Q & A: Kenneth Starr, Baylor's Next President
The man who headed the investigation that led to former President Bill Clinton's impeachment will soon move to a new role as Baylor University's president.
Kenneth Starr served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for six years, he was the solicitor general for four years, and most recently he has served as dean of Pepperdine University's law school since 2004. He will begin as president of Baylor on June 1. Starr spoke with online editor Sarah Pulliam Bailey about overcoming challenges he faces and his aspirations for the university.
It seems as if you were just getting started at Pepperdine. What do you hope to accomplish at Baylor that you couldn't at Pepperdine?
I have been here for five and a half years, so I will, God-willing, accomplish a sixth academic year at Pepperdine. Baylor, of course, is a great and vast university. My current stewardship is much more limited in nature. It is very challenging to be the dean of a law school and a great honor, but the call from Baylor is a call to servant leadership at a different and certainly much more complex level.
What is Baylor's greatest strength?
It is a wonderful, deeply respected Christian university with venerable Baptist ties that has been a beloved institution for many generations. Pepperdine, in contrast, is a much newer and smaller university, but both share the same mission: to be a Christian university that seeks excellence in all things and seeks to truly integrate faith and learning.
What weaknesses do you hope to address?
I don't think I'm going to answer any questions on weaknesses until I know the institution much, much better. All institutions can be improved. One of my goals in the early months is to listen and learn. There are so many strengths upon which to build, I feel very positive and optimistic about the call to serve.
The presidency at Baylor has been pretty rocky, with four different men serving in the past five years. What kinds of challenges do you think you will have to overcome?
I think there's an extraordinarily deep reservoir of good will and an eager desire to move forward. What has happened in the past is now in the past. My sense is that there's been an enormous amount of energy and enthusiasm in the last year and a half during the stewardship of the interim president, David Garland, who is also dean of George W. Truett Theological Seminary. David is a great man; he is a great scholar and has been a truly great leader of the institution. That has been enormously helpful, opening up a new chapter that has a great deal of promise.
It's difficult to detach your name from the Clinton presidency. What kinds of assumptions will you have to overcome with your background in the Clinton prosecution?
It remains to be seen. That was a long time ago now. Since that time, everyone involved in that unhappy chapter in the nation's history has moved on to other things and to serve in other ways. I've been very blessed to write a book that I had longed to write on the Supreme Court of the United States, and to be engaged in teaching even before the call came to serve at Pepperdine. For the last six years, I've been blessed to live here on the West Coast, far away from the swirl of politics in Washington, D.C. President Clinton has gone on to do many and great things, as illustrated most powerfully by the work of the Clinton Foundation and his personal engagement in Haiti. Time marches on and that very unhappy chapter in American history is a thing of the past. That's where I plan to leave it.