Last week we had the opportunity to ask the Alumni-Elected Regent Candidates five questions. Today, we bring you an additional three questions. These questions may be a little more challenging, but also provide a deeper look into each candidate and what they would bring to the Board of Regents. The questions, and their answers, are below.
Based on your experiences, what do you believe are the biggest challenges facing governing Boards of higher education institutions today?
The cost of higher education is, in my opinion, the single biggest challenge facing Boards of higher education institutions. The cost issue arises not only in terms of helping students afford to attend college but also in terms of helping students deal with loans taken out to pay for college. I received loans to help pay for college, but the overall cost to attend college at that time was much lower. Those loans were manageable after I graduated. Today, the high costs of attending college force students to utilize larger and larger loans to pay for those costs. Those costs and loans are both a challenge for students and a challenge for institutions of higher education.
Each Board of higher education institutions faces the challenge of maintaining the unique culture of that institution, while adapting to or dealing with changes in society (including, importantly, technological changes), changes in government policies, and changes within higher education generally.
Finally, technology presents unique challenges to higher education. What impact does online learning have on higher education generally? What role should online learning play within a university? Does online learning compromise or compliment the university model? These are questions that institutions of higher education must try to answer.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing governing boards of colleges and universities is the selection of the best, most competent leadership for the institution to resolve the many and varied problems the institution faces while simultaneously striving to achieve excellence in its academic and extra-curricular activities. This requires finding that unique person who has great communication skills and the judgment needed to earn the respect and loyalty of its faculty, students and alumni. It means finding a president of the institution who sincerely believes that open, candid transparency is required. I believe Dr. Linda Livingstone has these qualities.
It is also a major challenge for a university to appropriately balance priorities between its academic and athletic activities to assure success in each while staying true to its mission. The governing board has the ultimate responsibility to monitor and oversee that the leadership of the university is complying with enforcing policies that have been approved by the board. No department or division of the University should be allowed to operate on its own without adequate and continuous oversight.
It is self-evident that the financial management of a university is critical to its ultimate success and ever survival. The board must evaluate and approve tuition rates, faculty and staff salaries and wages and a budget that involves many important and complex matters. The challenge is to have a board comprised of individuals who have had sufficient experience to evaluate and decide such issues.
Governing boards of universities must meet and comply with Federal Regulation Title IX requirements to control and eliminate sexual assaults on campuses. The question is how? Baylor’s well-known “Pepper Hamilton Report'”‘ proposed 105 things to be done to assure compliance. While each recommendation has been implemented, Baylor’s Governing Board continues to face the challenges brought about by the much publicized reports of alleged sexual assaults that have occurred on and off its campus. Other governing boards are facing the same challenges.
Katie Jo Luningham:
As I noted in my Baylor Line Foundation Q&A, my regulatory compliance background makes me very aware of the difficulties institutions face. A study done by Vanderbilt University estimates that the true cost of compliance to higher education, as a sector, is approximately $27 billion per year. Institutions like Baylor may spend more than 15% of their annual budget—an estimated average $146 million per year—in total compliance costs. Other studies suggest that educational institutions are in real financial trouble. So, based on my experiences and on these numbers, I would identify two significant challenges facing governing boards today: (1) navigating the changing compliance and regulatory landscape of higher education, and (2) ensuring the financial sustainability of an institution.
Given the high stakes of non-compliance, it is critical that boards take responsibility for their role as the governing body. Although it is not the place of a board to interfere in the day-to-day governance of a university, the Board largely sets the tone of institutional priorities. The Board must have systematic accountability checks in place because they are, ultimately, responsible for ensuring that the institution complies with all state and federal legal requirements. At the end of the day, a Board that prioritizes compliance will pass along that focus to the individuals working for the University, and those individuals will also be dedicated to compliance. I believe that setting a tone of “best practice” compliance permeates the entire campus culture and has real impact on an institution’s daily practices.
