From the President (Spring 2014)

May 1, 2014

Every year, the Baylor family pauses early in the spring semester to look back across the seventeen decades of our institution’s glorious history. On a very special day, we gather in community to celebrate that historic first day of February--in 1845--when Baylor University was chartered by the Republic of Texas.

We call this annual day of commemoration Founders Day. It is a special time on campus. Decades removed from that historic moment on America’s southwest frontier in still-independent Texas, we lift up the lives of our three principal founders--Judge R.E.B. Baylor and pastors William M. Tryon and James Huckins. The year prior to Baylor’s founding, Pastor Huckins reported that the Texas Baptist Education Society of the Union Baptist Association had set forth an ambitious vision: To establish "a Baptist university in Texas upon a plan so broad that the requirements of existing conditions would be fully met, and that would be susceptible of enlargement and development to meet the demands of all ages to come." That bold nineteenth-century vision was rich with hope and promise. That vision continues to guide us to this day.

This year, we were honored to present the Founders Medal to beloved Baylor graduates Harold and Ann Peebles Cunningham, whose steadfast commitment to Baylor has been long and unwavering. Their living legacy not only includes highly generous financial support of our students, but embraces Harold’s sacrificial service--after a distinguished career at Arthur Andersen--as Baylor’s vice president for finance and administration; vice president for special projects; and finally as acting president. The Cunninghams’ inspiring dedication to Baylor will benefit generations of Baylor students. For that enduring gift, Baylor Nation is deeply grateful. Harold and Ann are truly deserving of this high honor--the Founders Medal.

Outstanding leadership

It is a blessing to serve alongside a group of remarkably talented and dedicated leaders, who in turn consider it a great privilege to serve Baylor University at this time in our long history. Among our leadership team is Provost and Executive Vice President Elizabeth Davis, PhD, who, after 22 years at Baylor, will become president of Furman University on July 1. We have been abundantly blessed by Dr. Davis's skillful leadership as our provost, which included overseeing the widely participatory process that gave rise to Pro Futuris, our inspiring strategic vision.

As an alumna herself, Elizabeth brought a deep knowledge and love of Baylor to her daily labors. We are confident that she will bring the best of Baylor to her tenure as Furman's 12th president. Our prayers and warmest good wishes go with her and the beautiful Davis family.

This is now a historic occasion for our campus community as we seek our next chief academic officer. Dr. Todd Still, The William H. Hinson Professor of Christian Scriptures at Truett Seminary, has graciously agreed to chair the Search Committee for Dr. Davis’s successor. In conjunction with a leading executive search firm, the Committee will conduct a global search, seeking out superbly qualified candidates and thoroughly assessing their academic credentials, leadership potential and commitment to Baylor's unwavering Christian mission. After appropriate consultation with the Board of Regents, I expect to select the next Provost from among a group of finalists identified by the Committee. We are asking for God's grace and wisdom as we move forward to identify our next academic leader.

During this time of transition, Dr. David Garland has kindly agreed to serve as interim provost. Dr. Garland, The Charles J. and Eleanor McLerran Delancey Chair of the Dean, Truett Seminary, has served the seminary as dean since 2007. During David's tenure, the seminary has recruited a remarkably talented faculty and seen its enrollment grow. Dr. Garland's reputation as an outstanding New Testament scholar and highly skilled administrator firmly committed to Baylor’s distinct mission led the Board of Regents to appoint him interim president in August 2008, a position he held until June 2010. Dr. Garland, who will provide outstanding leadership during this interim period, will not be a candidate to fill the permanent position. For David’s sacrificial service, we are most deeply thankful.

Baylor in Washington, D.C.

Baylor University has long had a significant presence in Washington, D.C. Our University has produced numerous federal legislators and other public servants. Many of our graduates live and work in our nation’s capital; they gather together regularly through groups such as the Baylor Women’s Council of Washington, D.C., and the annual summer Poage-Mayborn Washington Internship Program.

Today, Baylor’s influence is dramatically growing in our nation’s capital as we seek to make a lasting difference in the world. Earlier this semester, I had the great pleasure of accompanying a group of Baylor students and faculty members to Washington for a week of meetings and events. Highlights of the trip included continued academic discussions with Baylor partners Georgetown University and the world-renowned Gallup Poll; meetings with prominent legislators; hosting a roundtable discussion on American foreign policy and faith-based organizations; the annual meeting of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, on whose board I am privileged to serve; and attending the National Prayer Breakfast headlined by President Barack Obama and other national leaders.

Our students met with more than a dozen legislators, including Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, our own Representative Bill Flores and other members of the Texas Congressional Delegation. They worked hard to encourage continued support of the Pell Grant program, federal research funding and expanding student work-study opportunities.

This deep engagement in national issues is close to my heart. In March, I authored a guest column for USA Today on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, the landmark statute at issue in the closely watched Hobby Lobby case, which began being argued in the Supreme Court on March 25. On March 24, our focus on this topic continued when, as part of our ongoing On Topic series, I had a lively conversation with former Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz. The program took place over lunch in the Willard Hotel Ballroom in Washington as part of a larger symposium that Baylor co-sponsored with Georgetown University.

In these efforts, Baylor continues to live out its historic commitment to religious liberty for all persons, everywhere around the globe, and to apply our knowledge and capabilities to help a hurting world and advance our Christian mission.

Philanthropy of Alumni and Friends

In March, Baylor officially announced the two most successful years of fundraising in our University’s long history. This outpouring of generosity, which began with the launch of the football stadium initiative, has, by God’s grace, continued unabated. For this blessing, we give abundant and heartfelt thanks.

The numbers tell one part of the story. In fiscal year 2013, approximately 24,000 donors gave nearly $174 million to programs, faculty, student scholarships, facilities and other essential areas, including just shy of $1.4 million given by faculty, staff and retirees. Those extraordinary, record-shattering figures include more than 6,200 first-time donors who decided to come alongside the University with their financial support.

The other part of the story is what those numbers mean. This philanthropy, provided by so many individuals and designated to a wide variety of purposes, has one overarching objective--to provide our students with the transformational Baylor education that will prepare them for worldwide leadership and service.

It is essential always to remember both the needs and the promise of our wonderful students. So many have stood where they now stand, young men and women at the doorstep of bright futures, full of ambition and possibility, searching for their calling and eager to make a difference. Each gift by members of the Baylor family supports, in some way, these hopeful hearts and dedicated servant leaders who will one day return to help make possible this dream for another generation of Baylor Bears.

The psalmist said, "It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord" (Ps. 92:1). Today, we express our profound gratitude for the many blessings evident across our beautiful campus--blessings made possible through the dedication of our faculty, the accomplishments of our students, the generosity of our alumni and friends, and the sterling character of our nineteen intercollegiate athletic teams. The work of impacting our world and educating tomorrow’s leaders is performed on our campus daily and in myriad ways. Ours is a solemn duty, but it is also a joyous and richly rewarding duty, for it is all to the glory of God and to advancing the work of the Kingdom.

Ken Starr