In April 2017, when it was announced that Linda Livingstone would become the first woman president of Baylor, the school was facing six Title IX lawsuits, a federal Title IX investigation, an NCAA investigation and an accreditation agency warning.
Her predecessor had been fired after a law firm hired by Baylor to investigate the school’s response to sexual assault allegations found “fundamental failure” in Baylor’s Title IX implementation and a football program operating “above the rules.”
This year, as Baylor has battled controversy over attempts by an LGBTQ student group to be recognized, Livingstone named Nancy Brickhouse ‘83 as provost, Baylor’s chief academic officer; and the Baylor Board of Regents, the official governing body of the university, chose Jerry Clements JD ‘81 of Austin as its chair.
That marked the first time in Baylor’s 174-year history that women have held the top three posts at the school.
We spoke to the three leaders about what the moves say about Baylor and how the school’s course might be different going forward.
Why 174 years?
All three leaders, noting that women have traditionally lagged men in attending college and getting an advanced degree, said that to some extent it simply took time for enough qualified women to emerge for top leadership roles.
“I think that it’s just sort of the right people with the right skills arose as these opportunities arose again this time,” said Livingstone. “We had the right people in the right place to move the university forward in the way that we wanted to.”
“In many respects, it’s sort of a generational thing,” said Clements, noting she was one of a small number of women in the country to lead large law firms when she took over as chair of a firm in Dallas in 2006.
“It just took a while to get women into the pipeline, and now I think after the passage of some amount of time, the women that got into that pipeline that had desires to be in various leadership roles have risen up through the ranks and served their time,” she said.
What does it say about Baylor?
The leaders agreed that their ascension shows Baylor is open to hiring in its top jobs the people who are most qualified.
“I do certainly also recognize that as a Baptist institution, there’s a lot of symbolism to the fact that we have three women in leadership roles,” said Livingstone. “And it certainly matters to our constituency — particularly our female students and women alums and female faculty, but I think it matters to others as well — that it sends a message that Baylor is going to put people in leadership based on their skills and qualifications and not other qualities.”
Said Clements: “We will continue to see women, minorities, anybody that’s disqualified can step into a leadership role, and that’s a great thing to see, frankly.”
Part of a larger trend?
This moment at Baylor is seen as somewhat coincidental, on the one hand, but also as part of a larger trend of women gaining more leadership positions around the country in academia, politics and business.
“I do think that there is a receptivity to women’s leadership that hasn’t always existed, and perhaps also women wanting more and more to pursue some of those leadership roles,” Brickhouse said.
Said Livingstone: “The fact that organizations and even voters seem to be open to more diversity in some of the choices they make, I think that’s good for society, it’s good for our institutions and I think it makes us stronger when we’re looking at the full range of qualified people for a position.”
All three leaders said they don’t feel a burden of greater expectations simply because three women now hold the top posts — largely because they expect so much of themselves.
“The only pressure that I feel is that I want to be a successful leader so that we can continue to make Baylor even greater than I think it already is,” said Clements. “I spent 12 years leading a law firm, so you sort of get over that at some point in time and then you just get the job done and don’t worry about that sort of thing.”
The leaders said Baylor’s course will be charted more by the school’s strategic plan than by the fact that women are leading the school.
“The thing that may be a little different is that when you have women in leadership, other women — and men — can see that, and see the capabilities that women have for leadership,” said Brickhouse. “And so, it may well provide more opportunities for other women to take on similar roles.”
Jerry Clements JD ‘81 of Austin, the 2019-2020 chair of the Board of Regents, the official governing body of Baylor University. She was elected to that post by the board in May 2019. Clements, a Baylor lawyer of the year who was named one of the 50 most influential women lawyers by the National Law Journal, is chair emeritus of the Locke Lord law firm, which has its origins in Boston and Dallas.
Linda Livingstone Ph.D. was named by the regents as Baylor’s 15th president, and the school’s first female president, in April 2017. She previously served as a dean in the business schools at George Washington and Pepperdine universities, and as a tenured faculty member and associate dean at Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business. Livingstone earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from Oklahoma State University.
Nancy Brickhouse ‘83 Ph.D. was named provost, Baylor’s chief academic officer, by Livingstone in February 2019 and started in May. A tenured professor of education, she previously served as provost at Saint Louis University, a Jesuit research university in St. Louis, and in leadership posts at the University of Delaware. Her master’s and doctoral degrees are from Purdue University.
3 women leaders: How common?
The latest American College President study by the American Council on Education found that in 2016, 30 percent of college and university presidents were women, up from 26 percent in 2011.
(We also checked with the American Association of University Women, the Association of American Colleges & Universities, the American Association of University Administrators
Timeline: Women firsts at Baylor
1845: Baylor is chartered, about 10 years before any public institution of higher learning would introduce mixed-gender learning.
1972: Donna Denton ‘48 is named Baylor’s first female vice president.
June 2017: Linda A. Livingstone becomes Baylor’s first female president, succeeding Ken Starr, who had been removed in May 2016. She took over as the school faced six Title IX lawsuits, a federal Title IX investigation, an NCAA investigation, an accreditation agency warning and an upcoming Big 12 Conference review.
Article: “Meet 24 Baylor women who have made their marks on the world of education”
Article: Waco Tribune-Herald: “Livingstone named 15th Baylor president, 1st female president in school’s history”
Video: President Linda Livingstone on “One Brand, One Baylor”
Podcast: Nancy Brickhouse on becoming provost