WACO—Baylor University’s board of regents devoted much of its Feb. 22 meeting to discussing how the school can ensure it maintains an “unambiguously Christian educational environment.”
Baylor President Linda Livingstone and various regent committees discussed ways Baylor will maintain its Christian heritage and commitment while expanding institutional focus on research, scholarship and discovery.
“There is a reason why an unambiguously Christian educational environment is the first pillar of our Illuminate academic strategic plan. It’s important that we ensure that this area of distinction will not be lost as we pursue our higher aspirations in the area of research,” Livingstone said.
“Our Christian heritage and Baptist roots form the backbone of who we are as an educational institution. Our distinct Christian mission frames and really gives purpose to all of the work we are doing at Baylor, from the faculty and staff we recruit and hire, to the research we engage in, to how we encourage our students as they discover their unique calling to offer their gifts and talents in the service of God and others.”
In her report to the board, Livingstone updated regents on the university’s goals for the year, among them the implementation of the Illuminate academic strategic plan and progress on Baylor’s $1.1 billion Give Light philanthropic campaign.
As Baylor aspires to achieve top-tier status among universities with the highest level of research activity, Livingstone said faculty have submitted 26 proposals during the first round of project solicitations for Illuminate.
Proposals range from small seed-funding internal grants to suggestions for new institutes, centers or multi-year cluster hire programs to provide partnerships across specific research interests or disciplines.
“I am excited to see how we will continue to flourish as an institution through Illuminate as we grow our influence, not only in higher education but in the world, as a preeminent Christian research university,” Board Chairman Joel T. Allison said. “These signature academic initiatives will amplify and expand our Christian commitment and position Baylor for leadership in fields of national and global importance.”
President Livingstone reported the Give Light campaign—publicly launched in November—already has passed the mid-way point of fundraising, as of Jan. 31, at $563.3 million. The campaign undergirds Illuminate and impacts every aspect of campus life, from academics and athletics to student life and global engagement.
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Responding to student food insecurity
In other business, the regent’s student life committee heard from a panel of undergraduate and graduate student leaders on student financial well-being, including a discussion on food insecurity, which can impact the student experience from academics to health.
At Baylor, researchers have estimated between 15 percent and 20 percent of students are food insecure, meaning they do not have reliable access to nutritious food. For at-risk populations such as first-generation, transfer or international students, the research showed more than 92 percent had experienced at least some level of food insecurity. Researchers also found it was difficult for students to admit being hungry at an institution where it appeared that other students had abundant resources.
To address this, the Paul L. Foster Success Center-Student Success Initiatives opened a free student food pantry in December 2017 called The Store, which provides students in need with access to supplemental, nutritious food, normalizing food resources so students can fully thrive in their personal and academic achievements at Baylor.
Other initiatives in place to help students include The Fridge, a series of mini-fridges throughout campus where students who need it most can access quick snacks and healthy meals, and free mobile food pantries and free farmers markets available to students each semester.
The student panel discussion led the full board to commit personally to funding The Store for the next year.
“This is a great example of the Board’s care and concern for our students and the selfless service that embodies our regents,” Allison said. “We are certainly appreciative of our student leaders bringing this transformational program to the board’s attention, and the continued leadership they provide for the student body.”
Other board action
Action taken by the board included the approval of a new student regent. Beginning June 1, Cassidy Parshall, a junior Baylor Business Fellow and finance major on the premedical track from Colleyville, will serve a two-year term on the board. She will serve her first year as a non-voting student regent, while current student regent Malcolm B. Foley, doctoral candidate in religion from Rockville, Md., will serve his second year as a voting member of the board.
In other action, regents approved the closure and demolition of two aging Baylor-owned apartment complexes. Cottonwood and Baylor Plaza I, both built in 1977, and Baylor Plaza II, built in 1979, are being closed after the spring semester due to declining occupancy and increasingly expensive repairs and high maintenance costs.
Current residents have been informed of the closure and offered assistance, including a $250 moving credit, in selecting a residence in other Baylor-owned properties. After demolition this summer, the areas along South Second and Third Streets—about 8.4 acres—will be transitioned to green space.