WACO—David Garland, dean of Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary, has been appointed interim president of the university.
The Baylor board of regents approved Garland’s appointment in a unanimous vote during an Aug. 20 teleconference, board Chairman Howard Batson announced.
Garland succeeds Harold Cunningham, who was named acting president when former President John Lilley was fired by the regents July 24.
The board dismissed Lilley for failing to “bring the Baylor family together,” but Garland’s appointment signals a strong shift toward Baylor unity, Batson said in an interview moments after the conference call ended.
Prior to their vote on Garland, the board consulted with the Baylor Alumni Association, the Faculty Senate, deans and other administrators, regents and other Baylor constituencies, all of whom affirmed Garland’s selection, he said.
The “Baylor family” has been divided for most of this decade—initially over the leadership of former President Robert Sloan, Lilley’s predecessor, and implementation of Baylor 2012, the long-range strategy adopted during Sloan’s administration. That division continued during the two and a half years of Lilley’s tenure.
Citing a recent Baptist Standard editorial that called on the regents to assume responsibility for uniting Baylor, Batson said, “The board answered that challenge, at least at the first stage” of leadership selection.
The board’s initial step was to select an interim president respected by the broad range of Baylor constituents, and the affirmation of various groups confirms Garland is the leader who fills that bill, Batson added.
“David Garland is kind of the embodiment of Baylor 2012, the paradigm of what we’re looking for,” he explained. “He’s a wonderful teacher and a highly regarded researcher.”
In addition, Garland also is a gifted preacher, Batson added. “He communicates the gospel very effectively and will represent Baylor wonderfully.”
A crucial point of contention in Baylor 2012 has centered on the tension between preserving Baylor’s legacy of outstanding classroom teaching and advancing as a top-tier research institution. Batson said Garland proves the two emphases can thrive at Baylor.
“He is a broad consensus candidate,” Batson said. “No matter what part of the Baylor family you look at, he has been affirmed—as a teacher, administrator and researcher.”
Under Garland’s leadership, Truett Seminary has achieved record enrollment (402 students last fall) and endowment ($43 million as of May 31), “and he has hired as fine a faculty as Truett ever has had,” he added.
"Humbled and honored"
For his part, Garland noted the interim presidency is not a position he sought, and he was “shocked, humbled and honored” when first approached about the assignment. His feelings compounded when others, “who had no inkling” of the regents’ interest, told him he’d make a good interim president.
“We’re trying to call out the called,” Garland said of Truett Seminary’s emphasis on identifying and equipping ministers. So, since he’s been teaching students to be open to God’s work in their lives, “I had to be open to what God has for me right now.”
George W. Truett, the seminary’s namesake who achieved legendary status as pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas the first half of the 20th century, was chosen for pastoral ministry by his home congregation when he was a young man, Garland and Batson noted.
“If you preach about giving your life in service, you have to be willing to serve,” Garland said.
As Baylor’s interim leader, Garland will focus on fostering reconciliation, harmony and unity while maintaining continuity with its strengths, he said.
“Baylor is well-run now. It is an outstanding institution with outstanding administrators,” he said. “The course has been set,” and the task is to move forward positively.
Garland’s first task will be to learn from the university’s constituencies. “I want to sit down with various people on campus,” he said. “I want to listen to them and see if we can bring about a clear sense of unity. There already is more unity on campus than one would think from reading various press releases.”
Garland has served on Baylor’s Council of Deans seven years and is familiar with many issues that dominate the campus. During the past 11 years he has been a Truett professor and administrator, he has become very familiar with seminary students, but he noted he wants to spend time with undergraduate students and to know them better.
He also praised Baylor’s graduates. “The alumni of Baylor University are incredibly devoted to Baylor University,” he said. “We absolutely need their support, and they should be proud of what has happened at Baylor University.”
Although Garland will remain dean of Truett Seminary, the seminary’s associate dean, Dennis Tucker, will take over day-to-day responsibilities there.
The length of Garland’s tenure as interim president has not been set, Batson said, estimating the search for the university’s next president could take from six months to two years.
“We’ll begin by looking at best practices” of the presidential searches conducted by Baylor and other leading universities, he reported. “You study the task to do the task.”
The search for an interim president took less than a month, and the regents did not have any conversation with Garland about the interim until after the search began, he said. The regents received about two dozen recommendations from various Baylor constituencies, and Garland’s was “one of the most-repeated names.”
Garland’s selection received praise from various groups affiliated with Baylor, according to a statement released by the university.
“Dr. Garland has many years of experience as a faculty member, both as a dedicated teacher and a respected scholar,” said Georgia Green, associate dean of the Baylor School of Music and chair of the Faculty Senate. “These faculty credentials, combined with his experience as an academic administrator, make him an excellent choice for this appointment.”
“I have every confidence David Garland will do an excellent job as interim president,” said Provost Emeritus Don Schmeltekopf. “At one level, he embodies the very best of Baylor’s tradition of the scholar-teacher. At another level, David understands fully Baylor’s unique challenge to be the top Protestant research university in the country. I know those who care about Baylor will rally to his support.”
“It is encouraging that we have such a fine person in David Garland to serve in this role,’ said Jeff Kilgore, executive vice president and CEO of the Baylor Alumni Association. “As he has done at Truett, I think David should do a fine job continuing to build consensus through a process of inclusion on campus. I look forward to working with him and hope that this appointment is indicative of what’s more to come for the Baylor family.”
Garland has been dean of Truett Seminary since June 2007. Previously, he was associate dean for academic affairs since 2001. He joined the Truett faculty in 1997 after teaching New Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., 21 years. He was named the William M. Hinson Professor of Christian Scriptures at Truett in 2005.
Garland’s wife, Diana Garland, is dean of the university’s School of Social Work. Together, they wrote Flawed Families of the Bible: How God’s Grace Works through Imperfect Relationships.
Garland has written 13 books, including commentaries on Matthew, Mark, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon and is working on a commentary on Luke. He has edited four books and is the New Testament editor for a revision of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary.
He is known as one of the foremost scholars of the Gospel of Mark. His commentary on 1 Corinthians won an Award of Merit from Christianity Today magazine. He has won silver and gold medallions from the Christian Booksellers Association.