president June 1, replacing interim President David Garland and, previously, Ken Starr. “Such work will not be easy, yet that is the essence of transformation.”
Board Chairman Joel Allison and Vice Chairs Dan Chapman and Jerry Clements presented Livingstone with the “symbols of authority,” the Baylor Mace and the Presidential Medallion and Chain of Office.
In about five months as president, Livingstone has been met with enthusiasm among the Baylor community as she sets a framework for a strategic, academic plan and a dedication to compliance after a sexual assault scandal left her with several investigations and Title IX lawsuits to monitor.
Livingstone, a former associate professor and associate dean in Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business, said she returned “at a very rough time, given the issues of sexual violence confronting the university.”
“Even from a distance, I was fully aware of the pain that you, the Baylor family, was experiencing due to incidents of interpersonal violence on our campus,” she said. “I also understood we would continue to deal with ongoing investigations and issues for at least 18 to 24 more months.”
She said she accepted the role in April “not in spite of recent institutional difficulties, but because of them.”
“Every crisis is an opportunity to learn and to rebuild, and I truly believe God wanted me to assume that task at this particular point in Baylor’s history,” Livingstone said. “But most importantly, I wanted to return because of the university’s mission. I knew that Baylor was one of the most visible, ambitious Christian universities in the nation, and I wanted to be a part of this distinct academic vision.”
Her strategic vision of research, which she described to the Tribune-Herald last month, drew applause from the audience of regents, faculty, staff, students and community members.
“If any university is compelled to engage in research that offers solutions to complex problems and shapes ideas at the highest levels of the academy and society, it is a Christian institution like Baylor,” Livingstone said. “Thus, when critics charge that our vision for achieving top-tier, tier-one research status is impossible, I believe they underestimate the power of Baylor and the power of God.”
State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, and Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver, who has deep family ties to the university, also attended.
“I have had the pleasure of meeting several times with Dr. Livingstone, in discussing how Baylor and Waco can work together to accomplish strategic goals that benefit Baylor and its students, as well as the city of Waco and its residents,” Deaver said. “Together, acting collaboratively, Baylor and Waco can do more good in our community than either of us can do acting alone.”
John Eddie Williams, a top university donor and the namesake of Baylor’s football field and law school library, said in a statement this week that concerned alumni and donors he organized in the wake of the sexual assault scandal pledge their support to Livingstone.
“All of us in the Baylor Family need to do whatever is necessary to make sure this never happens again,” Williams said, referring to the scandal. “We will support the new leadership as it implements needed changes at Baylor, but we will also challenge them if we think more needs to be done.”
The historical significance of Livingstone’s installation as Baylor’s first female president was not lost in the ceremonies Thursday.
Livingstone said she was once the only female Baylor faculty member alongside 20 male faculty members participating in a free throw competition at the Ferrell Center. Her husband, Brad, overheard fans saying, “Why in the world did they allow a girl in the competition?”
“As luck and maybe just little bit of talent would have it, I actually won that free throw shooting competition,” Livingstone said. “And next year, I won the competition again. And for some reason, they canceled it after that.”
Livingstone’s daughter, Shelby, introduced her mother with stories of family-coordinated Halloween costumes and achievement of work-life balance. Brad Livingstone was honored as Baylor’s first “first gentleman.”
Allison, who took over as board chairman June 1, said Baylor has a sense of “great anticipation” for Livingstone’s tenure.
“I think we all know Baylor’s best days are ahead of us,” Allison said.