Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
As it struggles to move past a scandal over its handling of sexual assault on campus, Baylor University has hired its first female president.
Linda Livingstone, a management professor and dean of George Washington University's business school, will take over the top job at the private Baptist university on June 1. She'll replace David Garland, who has been serving as interim president since his predecessor, Ken Starr, was fired last year.
Livingstone previously taught at Baylor from 1991 to 2002 and served as associate dean of graduate programs at Baylor's business school for her last four years in Waco. She has also worked as an administrator at Pepperdine University.
She’ll take over a school that’s still dealing with a crisis. Last year, it fired its president, athletic director and head football coach after a university-commissioned inquiry found that the school failed to properly investigate numerous allegations of rape. At times, the inquiry found, the perpetrators faced little punishment, while the women who reported the assaults faced victim blaming and received little help.
The problems were especially pronounced on the football team. Baylor regents have said that 19 football players were accused or assault or rape since 2011. A lawsuit against the school said that football players committed 52 rapes in four years. The school is facing investigations by the Texas Rangers, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and the Big 12 athletic conference. Numerous lawsuits have been settled or are making their way through the courts.
In addition, a power struggle has dragged on at the school, with prominent boosters vying for the removal of some Baylor regents.
Livingstone acknowledged those problems Tuesday but said she was excited for the opportunity to help the school move forward.
"It is a real honor for me to have the opportunity to return to Baylor," she said in a conference call with reporters.
She added, "My personal faith and my commitment to Jesus Christ are really important in this process."
Livingstone said she had had in-depth conversations about the scandal with regents and administrators before taking the job. She asked them about their commitment to work through the problems while still striving to improve the academic standing of the school and the safety of its students.
"I go into this with eyes wide open about some of the continuing challenges that we need to work through," she said.
But Livingstone declined to go into detail about how she feels allegations of sexual assault should be handled at Baylor, saying "each of those cases need to be handled on a case-by-case basis."
"We certainly would take those cases very, very seriously and address them appropriately," she said.
Livingstone is no stranger to entering a prominent job during a time of tension. She took over as dean of George Washington's business school after its previous dean was ousted amid complaints of financial mismanagement.
And despite its recent struggles, Baylor has prospered in other ways. Prior to the scandal, the school’s national prominence was growing. Even with recent problems, the 16,000-student school continues to rise in national rankings. Livingstone said she hopes to continue that forward progress.
"There is a tremendous opportunity to build on what is already a strong foundation that the 14 predecessors of mine have built on and developed," she said.
As for being the first female president, she said she appreciates the significance.
"It is not the first time in my career I have been the first woman in doing something," she said, "so I can certainly take that on."
But Ron Murff, Baylor's board chairman, stressed that Livingstone's gender was not the reason for her hiring. School officials reviewed more than 400 possible candidates, he said, and interviewed 61 people.
"We wanted to be sure that we found the best leader and the best fit for the time that we are facing right now," Murff said.
The hope is that she will restore some calm to the school. And there were early indications that her hiring could have broad support in the university community. In a news release announcing the decision, school officials included a statement of support from Drayton McLane, perhaps the school's most prominent donor.
McLane, who served on the school's search committee, is a board member of a group that has called for the ouster of some Baylor regents. But he called Livingstone and her family "committed Christians."
"Dr. Livingstone has taught at Baylor and understands the Christian heritage which is so important to the University," he said. "I am very pleased with the outcome of our search and the strong leadership Dr. Livingstone will provide Baylor University.”
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