Relatedly, the Board is the overall, primary financial steward of the institution. This requires a focus on both the immediate governance items (e.g., current tuition rates, faculty and staff salaries and benefits, financial aid) and future items, like planning for the forthcoming needs of an institution. The burden is a difficult one to balance: how do we make a Baylor education affordable and accessible while also providing a safe, Christ-centered, high-quality, comprehensive educational experience for current and future students? And how do we do this in an intentional way that aligns Baylor’s resources with our unique institutional priorities and safeguards the University’s financial security for future generations of Bears? A robust strategic plan is critical. Innovation is essential. A strong endowment is key. Engaged administration, students, faculty, staff and alumni are necessary.
A strong Board results in a strong University, and there is no shortage of challenges facing boards today. However, based on my experience, a governing board can overcome these challenges of accountability by focusing on (1) demonstrated “best practices” by University leadership in the day-to-day operations of an institution, and (2) safeguarding and ensuring the financial sustainability of the University.
In the day in which we live and serve, I believe governing boards face many challenges, especially boards of higher education. A great challenge is transparency and openness of the proceedings and workings of the board. Many boards have allowed a spirit of exclusivity and legal paranoid angst to totally paralyze the board from the very ones they are charged to serve and protect. The Baylor University Board of Regents must be above this debacle and the spirit which permeates therein. Legal counsel should provide boards with sound, yet knowledgeable and even liberal understanding regarding openness, transparency and communication. “Tell the Truth and Trust the People” …a good phrase to guide governing boards in transparency.
A second major challenge is a lack of diversity found on many higher education governing boards. Diversity in vocation, gender, politic, ethnicity, and societal standing makes for a stronger board. Finally, a governing board in higher education need not micro-manage the administration, nor blindly follow. A system of checks and balances, proper analysis, adequate funding, prayer, support, and open dialogue with much listening needs to be a priority between members of the board, administration, and other parties within the system such as students and alumni.
The challenges facing governing boards of higher education institutions can be quite intimidating. Keeping pace with the technological and informational explosion which has taken place over the past 20 years is a formidable task. The biggest challenges facing governing boards are:
- Staying on the leading edge of technology, science, and medicine in a world where advancements in those disciplines are developing at the speed of light;
- Creating, fashioning, and modifying degree plans and preparing students for changing job markets that are constantly transforming;
- Developing new methods of teaching and new curricula which are more interactive and self-guided;
- Coping with the complexities of federal student financial aid, federal funding and federal regulations;
- Being proactive in all areas of compliance with federal laws and regulations;
- Providing first class educational programs and experiences;
- Performing the necessary research and development required of a top tier university; and
- Doing all of the above in a manner that provides affordable student access to a first class Christian educational experience.
The greatest challenge a board faces is to stay true to its mission. Baylor University’s mission is to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community. This well-founded, distinctive, long-standing and noble mission must be the focal point of institutional decision making.
Universities have three pillars—students, faculty and alumni. Even universities with sound resources have limited resources. Allocating these resources to best serve students, faculty and alumni remains a significant challenge for institutions. Students are the life blood of a university. Delivering an exceptional undergraduate experience is a must. Keeping costs affordable to insure that students and their families are not unduly burdened with debt at graduation is a perpetual challenge. Attracting faculty who inspire, mold character and serve as life examples is critical. Maintaining great teaching and balancing this imperative with facilitating leading edge and meaningful research represents yet another challenge. Keeping alumni engaged and connected with the university is also of significant importance.
Student safety is essential. Today, it is not enough to simply have resources in place to assist students with health and well-being. Universities must also educate students and train faculty, staff and administrators in understanding and implementing correct and effective responses to any student safety issue. Without question, adherence to the provisions of Title IX is vital.
Growing an institution wisely and effectively is also a challenge. Increasing offerings in online education and expansion of research endeavors provide opportunities to extend a university’s reach and influence and represent worthy goals. Effective implementation of such objectives is critical so that new initiatives do not detract from foundational strengths.
Developing and maintaining political capital allowing a strong and effective voice in Austin and Washington is a continuing challenge. Just last year, universities were faced with a new law taxing certain endowments. Vast numbers of students are dependent on student loan programs to enroll in universities. The political landscape today is as unpredictable as ever. Staying informed and being able to effectively navigate an ever changing political landscape represents a significant challenge.
