Since June 1, 2017, Linda Livingstone has served as president of Baylor University in Waco, Texas. From deep in the heart of one Texan, she shares her background and thoughts on leading the world’s largest Baptist university. To suggest a Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated leader to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.
Where else have you worked, and what were your positions?
I previously served as dean and professor of management at The George Washington University School of Business from 2014 to 2017 and as dean of Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management from 2002 to 2014.
Before moving to Pepperdine, I was on Baylor’s Waco campus from 1991 to 2002, first as an assistant professor and an associate professor in the Department of Management before serving for four years as associate dean of graduate programs for the Hankamer School of Business.
Where did you grow up?
I am a native of Perkins, Oklahoma.
How did you come to faith in Christ?
I was raised in a Christian home, attending a small, Methodist church in Perkins.
When I was in sixth grade, I attended a lay witness mission that our church hosted. It was there that I heard the gospel shared in a way that made sense to me for the first time, and that’s when I accepted Christ as my savior. I was baptized shortly after that experience.
When I enrolled at Oklahoma State University, I began attending Baptist churches, starting with University Heights Baptist Church near the Stillwater campus. In college, I also was very active in Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Another important part of my spiritual development in college was working during the summers at Camp Soaring Hawk and Kanakuk, both located in southwest Missouri.
Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?
I played varsity basketball at Oklahoma State University, where I earned a Bachelor of Science in economics and management, a Master of Business Administration, and a Doctor of Philosophy in management and organizational behavior.
Why do you feel called to your particular vocation?
My appreciation for Christian higher education began to take root when I joined the Baylor faculty in 1991. I decided to start my academic career at Baylor in part because it is a Christian university and I had not been involved in Christian higher education up to that point in time. I really thought it would be a unique and special experience to do that.
And, of course, I left Baylor to go to another faith-based institution at Pepperdine. In both of these places, I came to appreciate quite deeply the value of Christian higher education. When I had the opportunity to come back to Baylor after being away for several years, I felt like this was really where God was calling me.
Please tell us about your BGCT institution—the breadth and nature of its work, including its mission, measures of scope, etc.
The mission of Baylor University is to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community.
Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas and affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), Baylor is both the state’s oldest institution of higher learning and the world’s largest Baptist university. As a servant of the church and of society, Baylor seeks to fulfill its calling through excellence in teaching and research, in scholarship and publication, and in service to the community, both local and global. The vision of our founders and the ongoing commitment of generations of students and scholars are reflected in the motto inscribed on the Baylor seal: Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana (For Church, For Texas).
Baylor is a nationally ranked research institution that welcomes students from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 89 countries to study a broad range of degrees among our 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.
We highly value Baylor’s strong and ongoing relationship with the BGCT and Texas Baptists as a faith-based institution of higher education with a Baptist heritage. Our two organizations are joined by the effort to enlarge the Kingdom of God and to empower Texans and Texas Baptists by educating men and women for leadership and service. From nominating denominational leaders to serve on our Board of Regents to providing unwavering and unequaled financial support for our students and academic programs, the BGCT has been an indispensable friend and a constant source of institutional strength for Baylor.
What do you like best about leading your institution? Why?
There are actually two things I love most about serving as Baylor’s president.
First, I love the opportunity we have to transform people’s lives, whether that’s the transformational education our students experience or the research our faculty members are conducting — research that is answering important questions and solving significant problems in our world.
Second, there are amazing people here at Baylor. We are blessed to have a faculty and staff who are deeply committed Christians and who love their work and are committed to our students and our institution’s mission.
What aspect(s) of your institution and/or its mission do you wish more people understood?
We are so well known for the quality of our undergraduate education and the quality of our undergraduate students.
One the other things we are excelling at that may not be as well known is the truly remarkable research our faculty members are engaged in. While we will certainly continue to emphasize and value the tremendous undergraduate experience that we create here, I do hope Texas Baptists and others across the nation will increasingly recognize the importance of the scholarly activities and research our faculty are contributing in a wide variety of disciplines, whether it’s in the sciences or the liberal arts or the professional schools.
Finally, as an institution, we a more diverse place than many people are aware of, especially regarding our students. Our students represent countries from all around the world as well as all kinds of backgrounds and experiences.
In addition, we have a significant population of students who are the first in their families to go to college, a group that we call First in Line.
Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing your institution.
Like other universities across the nation, we are keenly aware of the importance of affordability, especially as a private institution. We are endeavoring both to keep costs down and to find new revenue sources that aren’t as tied to tuition. Additionally, we are always increasing the scholarship opportunities available to students.
We also must continue to focus on the safety and well-being of our students. We obviously have had a unique situation over the past few years. We have made tremendous progress on Title IX-related issues, but we need to continue to ensure that our students get the support they need and that we have the right systems and processes in place.
Another major challenge facing Baylor is that, in light of our aspiration to be a tier-one Christian research institution, we need to ensure that we’re putting the right resources and infrastructure in place to support our faculty in their efforts as they perform in the classroom and conduct research.
Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?
I have had some really wonderful mentors in my career.
The provost of Pepperdine University during my time there, Darryl Tippens, significantly helped me in my first major administrative role as a dean, and he continues to be a good friend. Because he was an administrator at a Christian university, learning from him was helpful to my growing into a leadership role in Christian higher education.
I would also say that when I was at Baylor the first time, I had a department chair and a dean, Terry Maness, who saw in me the potential for a career in academic administration and encouraged me in that direction.
What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
Since assuming the Baylor presidency, I’ve been asked many times about my favorite Scripture verse or passage. One that keeps coming back to me is Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (NIV).
As I’ve walked around campus, I have found Micah 6:8 inscribed in a few places. I know the Lord is speaking through His Word. As I come into a new leadership role, it’s helpful to be reflective about the importance of grounding myself in justice, mercy, and humility.
Write and answer a question you wish we had asked.
“Would you tell us about your family?”
I have an amazing husband, Brad, who is a high school teacher and administrator at a local college preparatory school. He is teaching a class on World War II, which is his passion. And we have a fabulous daughter, Shelby, who is a senior at Rice University, where she plays varsity volleyball.