The Inauguration Of Kenneth Winston Starr, The 14th President Of Baylor University

October 5, 2010

On Friday, Sept. 17, 2010, before a welcoming and celebratory crowd in the Ferrell Center, Kenneth Winston Starr was officially installed as only the 14th president in the university's storied 165-year history.

After performances by the Baylor Symphony Orchestra, Wind Ensemble and combined choirs; the reading of Micah 6:8 by Starr's daughter, Carolyn Starr Doolittle; and the inaugural address by Yale law professor Stephen Carter, Starr was officially installed as president of Baylor University. His inaugural response is reprised here.

This is Constitution Day. On this day in 1787, the delegates to America's Constitutional Convention emerged from four months of intense debate. On that first Constitution Day, when asked "What kind of government have you given us?", the Convention's oldest delegate, Benjamin Franklin, famously replied: "A republic, Madam, if you can keep it." This is an enduring charge to "We the People," Americans blessed to live under the world's oldest constitution -- purified through the shedding of blood and the post-Civil War amendments that ended the scourge of slavery and renewed the promise of human equality.

To borrow from the elegant language of Baylor's founding generation, our Constitution was intended for "all ages to come." And so it has been. The story of America has been, in no small measure, the expansion of our constitutional republic, from those original 13 states along the Atlantic seaboard.

From the very beginning, education was seen as indispensable to a constitutional republic blessed with a government -- in Lincoln's immortal words at Gettysburg -- "of the people, by the people, and for the people." Both the Continental Congress in 1787 and the 1st United States Congress in 1789 enacted the Northwest Ordinance, which provided: "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." In the spirit of the Northwest Ordinance, westward and southward Americans came, generation after generation, founding along the way schools, colleges and universities. This is the American story.

Baylor University is part of that story. Our namesake is Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor, lawyer and judge. His family lineage was venerably English, including among his ancestors John de Balliol, founder of Balliol College, Oxford. Judge Baylor joined with two pioneering pastors to create an institution of higher learning in the newly independent Republic of Texas. From the very beginning, Baylor University welcomed young women -- we were co-ed before co-ed was cool -- and thus the legendary Sam Houston was drawn to the storied campus in the little village of Independence. For General Houston -- governor of Tennessee, United States Senator, hero of Texas Independence, and president of the Republic of Texas -- Baylor provided a welcome place for the education of his two daughters.

To Academy Hill and Windmill Hill on that original campus they came, the children of Texas pioneers. From Independence, on which our beloved four columns continue to stand and through which each summer march new members of that good old Baylor line, onward they came to the banks of the Brazos in our welcoming hometown -- the wonderful city of Waco. We celebrate today this living heritage of Texas' oldest continuing institution of higher learning. By God's grace, it has grown, it has prospered. But its mission has never changed. "Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana." For the church, and for Texas. We reaffirm that mission today.

We know why we are here. Pro Ecclesia -- for the church. For 165 years, Baylor has stood firmly in the Free Church tradition. Quintessentially American, that tradition is deeply respectful of individual conscience. For that reason, the Baylor tradition honors what Justice Robert Jackson eloquently called the one fixed star in our constitutional constellation: freedom of the mind. We seek truth, because we know that it will set us free. And we welcome everyone to the conversation of truth-seeking and discovery. This is the mighty vision of the Free Church tradition in America, a tradition that set its face against those early state establishments of religion in the New World. The tradition is powerfully exemplified by early Baptist Roger Williams, who -- seeking freedom -- fled from Massachusetts Bay Colony and launched Providence Plantation as a haven of religious liberty. With that tradition came an unyielding commitment to education, supported by communities of faith marching under the banner of freedom of conscience. It found early expression in the New World with the founding in 1764 of an institution I was privileged to attend -- Brown University in Roger Williams' Rhode Island.

From that New England soil of intellectual freedom came one of Baylor's three founders, Brown-educated pastor James Huckins. This deep intellectual and moral tradition likewise found culture-shaping expression at the American Founding, which we celebrate on this Constitution Day, with the profound influence of Baptist pastor John Leland on that young architect of balanced government, James Madison. Madison, the Founder who gave authoritative voice to our first freedoms embodied in the Bill of Rights, sat at the feet of a Baptist pastor steeped in the intellectual tradition of the Free Church. It is the voice embodied two centuries later in the "Letter from Birmingham Jail" from a Baptist pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., preaching the gospel-ordained message of individual freedom and human equality.