Conference affiliation remains a real challenge for universities, particularly for small and mid-sized schools. A seemingly never ending arms race in athletic facilities and coaching salaries also presents unique challenges.
What Board best practices would you bring to your service on the Baylor Board of Regents?
Any best practices brought to the Board must reflect Baylor’s mission. We can learn a lot from best Board practices of other universities. However, what might be considered a best Board practice for universities in general might not be appropriate for Baylor. With those comments in mind, the best practices which I personally value are the following.
Regents should be more accessible to the Baylor Family. One immediate step is to make current biographical information for each Regent available on Baylor’s web site. This information could include committee memberships for the Regent as well some insight into the Regent’s view of his or her role on the Board. As discussed in the next question, there should also be regular and continuing dialogue between Regents and the Baylor Family.
The Baylor Family is growing more numerous and more diverse each year. There is strength in both the number and the diversity of the Baylor Family. A best practice for the Board should be to ensure that the process through which Regents are selected draws on the entire Baylor Family to select outstanding Regents willing to humbly serve Baylor and its mission.
Baylor has a number of strengths. One example is our pre-med, pre-dental and nursing programs. Baylor also has areas for improvement. I believe that while an organization can benefit from working on areas in which it needs improvements, an organization must constantly work on its strengths. So, a best practice for the Board would be to enact initiatives to further promote and improve Baylor’s strengths.
Finally, a best practice for the Board should include the preservation of the Baylor culture. The Board must be intentional about protecting the Baylor culture and passing on that culture to future members of the Baylor Family, including Boards of Regents. The mission of Baylor is part of a greater purpose – God’s Kingdom. It is a mission for all believers whom God calls to Baylor, whether they are students, faculty members, administrators, employees, or Regents. It is a mission for all people who are willing to serve Him. People of all ethnicities. People who are not wealthy and people who are. People who are gifted students and people who sometimes struggle in class. Baylor must always be institution committed to higher education and equally committed to God’s Kingdom.
I would bring long experience in how governing boards operate. As past president of the State Bar of Texas and the International Academy of Trial Lawyers and as Chair of the Baylor Scott & White Hospitals’ Central Texas Operating System and the Chair of the Baylor Scott & White Central Texas Operating System’s Foundation I have appointed and worked with many board committees.
The board “best practices” should include the participation of each individual board member on at least several board committees and attendance to other board committee meetings to the extent possible. The board has by-laws that provide some rules and restrictions on what a board member can and cannot do and say. The term “best practices” involves operations that are subject to discussion, classification and change. I would bring considerable experience in the governance and management of boards to my continued service as a board member. I will be diligent as a board member to help assure that each committee is functioning efficiently and in accordance with policies approved by the board.
I would bring a clear-eyed understanding of and commitment to governance best practices. I assisted in board trainings as a young attorney, putting together workshops and presentations for new board members at our client institutions. Because of this preparation, I am mindful that all Board members should uphold and preserve the mission of Baylor; abide by and honor the Bylaws of Baylor; adhere to the required processes and procedures for governing; avoid any actual or perceived conflicts of interests; and maintain the confidentiality of the University. Trustees also have a duty to protect academic freedom and safeguard the role of faculty in academic and governance matters. I would bring an understanding of, and a commitment to, all of these governance best practices in my service on the Baylor Board of Regents.
Alongside my practical governance knowledge, I would also bring a faith-centered leadership perspective; a spirit of collegiality; and a caring heart for Baylor faculty and staff, old and young alumni, current undergraduate and graduate students, and prospective members of the Baylor Family to the job. As required by the Board’s Statement of Commitment and Responsibilities, I would also solicit input from a broad campus constituency to ensure that I am engaging in informed strategic planning and decision-making.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the “best practices” learned from my mother. My mother ran for the Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees at the age of 28, and served as an elected Trustee of her alma mater for 18 years. I watched her lead the largest public undergraduate institution of higher education in the state of Kansas for the vast majority of my young life. She and my father taught me to serve when called, to lead by example, and to face challenges head-on. In short, we must follow the commands of 1 Corinthians 16:13-14: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” From my mother, I learned the importance of having a faith-centered, servant’s heart—and a backbone of steel to stand up for what is right.
