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New Baylor president has been a Presbyterian elder

WACO, Texas (BP)—Baylor University’s board of regents has selected alumnus John Lilley, president of the University of Nevada, Reno, as Baylor’s next president.

Lilley, 66, a past recipient of Baylor’s distinguished alumnus award who has been a Presbyterian church member since the 1980s, received a unanimous vote Nov. 4 from Baylor’s regents, acting upon a unanimous recommendation of an 11-member search committee. The committee was formed 10 months earlier, after the resignation of Robert B. Sloan Jr., who had led the 14,000-student Baptist-affiliated university since 1995 and now holds the title of chancellor.

Lilley, who will take office on Jan. 2 at Baylor’s 13th president, has led the 16,000-student University of Nevada, Reno, since 2001. The previous 21 years, he was president of Penn State Erie, a four-year campus of the Pennsylvania State University system. The library there has been named in his honor.

He was an assistant dean of arts and sciences at Kansas State University from 1976-80 and a faculty member at the Claremont Colleges in California from 1966-76, serving the latter three years also as assistant dean of faculty at Claremont’s Scripps College.

Lilley received two bachelor’s degrees from Baylor, in 1961 and 1962, and a master of music degree in 1964 before completing a doctorate in music at the University of Southern California in 1971.

A Baylor news release described Lilley as the son of a Louisiana Baptist pastor and a licensed Baptist minister who served as minister of music at two Baptist churches while he was a student at Baylor. The news release did not list a current church membership for Lilley.

The Dallas Morning News described Lilley as “a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church.” Lilley’s biographical sheet posted at the University of Nevada, Reno, website states that, in Erie, Pa., he had been a ruling elder of First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant.

Lilley acknowledged his current Presbyterian ties in a news conference after his election, but added, “I was raised a Baptist and have always been a Baptist, and Gerri [his wife] and I will be joining First Baptist Church this Sunday here in Waco. That was my student church when I was here.”

The Dallas Morning News also reported: “Dr. Lilley’s sudden selection came as a surprise to some for several reasons: his age, his current religious affiliation and his experience at state schools.

“In addition,” the newspaper noted, “the school he is leaving -– which was unaware of his departure until an hour before the public announcement –- has been racked by the same kind of faculty-administration discord that has scarred Baylor during the last decade.

“Nonetheless, Baylor regents appeared thrilled by their unanimous choice…,” the newspaper stated.

The Dallas Morning News also reported that Lilley has been divorced and is remarried.

Will D. Davis, chair of the Baylor board of regents, stated at a news conference: “At every place of service in his career, Dr. Lilley has been known as a consensus builder. His collaborative approach involving governing boards, faculty, staff, alumni, students and friends has allowed him to lead the campuses he served through periods of dramatic growth and enhancement. He brings to Baylor University the energy, passion, vision, experience and leadership to guide this institution to greater prominence. Those traits, combined with a deep love for this institution that was cultivated during his years as a student here, Dr. Lilley will, I believe, be a great leader for Baylor University.”

Bill Brian, the Baylor regent who chaired the search committee, in a statement posted on the Baylor website, said: “Dr. Lilley’s life was transformed by his experience as a Baylor student. His distinguished career in higher education in California, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Nevada has kept him in places distant from Waco and Baylor, specially equipping him now to come home to his alma mater, unfettered by identification with any faction. His faith commitment and recognition of the historic and present important relationship between Baylor and the Baptist General Convention of Texas helped committees to see in Dr. Lilley great promise for leading Baylor faculty, staff and students forward to even greater achievement. These and other factors led the search committee to recommend him unanimously.”

Lilley, in the news conference, stated: “My sense is that everyone in this whole discussion, whatever its dimensions, No. 1, loves this university and wants it to grow and prosper as a Christian university in the Baptist tradition. We also want it to be a top tier university. The regents have affirmed that and the Faculty Senate has affirmed that. The question is, how do we implement that? What is the balance needed? What is the touch needed? That is going to be a long series of conversations. …”

Underscoring the importance of openness in the media, Lilley said, “My fundamental premise is that communication builds trust and lack of communication builds mistrust.”

Lilley said Baylor “has been the crown jewel of Texas Baptists, and I believe it still is based on the information I have and will do everything within my power to make sure it remains there. Our Baptist connections and the tradition of Texas Baptists is very important. I will do everything I can to strengthen that.”

He said he hopes “to build on Baylor’s recent history as well as its very long history. The atmosphere that I experienced as a student, both in the classroom and out of the classroom, and particularly First Baptist Church — that meant everything to me. It was transforming for me and I want it to be transforming for every young person who comes to Baylor University. It is that profound a place. Frankly, that’s why I’m here — only for Baylor.”

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