In the President’s Office in Samford Hall, there are large windows along the side of the room that overlooks the quad. With calm music playing in the background and a view of students walking to and from class on an early Tuesday morning, Beck Taylor looked back on his first year as Samford University President.
For Taylor, his first day as Samford President compared to Whitworth University President was a difference between new and familiar. Moving to Spokane, Washington 11 years ago meant they didn’t know that many people and lived in a region of the country they were not familiar with at first.
Now, having moved back to Birmingham and to a community he and his family are familiar with, Taylor said it has helped with the transition.
“Coming back to a place that I know and love has made the transition so much easier, and coming back to Samford has also been quite nostalgic in some ways both personally and professionally,” Taylor said.
Even the very office he now resides in at Samford Hall contains a lot of memories for Taylor, as he remembers being hired by past university president Tom Corts as well as the many meetings he had in there with Corts and his predecessor Andy Westmoreland.
“Every morning when I wake up and walk in the door of this office, I am reminded of what a special place this is and what an incredible opportunity I have to lead Samford,” said Taylor.
While a lot has changed on campus since Taylor’s departure to Spokane 11 years ago, what hasn’t changed in his eyes is Samford’s mission and the emphasis on the student experience and commitment to education.
“Those are things that are enduring, and I’m grateful that those very important elements of our Samford experience haven’t changed,” Taylor said.
While leading Samford this past year, Taylor has encountered many challenges including navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and the public health concerns that come with that. This past year, Samford dealt with two spikes of COVID cases on campus in the beginning of the fall and spring semesters, and while we continued to be in-person the whole year, the biggest disruption according to Taylor was the changing and evolving campus mask mandates in response to the number of cases on campus.
“For the most part, our educational experience and most of our student experiences were left unaffected,” Taylor said. “We had full athletic seasons, we didn’t have capacity restraints in classrooms or in other indoor venues, events for the most part went without a hitch, but we always had that public health concern hanging over us.”
Today, Samford continues to see a very low number of positive COVID-19 cases, and Taylor has learned from this experience how to monitor the situation and balancing public health concerns and the student experience. He also praised the students, faculty and staff for ensuring that Samford continues to hold in-person learning with little disruption this year.
“I’m really proud of the way we handled the pandemic this year,” said Taylor. “There’s always going to be disagreement about when and how to protect our community, but even amidst some of that disagreement, I found quite a bit of grace and a bit of understanding from our community.”
Some Samford traditions that Taylor looked back on with fondness include the return of Step Sing in February. COVID-19 cases on campus experienced a spike in the beginning of the semester as students prepared for Step Sing, but Taylor said Samford was on the downward slope of cases and hoped to do Step Sing the way it was meant to be done without masks and a full capacity crowd if possible.
“I told some folks at the time ‘Our campus deserved to have some fun.’ We’ve been through a lot to get together, and Step Sing in my mind was an important outlet for our students to have some fun this year.”
Taylor mentioned that this year was his first time ever seeing Step Sing, and enjoyed being a part of Sigma Chi’s performance as well as seeing students perform and cheer each other on in the Wright Center.
Along with Step Sing, Taylor mentioned him and his family participating in celebrating Christmas with the Lighting of the Way and Hanging of the Green events on campus in December, Homecoming weekend, and cheering the athletic teams throughout the year.
“Those will be fond memories for sure as we look back on our first year,” Taylor said.
When it comes to being a leader this past year, Taylor said he was reminded about the importance of being affirmed in the Lord’s calling.
“We talk with students a lot at Samford about discerning the ways that God is calling them into the world, summoning them into various vocations and careers. Julie and I were reminded this year that the Lord has truly called us here.”
Looking ahead to the future, Taylor hopes to make his big Strategic Plan a reality, and has enjoyed holding focus groups on campus, traveling and meeting alumni, parents and friends of Samford about the university’s future and what should be prioritized in the Strategic Plan.
Taylor hopes to ask the Board of Trustees to pass the new Strategic Plan in early December, which he said will focus on quality around campus including quality of the residential experience.
“We want students to take advantage of coming to a residential college, spending four years at the undergraduate level and for many of our students to live on campus,” Taylor said. “That quality has to extend to the classrooms, but it also has to extend to other things as important as food service, as residence life, and students need to be able to take care of themselves on campus, so thinking of wellness and fitness.”
Some ways that Taylor mentioned are beginning to address this emphasis on quality now are looking into the food service on campus, a major Siebert Hall renovation, and building more capacity to allow freshmen to live on central campus.
“We think an important part of our philosophy is that freshmen live on the central part of campus and upper division students living in West Campus and in Beeson Woods, and in order to do that we need to build more capacity and then make incremental improvements to the upper division housing as well,” Taylor said.
Overall, Taylor is looking forward to a more sustainable pace this next year as president compared to this past year and implementing their vision of Samford.
When asked what advice he would give to the graduating class, he advises them to be faithful and to live in that purpose that was put there by God when they first came to campus.
“God has sustained you here. You are at the finish line. There are many ways you can look back on that journey and see how God has been faithful. Continue to trust in the Lord moving forward.”