After five and a half years as dean of Pepperdine School of Law Starr will leave June 1 to take over as president of Baylor University. But as he prepares to leave for Waco Texas his reflections on Malibu emphasize how much of Pepperdine he will take with him.
“One of the areas where I really needed to do a lot of homework coming in [as law dean was] what is the idea and nature of a university generally and then what is the idea and nature of a Christian university Starr recalled. And then what is in fact the relationship of faith to learning and teaching?”
He said he learned important lessons about “combining excellence with humanity” from Pepperdine’s Center for Faith and Learning the Lilly Grant that allowed faculty to attend a week of community building at Pepperdine’s Florence campus and experienced colleagues.
“I still have a lot to learn and I’m very thankful for these years to have been able to sit at the feet of [Provost] Darryl Tippens who is so thoughtful in this broad and very important question of integrating faith and learning Starr said.
He said he plans to continue drawing on these resources, as well as the counsel of President Andrew K. Benton, as he manages academics and religion at Baylor.
Baylor has really been embarked on a very similar path so I have a lot to learn about what Baylor specifically has done but at least I have the great benefit of a wonderful faithful provost and a program for our Center for Faith and Learning that does so much in encouraging integration he said.
In a nod to Baylor’s heritage, Starr— who attends University Church of Christ at Pepperdine and a nondenominational church that he calls very Baptist in its worldview and theology” while at home in Mclean Va.— will join a Baptist congregation.
Starr said he prayerfully thought about the tradition of Baylor presidents being active Baptists and he feels happy with the choice.
“We’re all one in Christ Jesus he said, then smiled. There are different pews.”
Starr said Pepperdine had a strong foundation when he became dean allowing him to respond to Benton’s charge to “be bold.”
Specifically Starr helped craft the Bridge to Excellence Plan to recruit quality professors who believe in Pepperdine’s mission reduce the size of the student body and seek affiliation with the prestigious honor society called the Order of the Coif.
Only schools that the Order of the Coif considers “first degree” and marked by strong students and scholarship by professors are admitted to the order. Once admitted schools may give the top 10 percent of their students membership in the society which Starr compares to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society for undergraduates.
The plan also called for greater international involvement which Starr centered around an international program in London for Pepperdine law students.
“[We] determined that we should seek to become engaged in global justice in a significant way that this law school should be in a non self-congratulatory way a global law school with a strong presence in London which enabled us to understand ancient legal institutions and modern European legal institution Starr said. London could also serve as a base for reaching out to Africa in particular and to be of fuller service than perhaps we’ve been able to be in the earlier years of the law school’s founding.”
Starr said those goals have been reached but the next dean will have a difficult job.
“We still have a ways to go on the Bridge to Excellence Plan especially the growth of faculty that creates the ever-present challenge of maintaining the culture of a genuinely caring community Starr said. One of the great dimensions of this law school is how it cares for the student. One ranking that I do cite and am proud of is not U.S. News and World Report— one wants to do well on our rankings but the one I’m really proud of is the Princeton Review that ranks this faculty as the most accessible law school faculty in the country. That is a very vitally important part of our culture to maintain.”