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Summer 2002
Baylor Alumni

New Face in Pat Neff

Truett Seminary dean takes reins as Baylor's interim president

Baylor Line: As interim president, what is your understanding of the role that Baylor's Board of Regents hopes you will play?

Interim President David Garland: Even though I'm called "interim," I still function as the president, so I don't think I'd do anything differently than any other person who would be sitting here. It's quite different from being an interim pastor. I have the same set of duties as every other president Baylor has had; they aren't interim duties. I am also continuing to serve as dean of George W. Truett Seminary, so there have been a challenging number of responsibilities.

Baylor Line: What are your priorities as interim president?

Garland: What I see as the priorities are enrollment management, making sure we get the best possible students here. And that is tied in with a focus on growing our endowment, so we can offer more scholarships to those students. If we are going to accomplish the things we want to accomplish, then we definitely need a larger endowment. We spent more than $100 million on student scholarships last year. We need to continue to increase that amount. I was down in Houston recently meeting with people, and those are the priorities that I shared with them and would share with any Baylor graduate.

Baylor Line: I understand that the opportunity to become interim president came as a surprise to you when it occurred in late August. What has been the most challenging aspect of moving from the dean’s office at George W. Truett Seminary to the president's office since then?

Garland: It did come as a surprise. Someone broached the topic as I was leaving to catch a flight from the airport and was a bit late. At that time, I said that I would think about it. Then some time passed, and I didn't hear anything about it. So I thought the topic had been dropped. When I was told in August about the interviewing process, it was a second surprise. As interim president, it's been very helpful to me that I have been at Baylor for some time and have served on the Faculty Senate, the University Tenure Committee, and the Council of Deans. Plus, I am very familiar with Baptist context; it's part of my DNA. So I wasn’t coming into something completely new and different. Certainly, I have moved into a job with larger responsibilities.

As dean, I oversaw around four hundred students. Now I'm dealing with 14,541 students. However, the nature of my responsibilities as president is not entirely different from that of my past responsibilities. And the other thing that has helped is the excellence of our administrative staff. In spite of all the conflict that we've been going through, Baylor has been doing extremely well, and I think that's attributable to an outstanding staff, faculty, and student body.

Baylor Line: What are the things that have most excited you about serving as interim president, the things that get you up in the morning?

Garland: I really enjoy meeting the families of our students, as well as alumni and supporters across the state. When I visit with people, they are so encouraging and positive and responsive. Baylor is about these kinds of relationships, and the people connected to Baylor are just wonderful people.

Baylor Line: One of the books you have co-authored with Diana, your wife and dean of Baylor's School of Social Work, is titled Flawed Families of the Bible: How God’s Grace Works Through Imperfect Relationships. As you assess the imperfect relationships that have troubled Baylor in recent years, what lessons or themes from your book do you see as most applicable?

Garland: I think God's grace always works through imperfect relationships. Otherwise, you wouldn't need God's grace. Our book doesn't move from the stories to a lesson; it just tells the stories and lets them speak for themselves. However, the lesson I would take from my experience at Baylor is that it's extremely important that we treat each other with respect and care. That's how I deal with people, and I hope they will return that. There will always be differences, but what's important is the way we handle those differences. We will argue—that is an intrinsic part of the academic life—but we should be able to argue like Christians. There is always the danger of arrogance when people determine that they have the only correct view.

We need to be sure that everything we do has the best interests of students at heart. We should never penalize students. I’ve been concerned by people who say they are withholding financial support of Baylor to wait and see what happens, because that penalizes students.

Baylor Line: What does the size of Baylor’s student body—14,541 students this fall, the largest overall enrollment in university history—say about the worth of a Baylor degree and Baylor's cost relative to other universities?

Garland: Everywhere I go, I find young people who really want to come to Baylor. This is where they want to go for college. The demand for a Baylor education is high because what we offer is unique. This is an academically rigorous school with a Christian commitment. That combination creates a unique and attractive atmosphere. At Parents Weekend, I encountered parents from Connecticut and San Francisco who were not connected to Baylor, but what caught their attention and the attention of their children was this combination.

Three weeks ago, I was at a church and ran into a prospective student who scored very high on his SAT, which precipitated schools like Stanford and Harvard inviting him to apply. He told me he had no interest in those schools. He was going to Baylor, end of story. And I've seen that again and again. The biggest issue for many people is cost, and that's why I think the availability of student scholarships—funded by generous gifts—is very important.

