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New President for Embattled Baylor

April 19, 2017
 
 

Amid scrutiny and lawsuits concerning how it investigated campus sexual assaults and treated victims, Baylor University has named its first female president.

Linda Livingstone, dean of the George Washington University School of Business, will lead Baylor as its 15th president, beginning June 1.

The Baptist institution in Texas still has not recovered from a years-long scandal that revealed the university and its former head football coach covered up sexual assaults and other misconduct players committed. Last year, Baylor’s Board of Regents fired the coach, Art Briles, and the president, Ken Starr, resigned. A flurry of lawsuits has been filed concerning the university’s compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal law prohibiting gender discrimination.

“We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus. This investigation revealed the university's mishandling of reports in what should have been a supportive, responsive and caring environment for students,” Richard Willis, then chairman of the Baylor Board of Regents, said in a May statement. “The depth to which these acts occurred shocked and outraged us. Our students and their families deserve more, and we have committed our full attention to improving our processes, establishing accountability and ensuring appropriate actions are taken to support former, current and future students.”

In a phone call with reporters Tuesday, both Ronald D. Murff, the current chairman of the board, and Livingstone steered the conversation away from the controversy, focusing instead on the institution’s religious roots and the optimism over Livingstone’s tenure, whom the board approved unanimously.

Livingstone would not address sexual assault reporting specifically and refused to definitively say that a student found guilty of sexual assault should be expelled from campus. In May 2016, the board enacted comprehensive changes to both the university’s athletics department and its Title IX office, restructuring athletics to be overseen by the main university operations, and pouring more resources into the Title IX division.

“I do know there’s certainly a significant effort to do the right thing,” Livingstone said. “More work needs to be done, but everyone is really committed.”

She said she hopes to speak more deeply on sexual assault reporting in the coming months. During her interview process with the institution’s search committee, Livingstone asked about the pending lawsuits and investigations into the university, she said.

Despite the timing, Murff said, Livingstone was recruited not because of her gender, but because she was the best choice. Prior to her appointment at George Washington, Livingstone served as dean of Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management. Pepperdine, in California, is, like Baylor, affiliated with a religious denomination (and former Baylor President Starr was dean of Pepperdine's School of Law before he was recruited to Waco).

Livingstone taught at Baylor beginning in the early 1990s and was later named an associate dean of graduate programs for the Hankamer School of Business.

Around 400 individuals expressed initial interest in the presidency, Murff said. Baylor enrolls more than 16,000 students.

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