We know why we are here. Pro Texana -- for Texas, our beloved state which gave us birth and which now stands as a metaphor for the world. We reaffirm Baylor's unflagging commitment not only to Texas but to the entire world, to all of God's people. As the sweet song of our youth teaches, "red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight." With thanksgiving, we send our students and faculty not only to study but to serve in countries on continent after continent, and Baylor welcomes students and faculty from 73 countries to our beautiful campus. We are intentional in deepening that commitment to global living and understanding in what is already the Global Century. To that end, we are continuing to build our own global community here on the banks of that beautiful river that the Spanish explorers elegantly called the River of the Arms of God -- the Brazos.

We know who we are. Our mission is unmistakably clear: "to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community."

More than ever, the world needs Baylor University and the mighty impact of its enduring principles. For ours is a time of great challenge for higher education in America. Former Yale Law Dean Anthony Kronman writes, "[Cambridge and Oxford] brought the idea...that the purpose of a college is to shape students' souls." Dean Kronman continues: "Once upon a time, and not all that long ago, many college and university teachers...believed they had a responsibility to lead their students in an organized examination" of life's meaning. Professor C. John Sommerville, in his book The Decline of the Secular University, lamented: "Universities are not really looking for answers to our life questions." Harry Lewis, Dean Emeritus of Harvard College, in his book Excellence Without A Soul, tells us that the "role of moral education has withered." Dean Lewis charged that "universities have forgotten their larger educational role for college help them grow up, to learn who they are, to search for a larger purpose for their lives, and to leave college as better human beings." We lament this sense of loss and hollowness. But, as it turns out, the forces of relentless secularization have not truly triumphed. Nor has the reductionist thrust embodied in the statement adorning the office of one departmental chair of an Ivy League institution: "If you can't quantify it, it's not worth talking about." Quantification is vitally important to scientific inquiry and human progress, but it does not provide ultimate answers to life's enduring questions. For those answers, we must look, in the words of one of our favorite Baylor phrases, above and beyond.

Consider this report from Newsweek earlier this year recounting Harvard's inability even to agree upon a basic course in religion for undergraduates: "The Harvard faculty cannot cope with religion. It cannot agree on who should teach it, how it should be taught, and how much value to give it compared with economics, biology, literature, and all the other subjects considered vital to an undergraduate education."

This story is not unique to America's oldest institution of higher learning, whose early presidents were ordained ministers of the Gospel. It should thus come as no surprise that critiques of higher education are increasing in breadth and intensity. The modern academy is all too often seen as smugly remote and arrogantly aloof from the American people who support and sustain it. An unprecedented gulf separates the American people from their leading institutions of higher learning. Americans, after all, are people of faith. In a Supreme Court opinion, Justice William O. Douglas captured this cultural reality: "We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose the existence of a Divine Being." Public opinion surveys, including the ongoing work of Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion, confirm what we see all around us and which we draw from our proud history. 'From the language of the founding documents to Lincoln's Second Inaugural to modern-day presidential invocations of our Lord's blessing upon this fair land, we boldly sing as a free people: "God bless America, land that I love...." At Baylor University, we freely and enthusiastically sing that song.

In this environment of what our inaugural speaker, Professor Carter, has so aptly labeled "The Culture of Disbelief," Christian higher education has an increasingly compelling role to play. To draw from columnist and philosopher Carlin Romano, we are "one university, indivisible, under a coherent idea." To be sure, wide-ranging opinions on a rich variety of important issues swirl throughout the Christian academy. To put it mildly, Baylor is no stranger to debate. And may that always be so. After all, where two or three Baylor professors are gathered together, surely there will be at least four opinions for lively discussion among friends. But at Baylor, with its rich Baptist history which we honor and treasure, a happy consensus obtains on what we call our foundational assumptions, our core convictions and our unifying academic themes. In all our differences, there remains a form of "e pluribus unum" -- out of many, one. For many years, these unifying assumptions, convictions and academic themes have been boldly set forth in our description of what, in its richness and complexity, Baylor is at its heart. We say proudly, "Baylor's Christian heritage and identity shape and direct the university's entire mission." Consider these guiding principles that we proclaim as foundational:

That all truth is open to inquiry; 
That human life has a meaning and a purpose that is not simply a matter of human choice; That we are a created part of nature but have been given responsibility as stewards -- made in the image of God -- for its care and management; 
That we find the highest order of personal fulfillment in working constructively for the betterment of others, and that we have an obligation to do so; 
That human beings flourish best in a functional and beautiful physical environment and among colleagues who respect, love, forgive and support one another.

These guiding principles take concrete form in a rigorous core curriculum for our undergraduates, recently praised by a national study that gave the highest grade -- an "A" -- to Baylor's undergraduate course of study. Indeed, of 714 institutions of higher learning, only 16 -- including Baylor -- received this summa cum laude honor. We cherish -- and we shall preserve and deepen -- Baylor's generations-old commitment to a challenging core curriculum provided in a caring community of faculty, students and staff. Baylor is rightly renowned for superb teaching and mentoring, and those values will remain non-negotiably surpassing in importance. We care deeply about our students -- for their intellectual, spiritual and personal growth. This commitment to the whole student challenges us to integrate the life of the mind with opportunities for spiritual formation and leadership development.

