Leadership & Governance

How Baylor’s First Female President Plans to Move Past the Sex-Assault Scandals

May 22, 2017

Baylor U.
"There’s clearly been a lot of training and a lot of education" at Baylor recently, says Linda Livingstone, its next president, "which then leads people to understand what they need to be doing differently."

Almost a year after a sexual-assault scandal rocked Baylor University and toppled its leaders, the lawsuits keep on coming. One filed last week by a student who said she was raped by football players serves as the latest evidence that the scandal’s fallout won’t abate anytime soon.

What will change: The university will soon get its first female president. Linda A. Livingstone, dean and professor of management at the George Washington University School of Business, will become the Baptist university’s leader on June 1.

In May 2016, the law firm Pepper Hamilton found that almost everything that could be wrong with Baylor’s treatment of sexual assault was wrong, resulting in the departures of the then-president Kenneth W. Starr and the football coach, Art Briles.

Some alumni and donors want more change and transparency from university leaders, and say they’re tired of feeling like the scandal just won’t go away. Ms. Livingstone said she’s confident the university can move past the parade of bad news.

In an interview with The Chronicle, Ms. Livingstone discussed some of the challenges she’ll face when she’s at the helm of the university. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. There’s been a steady trickle of scandal coming out Baylor — from the Big 12 Conference announcing it would withhold 25 percent of future revenue distributions from the university until a review finds it compliant with Title IX requirements, to other lawsuits. How could have those incidents been prevented?

A. As we’re working through these ongoing investigations with some of the entities you talked about — OCR, Big 12, NCAA — the university is working closely with those entities. It also extended its cooperation, giving complete access to the information.

You mentioned the Big 12. They are looking at auditing whether or not the school has completed the 105 recommendations that came out of Pepper Hamilton findings. This summer the university will be presenting an audited report to the Big 12 of those findings.

Those 105 recommendations have been structurally completed. There will be a written audit that both internally audited at Baylor and also externally audited before we submit it to the Big 12, and the Big 12 will review, audit that, and that documentation will be made public. I think those are the kinds of things that we have to do.

We have to be very open with what we’ve done, what we’re doing going forward, what we need to work on to ensure that the culture changes. We have to rebuild that confidence that we’re doing the right things. And that we’re doing what we say we’re going to do.

Q. You said that there should be some cultural changes on campus. What would those changes look like?

A. There’s clearly been a lot of training and a lot of education which then leads people to understand what they need to be doing differently.

Reporting these incidents has changed dramatically. People are much better educated on who they should report to, both students as well as faculty, staff, and coaches. When we hear that something has happened it can be addressed very, very quickly so that individuals with complaints can be worked with appropriately.

There’s also been dramatic changes in the Title IX office and the kind of support they provide, the way they do investigations. There’s been changes in the counseling center so that victims get the right kind of support, not just with these adjudication issues, but the support to work through traumatic situations that have long-term effects on victims.

There’s been tremendous work to address the issue from the beginning, to reduce the incidences of sexual-assault violence with the goal of eliminating them.

Q. How do you plan on handling these incremental incidents or lawsuits that happen every few months? There was one last week. There probably will be other incidents surrounding the scandal this upcoming academic year.

A. One of the 105 recommendations dealt with restorative remedies for the victims, and these cases have come forward through this process.

Those restorative remedies for each victim vary pretty significantly. Certainly these lawsuits are part of that process. It’s a fairly long process to work through, to deal with the victims in the appropriate way and provide support through very, very difficult and painful circumstances.

As we work through these restorative remedies — whether they are handled through the legal system or in other ways — the goal is that victims are supported, that the remedies work knowing these issues that affect people for their lifetime.

Q. The group Bears for Leadership Reform still advocates that the university should have gotten a full written report of Pepper Hamilton’s findings, and it’s asked the regents to hold open meetings. How do you plan on mending relationships with the group?

A. One of the things I’m going to be doing is meeting with a lot of people affiliated with Baylor. That involves people on campus like faculty staff and students. I’ll also be spending a lot of time with our alumni base, donors, and friends of the university. We’ll hopefully rebuild some of those relationships.

Q. Do you think that because this group has organized in an unusual way, as an independent nonprofit, that they merit a special tactic to mend that relationship?

A. All of our alumni and all of our friends at the university earn our willingness to listen. We’ll find appropriate ways to do that.

We talk about the Baylor family. In families we have a lot of fun, but we also sometimes have really difficult and painful experiences. You don’t always agree among family, but the reason people have responded so strongly to these things, in part, is because people have really deep connections to Baylor. There’s a great care and concern and passion for the university. We can build on that love, care, and concern to get to a much, much better place.

Q. Why do you think that Baylor this past year has had trouble moving past the Pepper Hamilton report, and the sexual-assault scandal that rocked the campus?

A. Anytime you have a traumatic experience on campus — and there are many examples across the country, unfortunately — these are not easy issues to deal with. You can’t fix them overnight. They take a tremendous amount of energy over an extended period of time to address, particularly when you have legal issues involved. I don’t think it’s surprising that it’s going to take time to address the issues.

The university is a different place than it was a few years back. Then you’ve got to then see results from that. People have to see concretely that situations, the culture, the behavior has changed. That is happening, and we will continue to tell that story. Over time it will make a difference. You certainly don’t work through these very difficult circumstances easily or quickly.

Q. What did you think when you found out you would be the first woman to lead the university?

A. I have been the first woman in other situations. I go into this situation confident that we can be successful, but also recognizing that as the first woman in the university’s history there’s a tremendous opportunity to set examples for women faculty, women students, the alumni base. Independent of gender, you’re in these leadership roles because of your background and doing everything you can to move the university forward. I’m humbled that I was selected to lead the university in this next stage of its life.

Q. What do you think of the speculation that Baylor sought out a woman to soften the university’s image after the sexual-assault scandal?

A. The search committee interviewed a wide variety of individuals with experience, male and female candidates from education, from business, from the government sector. I am confident that their selection was made based on the qualities of the individual, independent of gender or other issues. It was a difficult process given all that the university is going through. I know they were very serious about the process, to find the right person with the right qualifications.

Fernanda Zamudio-Suaréz is a breaking-news reporter. Follow her on Twitter @FernandaZamudio, or email her at fzamudiosuarez@chronicle.com.