New Face in Pat NeffTruett 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 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
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
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
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
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
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.