I believe I would bring a servant heart, a listening ear, and a willingness to make tough decisions. A governing board member must be available and committed to the institution with no hidden agenda. Board members must be willing to remove selfish desires and preconceived ideas all while making often complex decisions with utmost integrity. On numerous boards I serve or have served in the past, my desire is and has been to be the most informed board member possible, committed to the task of faithful service with a humble spirit.
The men and women who serve Baylor as regents are asked to safeguard the mission and heritage of Baylor, to provide strategic direction for the institution, to collaborate with the University leadership and faculty, to assess resources needed to accomplish goals and to support the University mission. The best board practices which I would offer to the Board of Regents would be the following:
- A willingness to serve in any leadership or committee role under the direction of the Board;
- A commitment to the mission, purpose, and core convictions of Baylor University;
- A promise to support and evaluate the executive leadership of Baylor University;
- A pledge to implement policies to ensure effective planning and vision for Baylor University;
- To monitor and strengthen the programs and services of the University;
- To ensure that Baylor University is a good steward of its financial resources and that there is adequate funding to accomplish its programs and services;
- To work proactively to certify that Baylor is in compliance with state and federal laws and guidelines;
- To filter all decisions through the core values and convictions established by Baylor University; and
- To maintain transparency and open communication to the students, faculty and alumni of Baylor University.
In accomplishing these practices, I offer a life-long history of being a part of Baylor University. I also offer to Baylor University 34 years of experience being involved in a broad-based, county seat trial law practice in which I have handled a multitude of issues, a plethora of problems and fashioned a vast number of solutions. I am willing to listen, learn, study and work.
I also bring to the table an urgent desire to work proactively, rather than reactively. With the pace at which this institution must adapt, it is essential that we work diligently to stay in front of the demands imposed on it. If we can avoid the traps and pitfalls, we can avoid the entanglements which deter this great University from running the race that it has been called to run. In short, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And that one ounce of prevention or one pound of cure must be delivered earlier rather than later. We want to work ahead, rather than behind the issues we face.
Our family has three generations of Baylor graduates, each of whom maintains a love and respect for the institution and its mission. While it’s certainly not comprehensive, having perspective as both an alumnus and a Baylor parent provides some sense of where the University has been and where it is going.
I served for eight years as a Trustee of the Lubbock Independent School District. The district served some 28,000 students and their families, comprised over 60 campuses, employed over 3,500 persons and had an annual budget in excess of $200 million. This work required developing a knowledge and understanding of school finance, personnel decisions, curriculum development and effective communication with parents and taxpayers.
Transparency is an integral component of leadership. Baylor has undertaken changes in its governance procedures which have significantly improved transparency within the board. All board members are encouraged to attend all committee meetings. All board members may participate in executive committee meetings. Certain aspects of board service require confidentiality and non-disclosure. President Livingstone, Chairman Allison and the board as a whole are continuing efforts to improve communications with Baylor’s many and diverse constituencies.
It’s critical that Regents remember that they serve the Baylor Family. I remember as a freshman being part of a small group of Baylor students Judge Abner McCall addressed at First Baptist Church one Sunday evening. A man who uniquely balanced incredible brilliance with an equal measure of humility, Judge McCall noted that in his storied career at Baylor, staff and faculty had a tendency to believe that they worked for him. He paused in his delivery, making eye contact with each of us. “That’s not correct,” he said. “In reality, I work for the faculty and staff. I work for you and your families.” In that moment we observed a living illustration of servant leadership, who remains a stellar example for today.
The Baylor experience not only educates students, but also inspires them to embrace their calling in committed Christian leadership. This model is incredibly effective and uniquely distinctive. More than anything, I want Baylor to be able to provide these same opportunities for its present and future students.