We recently received the results of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) for 2008, and they paint a very positive portrait of how our students feel about their experience at Baylor, with the scores in all areas improving from first-year students to seniors. The longer our students experience all that Baylor has to offer, the more they value it. And in the categories of "Student-Faculty Interaction," "Enriching Educational Experiences," and "Supportive Campus Environment," Baylor's scores are higher than our peer institutions.

Baylor Line: For alumni who have been out of Baylor for several decades now, how would you describe today's Baylor students? What are some of the characteristics that have remained the same over the years, and what has changed?

Garland: I am astounded at the breadth of our students' involvement in different activities. They are obviously committed to their academic work, and then they will be in various student activities along with social activities. I am particularly amazed at their interest in service—what they can give to other people. I think that has been a theme that runs through generations of Baylor students, and it is certainly very strong today. The kind of person who is attracted to Baylor today is probably not very different from those who were drawn to study here in the past. They have a Christian commitment, so they have an interest in serving others, and they are very interested in their academics.

The diversity of the student body, of course, has changed dramatically over the last four decades—particularly during the last decade. This is wonderful because our world is diverse, and if we are going to train people to live and serve in our world then they need to have had that experience of diversity. Forty-one percent of our freshmen are persons of color. Many schools nationwide, and even statewide, would love to achieve that number.

This also speaks to Baylor's relative affordability as a private school compared to other institutions of higher education. We are able to help students from a wide variety of backgrounds to achieve their dream of a Baylor education. And, again, I would stress that despite the conflict that Baylor has experienced in recent years, the school is experiencing great success. This success during a challenging stretch of time is largely the result of the foundation that has been laid by previous administrations. It is a very solid foundation.

Baylor Line: With Baylor being significantly dependent upon tuition for its revenue, this fall's large enrollment is good news. But what is being done to build the university's endowment to provide a steadier foundation for Baylor's growth?

Garland: We are always pursuing a variety of initiatives and encouraging alumni giving. I can't think of a better place to invest your legacy than Baylor University. That is one of the things we need to convey far and wide. A gift to Baylor is something that will have an impact for generation after generation. If you create a named scholarship or a named academic chair, that will be around for as long as Baylor University exists. If you want to continue your values and make an impact in the lives of students, then a gift to Baylor makes a lot of sense.

Baylor Line: In light of the current turmoil with the U.S. economy and Baylor’s relatively modest endowment, when compared to other research universities, what are the prospects of achieving some of the more costly aspects of Baylor 2012, such as hiring and developing more active scholars to Baylor's faculty and creating outstanding new academic programs?

Garland: Let me begin my answer by saying that it's not that the faculty before Baylor 2012 were not scholarly. And I would also contend that there is not a disconnect between research and teaching. Research feeds teaching, and teaching feeds research. To me, the two go together. It just so happens that research increases external prestige. The reality is that we have a particular institutional perspective, and we want to be competitive in the arena of ideas—not just abdicate it to secular universities. The reality also is that growing our faculty and our academic programs is costly, and once again that makes the importance of financial support very obvious.

I want to emphasize that our aspirations to develop the scholarly profile of our faculty do not come at the expense of providing outstanding teaching to our undergraduate or graduate students. The Ann Millers and Robert Reids—and other legendary Baylor teachers—are still here today in spirit. Among our faculty are some absolutely tremendous teachers. They are also very active scholars, and their scholarship enhances their teaching abilities. I recently had a dean who told me he is awed and humbled by the outstanding teaching done by the new faculty that he had hired. That has been my experience at Truett. As dean, I have wanted to bring in people who were better teachers than I am, to keep strengthening the school.

Baylor Line: What are the two or three most important things that alumni can do right now to help Baylor University?

Garland: When I talk with people at alumni meetings, I tell folks that the primary things they can do, in good conscience and with the expectation of long-lasting results, is to financially support Baylor and to encourage prospective students to come to Baylor. Let us know about potential Baylor students in your community, so that we can recruit them. Alumni naturally want to give back to Baylor what Baylor gave to them, and I encourage them to turn that inclination into specific actions. We can all be very proud of Baylor University.

This interview with Dr. David Garland, interim president of Baylor, was conducted on November 6, 2008, by Todd Copeland.

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