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Dr. Livingstone Talks Illuminate

The approval of Illuminate marks a significant achievement for Dr. Livingstone.

In May, the Board of Regents approved the plan. Now the hard work begins of uniting donors, leadership, faculty, staff, alumni, and students to execute the plan. We sat down with Dr. Livingstone in the President’s Office in Pat Neff Hall to ask about the vision, the challenges, and what this means for the future of Baylor. 


First of all, congratulations on one year as president. How has it been so far?

It’s been a really great year. My family has enjoyed it and I feel like we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress on the goals that we had set for the year, both in terms of addressing issues from the past but also in setting the course with our academic strategic plan for where we’re going in the future. So, very productive. We’ve been warmly welcomed and feel like it was a really good start to my presidency here.

A Waco Trib article that came out a few days ago opened up with this line: “Over the last two decades, Baylor administrators and faculty have debated whether the school should follow higher research ambitions.” Why is the idea of Baylor pursuing R1 so heavily debated? 

I think any institution, as they move toward that more research-focused status, goes through a time of discussion and debate. So I don’t think Baylor’s been any different in that. But I think there are probably two elements that are important in that discussion, and are oftentimes why you have that discussion. 

One, we are a Christian university, and our Christian mission is deeply important to us. We intend to continue to ensure that our mission is deeply tied to our Christian roots and our Baptist roots. There are oftentimes questions about whether you can be an R1 research university and maintain the integrity of your Christian mission. Many of the top research universities in the country used to be Christian universities and they ultimately became secular universities as they pursued R1 status. Because people care so deeply about our Christian mission, that causes them to want to have that discussion. And we have foundationally said we are going to maintain the integrity of our Christian mission. It’s one of four pillars that’s critically important to us. 

The second element is your continued commitment to undergraduate education. So again, there’s sometimes a concern that if you’re going to start doing more research, that somehow it’s going to diminish or take away from your focus on undergraduates. And so a second one of our pillars as part of Illuminate is that we are going to ensure that we continue to emphasize transformational undergraduate education. In fact, I would argue that one of the things that comes out of having a stronger research focus is our ability to emphasize undergraduate research more and engage our undergraduates in even deeper learning experiences. And we know from our recruiting process that the best undergraduates around the country want to be engaged in research while they’re still in their undergraduate programs.

So I think that those two issues are sometimes the ones that cause some anxiety, but we are making it very, very clear that those two elements, an unambiguous Christian mission and transformational undergraduate learning, are going to continue to be critical to Illuminate and to the direction that we’re going as a university.

We hear Tier One and R1 quite a bit. What is the difference between those two things and who determines when a university reaches those classifications?

The main standard that you look at when you talk about your research undertaking, which is the R1 component, is the Carnegie Classification. So they have different categories of research productivity. Our goal is to move from the very high research category to the highest research category.

The Carnegie Classifications assess that by looking at how many doctoral students you produce across all the fields of the institution. They look at the research dollars that you bring in, both externally as well as the dollars you’re investing. They look at the infrastructure and staffing support you have for research. So it’s sort of this overall assessment of your commitment to supporting research and scholarly activity at the highest levels. 

The good thing about the Carnegie Classifications is that it’s not a ranking. So it’s not like only 20 schools can be in that highest category and that you have to knock somebody else out to get to that category. It’s really something they evaluate on a regular basis to see who is doing the level of research that it takes to be considered among that group of universities. And we’ve begun to look at how many PhD’s we produce, how much research money we have coming in, and then what’s the gap between where we are and where we need to be. 

What are the challenges of reaching Tier 1 and being a sectarian university?

I think one of the areas that you have to be very attentive to is your faculty hiring. At the end of the day you maintain the integrity of your mission as a Christian institution by the people that you bring into the organization because they really embody your mission, whether that’s your staff or your faculty. We want to hire faculty who believe in and support our Christian mission as a university. But you also need to hire faculty that are going to help you move toward those aspirations. So we want them to be people who are deeply committed to teaching and the learning experience of our graduate and undergraduate students. But they also need to be faculty that are doing exceptional research. And so finding faculty that are committed Christians, really committed to the learning experience, and then also doing really exceptional research will be something I believe we can do. But it’s going to take a lot of strategy and lot of focus to do that.  