We also remain committed to the noble human characteristic of discovery and inquiry. In the decades to come, we are called upon increasingly to do better as discoverers of truth. Not for the sake of worldly praise do we explore, but rather for the sake of our students and what they rightly demand of us -- and ultimately for the sake of the needs of humanity. With our gifts of intellect and curiosity, we are called upon to explore with energy and creativity. And thus we are morally bound to deepen our institutional commitment to discovery, of the ordinary as well as the extraordinary.

For decades Baylor has been a research university. That commitment to inquiry is ever more compellingly needed. We give thanks that our efforts have resulted in Carnegie's ranking of Baylor as a research institution with "high research activity." Our scientists and teachers are making important contributions in areas such as cancer research, water quality -- especially in poorer countries -- and avionics. Their faith is informing both the questions they explore and the way in which their knowledge is being employed to help our hurting world. By demanding that good research inform good teaching, we are actively involving our students in the discovery of new knowledge.

By way of a single but important example, we take pride in the fact that nearly one-third of all first-year Baylor undergraduates indicate that they want to pursue a career in healthcare. Many students will go on to become doctors, but others will be nurses, medical missionaries or researchers. Increasingly, medical schools demand that applicants have serious undergraduate research experience. Students who, as undergraduates, have engaged in the discovery of knowledge are more competitive for medical school admission and perform better once there. And other fields likewise call for research. It is routine across the Baylor campus to find our undergraduates in research labs, studios or classrooms, interacting with our faculty as co-discoverers. The enormous amount of time that Baylor faculty devote to their students in this manner serves to prepare them to enter the professional community as scholars in their respective disciplines. And thus one of our core convictions is this: "Facilitate the discovery of new knowledge to the glory of God and the betterment of humanity." We want to produce the next generation of lawyers, pastors, academics, scientists, business people, entrepreneurs and service professionals who will be leaders -- from the laboratory and hospital to the boardroom to the courtroom to the classroom and to the pulpit.

Even as we count our many blessings and treasure Baylor's special call to be that metaphorical "city on a hill," our beloved university has not been immune from the winds swirling around American higher education. In particular, rising costs have deeply affected our extended Baylor family. So much has been accomplished over the generations as Baylor has grown and prospered, but in recent years -- including this year -- tuition levels have continued to rise. We give thanks that Baylor is recognized in national college guides as a "Best Buy." But that is small comfort to so many caring families and deserving students whose dreams include coming to this beautiful campus for the transformational experience that is Baylor University. As a moral imperative, we must address the fundamental question of the rapidly escalating cost of higher education.

To that end, as my inaugural initiative, we are launching "How Extraordinary the Stories: The President's Scholarship Initiative." We are now reaching out to the extended Baylor family -- alumni, parents of alumni, and friends around the country and, indeed, around the world. There must be a new way. Let's call it the Baylor Way. That way is characterized by our mission -- one of creating and fostering "a caring community." My proposition is simple and very direct: The entire Baylor family must come together to address this crisis. It is no longer an issue simply for families, struggling alone in an uncertain economy, or for governments at all levels grappling with budgetary challenges of the highest order. This is about our more than 140,000 living alumni, our countless friends, and members of our immediate community right here in Waco. This will remain among our highest priorities in the decade now unfolding. I humbly but urgently invite your support.

Other priorities will be laid out in the weeks and months to come. But along with addressing the cost of higher education, we have another overriding call to action: to engage the entire Baylor community in planning for Baylor's future. As 2012 looms near, it is time to celebrate our achievements of recent years and begin to shape our future. Our fervent commitment to shared governance within our university community calls for faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends to participate in this important process -- a process that will be led by our distinguished provost, Dr. Elizabeth Davis. We know why we are here. We know who we are. But we must now discuss how Baylor's influence is to be felt in the lives of the students we serve, in the community in which we are blessed to live and in the hurting world we seek to serve.

This is Baylor University in the year of our Lord 2010 and in the year of America's Independence 234, the oldest constitutional republic in the history of the human race. Like America at its best, Baylor is a welcoming, caring place. As each of you were welcomed today, so too this university welcomes one and all in the spirit of warm hospitality, and with the fervently embraced conviction that it is better to know than not to know. May God bless America on this Constitution Day, and may God bless Baylor University both now and -- as our Founders envisioned in 1845 -- for "all ages to come." Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana. This motto has endured for 165 years. It inspires us now, this day, and may it inspire all those in that ever-growing good old Baylor line in the ages to come.