What are the most important ways University leadership can provide opportunities for dialogue with the Baylor Family?
In the context of this question, I include the Baylor Board of Regents and the Baylor administration within “university leadership”.
Regents should be regularly interacting with Baylor’s constituents – its students, its faculty, its administration, and its alumni. Being a Regent is an ongoing relationship, not just with Baylor as an institution but with the people that make up the Baylor Family. For a relationship to grow, there must be continuing dialogue, and in those conversations, each party to the relationship must intently listen to the other parties. I believe the Board should establish additional programs to foster conversations within the Baylor Family. And, the Board should constantly explore new ways to further that dialogue. This might mean that groups of Regents regularly meet with Baylor alumni. Also, it might mean that groups of Regents meet regularly with leadership of the Baptist General Convention 0f Texas. The key is to have intentional and continuing conversations between the Board and the rest of the Baylor Family. Dialogue with the Baylor Family is not something that should be delegated to the Baylor administration. Rather, Regents should personally participate in the dialogue with the Baylor Family
Dialogue with the Baylor Family must also be a strategic objective of the Baylor administration. The Baylor administration cannot effectively lead Baylor without that dialogue. The Baylor administration must be tasked with developing and implementing a plan for that dialogue, and the Baylor Board of Regents must hold the Baylor administration for having an effective dialogue with the Baylor Family.
In each case, dialogue with the Baylor Family must involve listening to the Baylor Family. Obviously, there are many things which University leadership knows which the Baylor Family does not know. Yet, the dialogue must not be a one-way dialogue – the University leadership talking to the Baylor Family. University leadership must listen to the Baylor Family, and there must be systems in place to allow the Baylor Family to speak to University leadership and to allow University leadership to listen to the Baylor Family.
The Board of Regents is now allowing more open board meetings and it has engaged a staff of professionals whose job responsibilities include the dissemination of information about what the Board is doing as it works to earn the trust and respect of our alumni.
It is very important to be open and transparent about University leadership’s response to the sexual assault allegations made against the University.
The University needs communication between both supporters and critics. Few problems in life can be resolved without talk and discussion between the parties.
Dr. Livingstone is engaging alumni and friends of the University in offcampus Conversation Series events. In advancing Baylor’s Academic Strategic Plan she has conferred and met with deans, department chairs, and faculty from Baylor’s 12 colleges and schools, but there is only so much she can do. Some have asserted that “best practices” precludes Regents from discussing the Board’s activities and decisions and that only the Board Chair can speak for the board. I will continue to seek amendments and clarification of the “best practices” board rule if it prevents Regents from actively soliciting and responding to questions and concerns from our alumni and the entire Baylor family. The Baylor Board of Regents should continue to ease restrictions on what each individual Regent can say or do so long as the Regent does not purport to speak for the entire board.
There are strong differences of opinions among groups of our alumni about how and why Baylor has responded or not responded to a number of issues and the Baylor Board and leadership should be available for open and frank discussion about these matters consistent with their fiduciary duties to the University. In summary, the University leadership should continue to actively encourage communication with Baylor alumni and the Baylor family.
The most important way University leadership provides opportunities for dialogue is by intentionally seeking out input from the Baylor Family. As noted in the Guidelines for Board Operations, strengthening and facilitating communications between the Board and the University administration enhances good Board governance. I believe this principle can be extended to strengthening and facilitating communications with the larger Baylor Family as well. Effective governance requires an understanding of the needs of different campus constituencies—faculty, staff, student, alumni, parent—as well as an understanding of the administration.
But, in order to effectively communicate, University leadership must convey a sincere willingness for discourse that makes people comfortable engaging in that dialogue. I think Dr. Livingstone’s Presidential Perspective series and the Baylor Conversation Series are making great strides in this area. Personally, I find it very encouraging that Dr. Livingstone’s scope is a nation-wide tour because this provides a crucial opportunity for the Baylor Family outside of Waco to engage with University leadership.