In fact, I believe that there are a number of faculty out there that are Christian faculty at other top institutions around the country. As we build our reputation in these areas, as we put resources in this direction, they will have a desire to be at a place like Baylor where their faith and their work as a faculty member can be integrated in ways that it cannot be at a secular institution. 

So it is a challenge, but I also think it’s a tremendous opportunity because there are so few places where a faculty member with that mix of skills and interests can integrate all aspects of their life in such a complete way as they can do at Baylor. 

So let me ask you about a few numbers. I believe we spent around 27 million on research this year. How would you like to see that number increase? What numbers are we aiming at?

Well, we’ve said pretty openly that this is probably a 10 to 15-year process to move us into that next tier. When you look at the universities that are in that highest tier, there’s a huge range of research dollars. For example, Duke was over a billion dollars of research. There’s such a wide range on the lower end of that tier, to give us a sense of where we’re going to have to be over 10 to 15 years. 

It’s a substantial move. And one of the areas we’ve got to work significantly on is bringing in more outside funded research. We fund a lot of ours internally, and we’ve got to do much more research where we’re getting outside dollars coming in. 

Why has it been a struggle to get that outside funding up to this point?

Part of it’s just the focus and the places that we’ve placed attention. In order to do a good job of bringing in outside funding you have to have an infrastructure internally in the institution that provides the right staff support to help faculty know where that outside funding is to help them put together grant proposals. And then on the back side, once you get the funding, there’s a lot of post-award work that has to be done to support the grant.

So one of the things we’ve begun working on is to have infrastructure that actually sets faculty up effectively to be able to find and actually apply for those grants, because it’s lot of work to do that.

The other thing that we are focusing on is hiring faculty. You can certainly hire new faculty that then build their research productivity while they’re growing as faculty members at your university. But you can also go out and hire faculty that are already doing substantial work in their field, that have already got funding from external sources. So you can build from the top, and then they can help you attract other faculty that are doing research in their area. 

So part of it is building an infrastructure to support our current faculty and the faculty that we’re hiring. It’s also making sure that at least some of the faculty you’re hiring have that expertise and some of the funding already with them. 

Where are we currently under resourced? I know you’ve talked about the need for laboratories. What are areas where we need more faculty and actual buildings?

We’re in the top 20 in the country in research expenditures in the humanities among private institutions. We aren’t quite that high in the social sciences, but we do reasonably well. We certainly need to continue to grow our productivity in some of the social sciences. 

Where we lag the most is in those STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and math. One of the things that’s so critical in research in those areas is to ensure that you have the laboratory space and equipment and the infrastructure it needs because they do different kinds of research than they do in the humanities and social sciences. So one of the facilities that’s a high priority in the plan is a new science and engineering research facility. The Baylor Science Building is a beautiful facility. Really critical to the significant progress we’ve made over the last 12 or 13 years. But we are completely out of capacity to build new labs and to grow our infrastructure for research in the STEM areas. That’s going to be really important, so that when we do hire new faculty, we have the facilities that they need to be successful. 

Do you know where will that building be?

We haven’t made any final determinations. In our master plan, it’s close to the Baylor Science Building so that you keep all your folks that are doing research like that together. But we’ll have to see as we finalize the plans and do fundraising. 

You’re obviously going to need financial buy in from alumni. What will be the goals of the capital campaign?

This will be the first comprehensive fundraising campaign the University’s ever done. We’ve done a lot of project-based fundraising, certainly around facilities like McLane Stadium and the Foster Campus for Business and Innovation, or around scholarships, but this will be the first comprehensive fundraising campaign we’ve had that integrates and supports an academic strategic plan. So this campaign will be about 30 percent to support facilities and then about 70 percent to support programs, faculty, and students. 

A big push within the campaign will be to increase our endowment. Our endowment is at about 1.3 billion. In terms of the size of institution we are, our endowment per student is low for the quality and type of institution we are. So we need to grow that endowment significantly. Double it over a period of time. We probably won’t double it in the next five years as we look at the campaign, but we need to double that over time. 

We’ll have a significant emphasis on endowment and a significant emphasis on support for student scholarships, support for faculty endowed professorships and chairs, research dollars, and then support that we need to build the new facilities and remodel existing facilities. 

What trends are you seeing in giving right now? How likely is it that Baylor can raise these amounts? 

Our giving has been very, very strong over the last several years. For seven years in a row, counting this year, we have raised over 100 million dollars a year. That’s been consistent even over the difficult stretch of a couple of years that we’ve had. Our number of donors went up pretty significantly last year, as well. So not only did we see the dollar amount go up, we saw a broader base of donors give. 

