Ken Starr on becoming a Baptist!
- Here's a link and the interview yesterday with Ken Starr:
A new Baylor chapter: Q and A with Ken Starr
Tuesday February 16, 2010
Hours before the appointment of Ken Starr, 63, as Baylor University's 14th president was formally announced, the former Whitewater special prosecutor and dean of Pepperdine University's School of Law met with Tribune-Herald staff writer Tim Woods, senior editor Bill Whitaker and editor Carlos Sanchez for his first exclusive interview since his selection to head Baylor. Dary Stone, chairman of the Baylor board of regents, also sat in on the interview.
During the interview, Starr discussed how he wound up a candidate for the Baylor presidency; his plans beyond the 10-year Baylor 2012 vision statement; how his Church of Christ background might play at the world's premiere Baptist institution; and lingering perceptions over his controversial role as a special prosecutor investigating the Clinton administration.
Q How did the union of Kenneth Starr and Baylor come about?
A Well, first, call me Ken if you would. Whenever I was in trouble, I got called Kenneth. It actually began when the former chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, Tom Phillips, had a conversation with yours truly at a judicial and law conference at George Washington University in November, not long before Thanksgiving. Then I had several conversations with Joe (Armes), chairman of the search committee. Joe gave me some homework to do, to read, and the more I read, the more I was inspired by the Baylor story. The process then unfolded fairly rapidly.
Q What attracted you to Baylor?
A Well, it was a call to come home or consider coming home. I'm a fifth-generation Texan. I took the wrong turn on Interstate 35 and Interstate 40 and, when I got to the Louisiana border, I didn't turn around. I crossed the Sabine River and kept on going. So it was about time for me to come home. And at Pepperdine University, we view Baylor as a very important sister institution, a Christian institution that is seeking to achieve excellence with the inspiration of faith and learning. In my years at Pepperdine, we have looked at Baylor as a role model. It's very humbling because Baylor is so vast and complex it's a major research university, a member of the Big 12, so I've been very humbled as I've been learning more. I have much yet to learn. But the more I learned, the more I was drawn to Baylor and its mission. Plus, it was founded in 1845 and my family got here in 1848.
Q Pepperdine is a terrific campus, right on the beach, and Baylor has gone through a great deal of transition and strife in striving for top-tier status the past 10 years, and it's not always been smooth. Why at this point in life would you want to get involved in something as complicated as it is here?
A I view it as a calling. I view life as a vocation and an opportunity to serve. I try not to run away from potential challenges, which I tend to view as attractive opportunities. I embrace the Baylor mission as a great Baptist institution reaching out to the entire Christian world beyond, to focus on integration of faith and learning which is needed, in my humble judgment, now more than ever.
Q What is the time frame for you to leave Pepperdine and begin at Baylor?
A The start date is June 1.
Q And what are some of your immediate goals?
A It's for me to listen and learn. Till I have completed the listening and learning process, which will obviously be continuing long after June 1, I would be loath to make any bold pronouncements. I would say I embrace fully and enthusiastically (Baylor Vision) 2012. It's a very noble and bold vision. It's also time to thoughtfully assess the goals of 2012 and to begin strategic thinking of what lies beyond in Baylor's storied history. What is the next chapter? That's yet to be determined through deliberate conversation and very respectful understanding and listening to the entire array of Baylor constituencies. It's alumni. It's friends. And here at home it's faculty and staff and students, all dedicated to making this institution even greater. There's a lot of strategic planning to do as we look ahead to 2012.
Q You've been controversial in the past.
A Is that right? (Laughter throughout the room.)
Q You bring stature to Baylor, which I believe the community will be very excited about, but you also have been a lightning rod for controversy in the past. How will you deal with that and how do you think that will influence and affect Baylor in its mission of growth?
A Well, that was an unhappy chapter in the nation's history. I was called to serve and I did serve with my colleagues for that season. We lived up to our duties and responsibilities. But I've been very blessed for the last almost six years to be full time in higher education and to try the best I can to build upon the great foundation that others laid at Pepperdine University. I would hope to do the same here. Pepperdine was founded in 1937, Baylor in 1845, so there's a very long Baylor line, and I feel privileged and blessed to have this new chapter.
Q But don't you feel in these very polarized times that this will make your mission that much tougher?