It is also important that we focus on increasing membership and participation in the Baylor Network—the Parent’s Network, the Women’s Network, the Young Grads’ Network, the Black Alumni Network, etc.—and the Baylor Line Foundation, and other Baylor-centric organizations across the nation. I would hope every Baylor alum can—and will—get connected to a group of Baylor alums in his or her geographical area. I believe that forming relationships within our home communities and engaging in fellowship with other Baylor alumni will naturally foster dialogue and action within the Baylor Family. University leadership can, in turn, meet with these constituencies and provide opportunities for dialogue between leadership and the Baylor Family.
Overall, the importance of dialogue, communication, and alumni engagement cannot be overstated; it is critical that University leadership actively seek out and engage in open, honest, respectful discussions with the Baylor Family about our University, its mission, and its future.
Baylor regents and administrators must be more committed than previously to intentionally dialogue with ALL of the Baylor family. We must take off our green and gold glasses and realize Baylor has suffered much in the last few years. Our reputation has been tainted from those who never knew us, to our most faithful alumni as well. In my opinion Baylor has not done an adequate job of timely updates, reports, and open dialogue with students nor alumni. I believe we have seen some changes in the last year (the alumni elected regent for example), but the Board must be willing to do even more in open conversation with all interested parties. A variety of dialogue tools must be incorporated.
The Baylor Line Foundation, Bears for Leadership Reform, Baylor Lariat, and Baylor Magazine must all be utilized in communication and dialogue. Timely and updated minutes from Board meetings and committees should be available as soon as possible. More listening sessions with our administration as well as board members should be ongoing. WE ARE FAMILY AND TRUST CAN BE RESTORED. Open doors, open meetings, open minds – All needed as we press forward.
It is extremely important for University leadership to keep open lines of communication between students, faculty, and alumni. Lack of effective communication between leadership and students, faculty, and alumni neglects these three very valuable resources to the development, support and improvement of Baylor University. A lack of transparency and communication leads to disunity that adversely affects Baylor’s advancement. It is vitally important that the leadership of Baylor University be open and transparent.
Without transparent lines of communication, students, faculty, and alumni feel disenfranchised and disconnected. Open communication allows everyone to be a part of the process. Transparent communication must be maintained in gathering information to make important decisions, to communicate the conclusions made and to test rationale behind the judgments.
A method to provide more transparent communication with the board may lie in employing a similar process utilized in school boards, city councils, and governmental agencies across the state. Perhaps we should consider having regular open forums instituted with procedures by which alumni, faculty, and students may communicate directly with University leadership.
Simply stated, communication and transparency are very important elements of Baylor’s future. Moving forward, we must put into practice effective methods through which meaningful communication and exchange of ideas and concerns may occur. This promotes healing and unity, both of which are vitally important to the future of Baylor University.
The first step in effective communication is an honest assessment of a relationship. Without pointing fingers or casting blame, the truth is that much of the Baylor Family views University leadership in something less than a positive light as a result of the institutional trauma Baylor has experienced in recent years. Frankly, it would be difficult for a university to have scripted a more destructive narrative than Baylor has endured. Baylor is a resilient institution, and its support is strong and broadly-based. However, we must acknowledge that emotions and feelings among more than a few Baylor constituents range from disenfranchisement, anger and embarrassment to heartbreak and apathy. Our primary goal must be to restore unity to the Baylor Family.
Joel Allison and Linda Livingstone understand this, and they have been dutiful, conscientious, tireless, inclusive and effective in their efforts to bring much needed healing to the Baylor Family. We have work to do yet, and it’s much too large a task for two people. They deserve and need our whole-hearted support.
President Livingstone has been on the job almost one year. She is an indefatigable leader and a capable administrator. No stranger to difficult questions, she has answered each one straightforwardly. She communicates regularly with students, faculty and staff with a substantive email entitled, Presidential Perspective. Dr. Livingstone and Board Chair Allison are completing a series of conversations with the Baylor Family at multiple cities across the country. Those unable to attend one of these in person may access recordings of them on the Baylor website.
Good things are happening at Baylor. Let’s continue the dialogue. We have every reason to believe Baylor’s best days are ahead.