Q&A With Alumni Elected Regent Candidate Katie Jo Baumgardner Luningham

by Shelby Pipken | April 18, 2018
There are six candidates in the running for this year’s Alumni Elected Regent election. We had the honor of interviewing each candidate in an effort to better understand their desire to become a Baylor University Regent, as well as their experience at Baylor as both a student and alumni.

Why do you feel called to be a Baylor University Regent?

Since the day I stepped foot on Baylor’s campus, I have been involved in leadership of Baylor in one capacity or another. As a Student Government Senator, I lobbied for the addition of a Student Regent to the Board because I thought the Board would benefit from direct student interaction and input. As a Baylor Ambassador, I lobbied for student access to educational funding (like the Tuition Equalization Grant Program in Texas and increased Pell Grant funding at the federal level) to help make Baylor more affordable for students. 

Now, as a young alumna, I want to continue giving back to Baylor by bringing the voice of my generation to the Board. Much like my push for a Student Regent position, I think the Board would benefit from the inclusion of a young Regent who can speak to the priorities, challenges, and “big picture” issues facing the younger generations of the Baylor Nation. 

My personal and professional experiences make me uniquely suited for this role. I graduated from Baylor and Notre Dame Law School, thus receiving my formal education from two of the nation’s premier Christian institutions of higher education. I am the daughter of two community college professors, the wife of a PhD student (and soon-to-be professor), and the sister to a Baylor University senior. Professionally, I have spent my legal career practicing higher education law at an AmLaw100 firm, where I specialized in litigation, regulatory compliance, and First Amendment issues. In 2015, I wrote an academic article on Title IX detailing the rapidly changing legal landscape of federal regulatory guidance; this article won a national writing award administered by the Library of Congress. 

In sum, I understand the significant legal climate surrounding institutions of higher education; the concerns of young Baylor alumni and current students; the perspectives of faculty governance and graduate education; and the importance of maintaining a strong institutional Christian identity. I bring a distinctly different and well-rounded perspective to the Board of Regents: that of a young alumna and legal professional who is deeply integrated into the world of higher education and committed to seeing Baylor’s presence solidified as one of the top Christian institutions of higher education in the world. I feel called to serve as a Regent because I want to use my gifts to serve the Baylor family and work with President Livingstone to fulfill the vision and mission of Baylor.

How is the mission of Baylor University unique?

Baylor is a place where the institutional mission is more than just a statement—it is a culture. As a young person looking at colleges, I was drawn to Baylor’s faith-based academic environment because I could sense the caring community from the moment I began speaking with students and professors. I met lifelong friends and mentors at Orientation, during Line Camp, and in the first weeks of my freshman year. During my time at Baylor, I thrived in an educational environment that focused on faith and learning. This is the true rarity of Baylor’s mission: a sincere commitment to all aspects of human flourishing and growth. 

Like many Baylor alumni, I am committed to upholding Baylor’s mission and values because I am a product of Baylor’s mission and values. My Baylor education gave me the tools for success in law school and in my legal career, and my personal growth at Baylor shapes my faith and relationships today. My commitment to Baylor’s mission is a large part of what led me to pursue this Alumni-Elected Regent position. 

What was your experience like as a student at Baylor?

I could talk for hours (or write pages) about my time at Baylor. It was a wonderful student experience: my time was filled with deep friendships, incomparable mentorship, stellar academics, meaningful spiritual growth, and unparalleled experiences on campus and around the world. As a Baylor Regent’s Gold Scholar and a University Scholar, I was actively involved in the Honors Residential College, where I served on the HRC Board of Trustees. I credit Baylor’s Great Texts Department and, outside of the classroom, the University’s Institute for Faith and Learning’s Crane Scholars Program for providing an opportunity for me to grow as a young Christian scholar. In addition to my academic pursuits, I was an elected Student Government Senator all four years at Baylor, I was active in the Bear Pit, and I served as the External Vice President of Baylor Ambassadors. I also studied abroad in Southeast Asia and with the Baylor-in-Maastricht program, visiting twenty-five different countries by the time I graduated.

In short, my Baylor experience had a little bit of everything—I grew academically, spiritually, and emotionally. I met my husband at Baylor, convinced two siblings to follow me to Baylor, and continue to “fling my green and gold afar” wherever I go. I couldn’t be prouder to be a Baylor Bear, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunities and experiences Baylor gave me. 

What have been the most encouraging changes at Baylor over the last few years?

Personally, I think the governance changes and efforts to increase transparency are particularly encouraging. I am grateful for the opportunity to run for an Alumni-Elected Regent position, which would not have been possible even two years ago. As I noted above, I also spent several years in Student Government lobbying for the creation of a Student Regent position, and I take great joy in the fact that there are now two Student Regents that sit with the Board. 

From a legal perspective—which is the perspective I associate with most significantly—the most encouraging changes are certainly the investment and commitment in Baylor’s compliance with federal law. The regulatory and compliance burdens on institutions of higher education are significant—even more so in the last few years as this regulatory landscape has been shifting. We should take heart in the immense changes Baylor has implemented in an incredibly short timeframe. That being said, I want to be clear: Baylor has made mistakes, and there have been institutional shortcomings highlighted in the last couple of years. But our response has been to shine a light into the darkness, and to make the necessary changes to redress these problems. For that, Baylor should be commended. 

Finally, I think President Livingstone’s goal of increasing Baylor’s academic research profile is particularly exciting. As a National Merit Scholar in high school, I chose Baylor because of the University’s commitment to supporting top-tier academic talent. The second phase of Baylor’s Pro Futuris vision doubles-down on that commitment by outlining a strategic plan to draw top undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty to our institution. I strongly support the clear focus on academic growth and scholarship that is evident in Pro Futuris, Illuminate.   

What strengths would you bring to the table as an alumni-elected Regent?

To highlight my answer to Question #1, my legal experience as a higher education lawyer gives me an in-depth perspective on University governance. My legal training is in higher education law: I spent years navigating the legal issues facing institutions of higher education and advising clients on issues ranging from accreditation to Title IX compliance to federal financial aid audits. As an Alumni-Elected Regent, I would not serve as legal counsel to the University, but my previous work with other colleges and universities of all sizes means I am cognizant of the myriad of legal, practical, and public relations hurdles that today’s universities face as they build for the future. In short, I fully understand the process.

I also believe it is a strength to be a fairly recent graduate from Baylor. I hear, and can identify with, the voices of young alumni surging through the Baylor Network, the Baylor Line Foundation, on social media, and in conversations with my peers. It is time they had a voice on the Board, and I believe I have the experience and the expertise to speak for them. 

4 thoughts on “Q&A With Alumni Elected Regent Candidate Katie Jo Baumgardner Luningham

  1. Katie Jo is correct—the Board of Regents needs a younger voice. Katie Jo has a wealth of experience that makes her an excellent candidate!

  2. I am so excited to see a younger candidate so passionate about being involved in Baylor’s future, not to mention someone in my own graduating class and a woman! It definitely paves the way and redefines what the face of leadership looks like at Baylor, and is inspiring to many others who want to be involved in the university’s future but don’t feel they have the life experience of other regents. Our generation can make a difference and be a valued voice in the future of our beloved school and I am proud that she is seeking to represent our university from the perspective of a young alumna.

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