A I think the Baylor community is a community of enthusiastic goodwill and love for the institution, and I would hope that we would be able to collaboratively tap into that love for Baylor and its mission, its storied history, and to say we have a very firm foundation, that so many good things have happened at Baylor over a century and a half, so let's have a great next half-century by God's grace.
Q You refer to Baylor 2012. The 12th imperative is to reach a $2 billion endowment. How high is that on your list of priorities and what do you bring to this daunting task?
A I think the responsibility of the president of any university, including Baylor, is to build, and I certainly embrace the goal of 2012. These have been challenging economic times, but the building of the endowment, by the board of regents' determination, is a very high priority. I fully agree with that and enthusiastically accept it. You ask what I bring. I bring enthusiasm, energetic determination to do my best collaboratively with the board and with our development office, and to really engage our alumni and friends to help us build.
Dary Stone: If you ask Judge Starr a question that requires him to brag on himself, you'll get zero answer, so I'll answer it for him. First of all, he's been terrifically successful at raising money at Pepperdine. He has great people skills and he has a national profile that gives him access that others might not have. His network (of contacts) will now become Baylor's network. He enjoys such an outstanding relationship with so many people nationally.
Q (to Stone) But are you worried about the political ramifications?
Stone: It's something we asked and dismissed pretty quickly. One thing, if you do due diligence on Ken Starr, which we did, we spoke with the author of a book soon to come out
Q It comes out tomorrow.
Stone: That's correct. Well, this guy was crazy about Judge Starr. He said in all his critical analyses over a 10-year period he found Judge Starr, as special prosecutor, to be incredibly honorable, to be an outstanding man of integrity. And also, oddly enough, early on he surmised that the next great thing that Judge Starr ought to be was a university president. And we have quotes (of endorsement) from the past president of the American Civil Liberties Union and other college presidents
Q Yes, I asked one of your people how in the world that happened with the ACLU endorsement. (Laughter.)
Stone: This is because of who Judge Starr is as a person, which is a wholly different category than the world he had to take on for a very brief moment of his long career. We're absolutely thrilled with how Judge Starr will be perceived.
Q Well, judge, how did you win the endorsement of the ACLU? I just got to know.
Starr: I have a lot of friends. I have been very blessed with friends. (Former ACLU president) Nadine Strossen and I have debated many times over many years and we sometimes agree, but when we disagree we disagree in the finest tradition of the profession, which might be a helpful lesson in its own way that people can disagree without shouting at one another. It's not only a matter of respecting one another but really enjoying one another's company.
Q Based on your talk with faculty and the board of regents and the deans this morning, you know Baylor has had a lot of upheaval the past decade. What is the biggest challenge you see in bringing peace to the situation?
A Well, a lot of the lively conversations are part of Baylor history. (But) there is broad agreement bordering on consensus that Baylor is moving in the right direction, that people in the community love one another, even if there have been disagreements in the past. The road map is clear. (Baylor Vision) 2012 does provide the road map and 2012 will serve as the springboard for further assessments and strategic planning for the next chapter. Change is almost always controversial, but Baylor embarked on what I view as a very important and promising path for a new era while still honoring the great tradition of caring deeply for undergraduate education.
Q Judge Starr, one other component to growth is Baylor's relationship with the city of Waco. To what extent have you had exposure to city leaders and what if any plans do you have for a gown-and-town relationship?
A That process is just unfolding, so your question is very timely. I'm eager to engage with community leadership, including the mayor, who is an alumna we're very proud of her and the city council and business leaders. I hope to be very engaged in the life of the community as is both appropriate and important. Baylor is important to Central Texas, it's important to the world, so the president of Baylor should be much involved and engaged in the community. As to any specific plan of action, I'm looking to the board of regents and the deans and then my conversations with community leaders as to how I can be a good citizen and be involved in building the entire community.
Stone: The judge's wife is part of the answer. Alice Starr in and of herself has a resume almost equal to Judge Starr's. Everywhere they go, they're a huge part of the community. She ran the development (department) for the McLean Chamber of Commerce (in Virginia).
Starr: She was president of the McLean Chamber of Commerce as a volunteer.
Stone: Tripled the membership.
Q So it's kind of like Bill Clinton if we get Judge Starr, we actually get two for the price of one. (Laughter across the room.)