We’ve had a consultant in over the last several years helping us do planning for a campaign, and they feel like our donor base is very strong, that the commitment to the University among our alum and friends is very strong. So they have been extremely positive about our capacity to raise the money that we’re going to need to support Illuminate.

How does Baylor’s alumni participation in giving compare to other universities?

Oftentimes, you look at the percentage of giving among your alumni to the University. Our goal is to get to about 20 percent. We definitely want to broaden the base of donors and get more people involved in the process. We saw good progress this year and we’re feeling really good about the engagement of our alumni. What we want to do is build on that and help people really feel a part again of the University and a part of what we’re trying to accomplish so that they will want to support our students and faculty. 

*Editor’s note: Currently, 17% of alumni give to the university. The Big XII average is 14%. 

Let me ask you about the provost search. I know that there’s been some turnover the last few years. Some unexpected things have happened. Why has that role been difficult to fill?

I’m not sure I can reflect on all that’s happened in that role, since I wasn’t here for several of those transitions. But what I would say, just generally at any university, is that being a provost is a very difficult job. You’re the chief academic officer of an institution and you’re really working with all the deans, with all the diverse colleges and schools across your campus, to help move the academic effort forward. You’re trying to balance the different interests and needs of faculty across campus. And not everybody’s cut out to be a provost. You can be a really good administrator, and being the provost isn’t the right job for you. So I think it’s a difficult job at any institution. At Baylor, because we’re a Christian institution, you have to find someone who has those leadership and administrative skills as a deeply committed Christian, and then has the ability to bring faculty together and facilitate the engagement that’s needed to help faculty to be successful. 

Why it’s been such a difficult position to fill here? I’m sure people have a variety of opinions on that, but I’m confident as we have extended our search and continue to look for that person that there is someone out there who is going to be the right person to help not only ensure the integrity of our Christian mission, but to help move us forward on our trajectory toward top tier research status. But we’re going to be patient and make sure that we find the right person. We’ve got fabulous folks providing leadership in that area right now. 

What would you say to alumni who may want Baylor to remain an undergrad-focused university, and may not be as excited about research?

Well, we will always be an undergraduate focused institution, even as we grow our research function. In fact, I believe that growing the quality and integrity and size of our research function will enrich and strengthen the undergraduate learning experience. As we have more faculty doing research, as we have more graduate students on campus, it increases dramatically the opportunities that undergraduate students have to be engaged in research, whether it’s in the classroom or in lab opportunities outside of the classroom. And that will just enrich and strengthen the undergraduate learning experience. So I don’t see those as diametric to one another. I see them as integrated, and strengthening research will strengthen undergraduate education. 

You have to be deliberate about doing it that way, but we are absolutely committed to that. There has to be a complement to and a way of strengthening what we’re doing at the undergraduate level. 

I continue to get questions from alumni about the sexual assault scandal and about information that the Board did or didn’t withhold. What would you say to alumni who may want to buy in to this vision but have lost their trust in Baylor?

I would tell those folks that Baylor’s a very different place now. That the culture has shifted dramatically. We have implemented all 105 recommendations that came out of the Pepper Hamilton review, and because of that, I think they can feel confident that we have the right processes, the right policies, the right systems, and I think the right people in place. We’re trying to do everything we can to prevent issues of sexual assault on our campus. But if they do occur, those are going to be handled very differently than they were before and they’re going to be handled in a way that is consistent with best practices across the country. 

And I think the other thing I would tell folks is we know that we have to regain that trust one day at a time, by every day doing what we say we are going to do. We talk about it regularly. We want those people to come back and be a part of the fold. Be close enough to see what Baylor is like now. What the leadership is like. What the board is like. And how we’re all working together to move the University forward.

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1 thought on “Dr. Livingstone Talks Illuminate”

  1. Baylor University will NEVER become a tier one R1 university as long as it is a sectarian “Christian” university. It tells the world that Jews and other nonchristians need not apply. That is blatant discrimination rejected by all tier one R1 universities. Former sectarian universities did not become secular, they became nonsectarian. It is slanderous and factually incorrect to say that a nonsectarian university like Duke and many other similar universities are secular. They have on campus chapels and regularly scheduled worship services in iconic Christian buildings. They train clergy for Christian ministry in highly regarded seminaries.

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