From all indications, the Baylor University announcement Tuesday that Linda A. Livingstone, dean and professor of management at the George Washington University School of Business in Washington, D.C., will become Baylor’s 15th president is worthy of both celebration and hope, however restrained. Not only is she respected as a scholar and administrator, she’s also a strong example of a recent vow by the regents to increase diversity at Baylor, including in leadership. Given that many alumni, donors and even state lawmakers have targeted Baylor leadership over BU’s ongoing sexual-assault scandal, this can’t hurt. She becomes the university’s first female president in its 172-year history, though regent Chairman Ron Murff says her leadership abilities and credentials are what won her the board’s unanimous approval for the post, not her gender.
Livingstone also would seem to offer an understanding of management in both academic and business settings. This might well address a concern by those who speculate that some regents have tried to manage Baylor more as a Fortune 500 company than as an institution of higher learning where intellectual freedom and spirited debate are not only inherent but readily encouraged. Her expertise in accreditation issues will no doubt greatly benefit Baylor as well.
She also has key experience at Baylor to help her better adapt to this sometimes unwieldy Christian university of nearly 17,000 students, having previously worked there for more than a decade. From 1998-2002, for instance, she served as associate dean of graduate programs for Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business. That said, a major challenge for Livingstone will be learning how much Baylor has changed in potential and growing pains, something hinted at during Tuesday’s teleconference interview with the press when she noted BU’s academic progress, transformative building program and the ability of its athletic program to consistently compete.
Livingstone also would seem to offer a knowledge about college athletics not always found in university leadership. During her student days at Oklahoma State, she was a four-year letter-winner on the women’s basketball team (1978-1982) and was named a “Big 8 Scholar-Athlete” in 1982. Husband Brad played basketball at Oklahoma State as well. This might lend her some relevant insights given that Baylor’s athletic program — particularly its football program — has taken a beating in how sexual-assault complaints against players were handled or not handled. Do Livingstone’s days at Washington and Pepperdine University before that, plus her athletic background, promise ways to shatter the insularity in such programs that can breed sexual violence?
Tuesday’s announcement invites a healthy skepticism. For all the potential Livingstone obviously offers, the past three permanent BU presidencies have ended in removals over a dozen years. And while regent chair Murff is correct to note that in each case these removals involved different mixes of regents, the concern is a fair one that will test both the board of regents and the new president as they face alumni frustrated in trying to understand what has befallen their university and who’s to blame. For that, only transparency in all this can bring any real and consequential healing.