Starr: Well, Alice is very engaged on a number of nonprofit boards and has chaired different philanthropy campaigns. Her specialty is advising non-profits.
Q I understand she was in town just last week. What was her impression?
Starr: Oh, she loved it.
Q But what impressed her most of all?
A The people. She loved being with the people. Baylor folks are great folks.
Q You've talked of bringing folks together. In recent years, there's been a significant rift between the school and the very independent Baylor Alumni Association. Do you have plans on where to go with that relationship and how important it is for all alumni to remain engaged?
A I'm eager to learn more. I don't want to be premature in coming to judgment about a particular course of action. But the engagement of alumni is just vital, both morally and in a tangible way, to any university, and at Pepperdine that's been one of my highest priorities, to energize the alumni, to make sure the alumni not only stay informed about what's happening with their alma mater but, even more important, that they continue to have a sense of "I am a stakeholder, I want it to do well, so what can I as an alumnus or alumna do to help, even if in just a modest way?" They might be able to come back to the school and help students in a hard job market. One thing we've said to alums is, "You can provide insights, guidance, maybe even provide a job. You can perhaps be more generous than you have been." That would be a very high priority for me, quite apart from organizational issues. I'm aware of those organizational issues, but how do we as a community of 140,000-plus alumni around the world pull in the same direction?
Q You've been praised and criticized for your ability to multi-task. Even while at Pepperdine, you've done legal work that has brought you a lot of limelight in the California community. Do you anticipate doing the same kind of activity in Texas while at Baylor?
A Well, I'm very mindful that any activity outside the Baylor presidency will entail an opportunity cost that is, there are only so many hours in the day. One of the things that the board has made clear is that it's important for the president to be there and to be fully engaged, so I think it remains to be seen to what extent any other kind of involvement in particular, what kind of cases would be feasible and appropriate. So I will be in very close contact with the board with respect to that. That's an issue yet to be sorted out, but I fully appreciate the presidency is a full-time job-plus.
Q Are there any concepts of leadership or management you'll bring from Pepperdine?
A Others will have to be the judge in terms of methodology but the way I've tried to live my life is one of collaborative, caring leadership. I use the metaphor of the round table. I used it this morning that even if the table is actually rectangular, it should be viewed as a round table where all voices are listened to with great respect and that insights come out of that process. I call it the deliberative process. It's all the more important at a university because of the ancient tradition, which I have tried to honor at Pepperdine, of faculty governance, ensuring academic freedom and pursuing excellence in all things pertaining to the academy, including research and teaching. At the same time, there has to be a vision. And vision cannot be a unilateral vision, it can't be one person's vision. It has to be a vision that comes out of the values and traditions of the community. Thus, it's not for one person to be imposing his or her mission statement. Rather, the next chapter must grow out of a historic mission statement. I tend to be very global in my perspective, and Baylor's already there, so I'll be playing catch-up a little bit. But I'll be an encourager in terms of how we have a greater global impact, including serving. This is really at the heart of that original Baylor articulation "for church and for Texas" and Texas is now a metaphor for the world. How do we in this community impact for good and for the cause of Christ the world beyond even the borders of Texas?
Q I was in Abilene for many years where they have a Church of Christ university and a Baptist university. There would have been a grand implosion and the earth would have opened up had a follower of the Church of Christ tried to take over as president of the Baptist institution. How are you going to handle that here with your Church of Christ background?
A I've been an evangelical Christian for 30 years, and our home church for many years has been McLean Bible Church. I look forward to joining a Baptist church right here in Waco where I'll be very comfortable, theologically and otherwise, prior to June 1.
Q Do you know what church that will be?
A Well, I've been getting some advice. (Laughter throughout the room.) I'm continuing on my listening tour. It was amazing I was invited to preach before I was even invited to make a stewardship commitment, which I thought was a pretty classy move.
Q Do you have any message that we haven't asked about?
A I'm just deeply honored to be called back home. One of the members of the board of regents, when asked "Why did you respond to the call to join the board of regents, it's very demanding, time-consuming and all volunteer" this particular regent said, "Well, as Bear Bryant, the late legendary football coach, said: `When Mama calls, you come home.'" Texas has continued to be home. And to be called to be a servant leader at the world's premiere Baptist institution, a great voice in Christian education, is the highest kind of honor that I can ever hope to receive. So I feel thankful and blessed by the call.