By Lindsay Ellis
Baylor University selected its first woman president to lead the Baptist university as the embattled private college faces a federal investigation and lawsuits connected to how it handled sexual assault allegations on campus.
Linda Livingstone, dean of the George Washington University School of Business, will begin at Baylor in June, the university announced Tuesday. The business education leader has written and spoken about the advancement of women throughout her academic career — which she began in Waco as a Baylor management professor in 1991.
The university’s selection concludes a 10-month transition period. Former president Ken Starr stepped down last June after an outside firm found that his administration and athletic coaches covered up reports of sexual assault. Football coach Art Briles left his post later that month, too, acknowledging “serious shortcomings” in how the football program responded to reports of sexual assault by athletes.
Since then, regents have acknowledged that 19 football players had been accused of assaulting 17 women since 2011. A separate lawsuit alleged that 31 football players committed 52 rapes between 2011 and 2014. The federal Department of Education initiated an investigation in October into whether Baylor broke a civil rights law that requires universities protect students against gender-based violence, harassment and discrimination. The Texas Rangers later opened a preliminary investigation into the school, and its accreditors are monitoring the university’s compliance with student safety and athletics standards.
Livingstone acknowledged that Baylor’s last year has been a “difficult time” for the university. She said Tuesday that she worked to understand the lawsuits and existing investigations to take the job with her “eyes wide open.”
She pledged that the university would abide by state and federal guidelines. “Beyond that, though, we are going to do everything we can to ensure that we provide a safe and healthy environment for all our students,” she said.
Still, when asked by a reporter, she refused to take a position on whether all students found responsible of sexual assault should be expelled from the university, a policy some private universities have moved toward in recent years.
“I think each of these cases has to be handled on an individual basis,” she said.
Hiring signals ‘a change’
Board of Regents chairman Ronald Murff called Livingstone “the best leader and the best fit … for the time we are facing right now,” citing her service on a public company board, her academic background and leadership as a woman.
Annette Burrhus-Clay, executive director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, said she was encouraged by Baylor’s new leadership.
Livingstone’s appointment as the first female president signals “that they’re looking for some kind of change,” she said. Still, she added, “I’m hoping that the Board of Regents wasn’t doing this as window dressing, that they’re serious about this issue,” she said.
After earning her doctorate in management and organizational behavior, Livingstone moved to Waco to teach management at Baylor. There, she served as a member on a committee promoting “sexual equality,” according to her r e su m e. Later in her career, she would speak at s ev e r a l w o m e n’ s leadership f o r u m s and wrote editorials called “Leveling the Playing Field for Women Executives” and “Successful CEOs Get Women in the Game.” She spoke at the White House on expanding business opportunities for women in 2015.
She was Pepperdine University’s business school dean before moving to lead GW’s school in 2014. She will be Baylor’s first female president since the school was chartered in 1845.
‘Met all … requirements’
Baylor hired executive consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles, based in Chicago, to help it find Starr’s successor. The firm said in a position profile that it sought a “mature, unapologetic, yet growing Christian leader” with financial savvy, communication skills and the desire to lift academic standards.
The document didn’t mention the campus tumult, but it asked that applicants have “experience in ‘crisis management’” and “can lead with decisiveness as well as sensitivity and transparency and has the courage to address the tough issues.”
Alumni served on the search committee with faculty, administrators, regents and a student.
Murff said Livingstone will “take us to higher heights” and would bring Baylor’s “family together.”
His statement is perhaps a nod to a growing activist alumni group called Bears for Leadership Reform, which has pressured Baylor’s leadership to disclose more information about the scandal. High-profile alumni including former Gov. Mark White and billionaire Drayton McLane, whose name is on the football stadium, lead the group.
McLane served on Baylor’s search committee and said he was “very pleased” with Livingstone’s selection in a statement provided by Baylor.
Livingstone, he said, “met all our requirements. She, her husband and their family are outstanding, committed Christians.”