UPDATED at 9 p.m. April 20 with an expanded 3rd paragraph.
WACO, Texas (BP) — Linda Livingstone, the first ever female president of Baylor University, points to her faith as a deciding factor in her acceptance of the job at the world’s largest Baptist university.
“My personal faith commitment and my commitment to Jesus Christ was really important in this process,” Livingstone, a former Baylor faculty member and dean, said in an April 18 telephone interview on local ABC affiliate KXXV-TV. “My family and I spent a lot of time and prayer and reflection as we looked at this opportunity as it played out, and it certainly was important in that.”
In 1998, Livingstone was instrumental in another first for women, as reported by various media outlets — co-chairing the search committee that brought the first female pastor into the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Julie Pennington-Russell. The church, Calvary Baptist in Waco, is affiliated nationally with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a breakaway from the Southern Baptist Convention. Pennington-Russell is now pastor of First Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., where Livingtone is a member.
Livingstone’s unanimous selection by Baylor’s board of regents, chairman Ronald Murff said in an April 18 teleconference, was not provoked by the sexual assault scandal that unraveled the university’s leadership in 2016 but was driven by a search for the best person for the job.
“Dr. Livingstone brings an accomplished academic career to Baylor, combined with a strong appreciation and support of Baylor’s mission,” Murff said. “A longtime Baptist and former Baylor faculty member, she has a passion for the distinctiveness of Baylor’s Christian mission in higher education.”
Livingstone’s selection was hailed by the grassroots group Bears for Leadership Reform (BLR), which welcomed her back to the university where she was once “a beloved teacher.”
“Baylor has a special place in our hearts. It is in desperate need of reform. We believe Dr. Livingstone can play an instrumental role in that process,” Houston attorney, Baylor alumnus and BLR board member John Eddie Williams said in a press release. “We look forward to working closely with her to ensure positive reforms are made so that the Baylor Family can heal and move forward.”
Livingstone has led The George Washington University School of Business in Washington, D.C., since 2014, but served at Baylor from 1991–2002, rising from assistant professor to dean of the Hankamer School of Business. She led Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management from 2002-2014.
“My time at Baylor as a faculty member and associate dean was formative in my academic career and in developing my passion for academic administration,” Livingstone said in a Baylor press release announcing her selection. “Baylor’s unique culture of care and compassion — that I experienced personally from my colleagues and that I saw demonstrated among faculty, staff and students — continues to inspire and influence me as an administrator. Continuing to strengthen Baylor’s culture where faculty, staff and students are encouraged, inspired and cared for by one another is a priority.”
While at Pepperdine, Livingstone was a colleague of Ken Starr, who was stripped of his presidency of Baylor in 2016 after an independent investigation found “a fundamental failure” to protect students from sexual assault in a years-long scandal. Baylor made key personnel changes and instituted reforms in response to the investigative findings of the Pepper Hamilton law firm, but continues to suffer repercussions from the scandal.
Earlier in April, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman of Waco ruled that a lawsuit can proceed by Jasmin Hernandez, who is charging that Baylor violated Title IX by failing to respond when women complained that a football player had raped them. A court date is set for 2018.
Notably, Starr was not a Baptist when he was chosen as Baylor’s president in 2010, but told Baylor student newspaper The Lariat that he planned to join a Baptist church in Waco by June 1 of that year. Starr told The Lariat he had been involved in nondenominational Christianity for decades and that his home church, McLean Bible Church in Virginia, operated under a Baptist theology, Baptist Press reported at the time.
Drayton McLane Jr., Baylor’s regent emeritus and a member of the search committee that chose Livingstone, said she met all of the university’s requirements.
“She, her husband (Brad) and their family are outstanding, committed Christians,” McLane said. “Dr. Livingstone has taught at Baylor and understands the Christian heritage which is so important to the University.”
Livingstone bested 400 candidates and was included in 61 first-round interviews before the field was narrowed, the search committee said.
Livingstone is a scholar in organizational behavior, leadership and creativity, Baylor said, and is extensively published. At Graziadio, she focused on Christian values as well as scholarship, Baylor said, and oversaw a $200 million expansion. She is a former athlete, having played on the women’s basketball team during her undergraduate years at Oklahoma State University from 1978-1982 and was named a “Big 8 Scholar-Athlete.”
Livingstone begins June 1 as president, succeeding Baylor interim president David Garland, who replaced Starr. Baylor is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.