White, the Pastoral Philanthropist: Christian and Business Leadership in Higher Education

by Nate Hutcherson

“Baylor stands for ideals and principles. It believes that spiritual and human values are primary. It maintains that righteousness is the highest end in the divine scheme of things. With righteousness will come peace, integrity, equity, and goodwill” (White, undated). The words of Pastor White turned President White proclaiming to all a message of the Baylor who gleams as brightly as the gold on Pat Neff Hall. William Richardson White, President Emeritus of Baylor University, played an important role in the spiritual and financial development of the University during the years of 1951-1960. His background in the pastorate brought unique abilities to his leadership and important relationships to the Universities’ financial building goals.

Throughout his tenure, White tried to moderate the public perception of current events at the University, he created appealing communication marketed toward the Baptist denomination, and he massaged the tender relationships with potential donors, all with the same finesse of a pastor collecting the tithe of his flock. His actions did create financial stability but it is possible the techniques by which he accomplished his fundraising goals created institutional dependence on one man and his religious appeals.

Ministry Background

Prior to taking on the mantle of president at Baylor University, W.R. White had been heavily involved in a range of leadership roles, including being a pastor at churches throughout Texas and Oklahoma; he was the President of Hardin-Simmons University from 1940-1943 (Hardin-Simmons, 1941, p. 13). He also served on the Baylor Board of Trustees (White, 1971). His background as a minister throughout the state and his involvement with the Southern Baptist Convention were important stones in the foundation of his ministry-based methodology of leadership (Baker, 1987, p. 254).

Receiving the invitation to be president from Baylor University, W.R. White left First Baptist Church of Austin and accepted his post as president (Baker, 1987, p. 254).  In an interview years later, White recalled his role on the Board of Trustees, his preparation and experience to be president, and the perceived attitude of faculty regarding his appointment:

I sought to keep myself conversant with academic trends and developments while I was in the pastorate because, being on the board of trustees of our institutions, I felt that I should keep myself informed. However, I had no formal preparation or experience for an administrator of an educational institution. There were several misgivings on the part of some people when I came to Baylor… First, I was not primarily an academic man… and then in the next place there were some the faculty that wondered about a minister being president (1971).

The misgivings he perceived from the faculty were soon washed away after receiving a “courteous welcome from the faculty” and the feeling that he was well received by students after his first appearance and address in chapel (White, 1971).

White desired for the spirit of academia and religion to be the highest priority and focus of the University (White, 1971). Though professing to have little experience in the academic realm, White soon turned his attention to the accreditation of the University, expanding the physical campus, and building the endowment. With each of these endeavors, the scholarly advances required for accreditation, and expansion of physical and financial assets, White had to focus much of his effort on maintaining Baptist sentiments and standards for the sake of financial contributions.

W.R. White Photo Courtesy of the Texas Collection archives, Baylor University
 Christian Campus Perception

Between the years of 1951-1960, Baylor University experienced the bombardment and effects of several controversial current events. A few important events White had specific involvement with were the issues of integration and student dancing.

The landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, 1954, required the desegregation of schools. While it took several years for the policies of this judicial decision to take full effect, President White received many letters from Baylor alumni, donors, students, and parents regarding their opinion on integration at Baylor University. In his written responses to alumni and donor letters that affirmed integration and letters in opposition, White chose to occupy a middle ground position, he said, “[I am] an arbiter or mediator, so that I can keep extremists on both sides from tearing our people apart” (White, 1957). It seems White chose to occupy a middle ground as the President not out of passivity but in a calculated manner. In the same letter to Mr. Williams, White said “there are very sincere and devout Christians on both sides” (White, 1957). Being a mediator between the devout, yet opposing Christian viewpoints was a way White sought to maintain a positive public perception of the institution. It also seems as though White, who said he brought in “largely conservatives and also men that the giving world had confidence in” maintained neutrality in his approach to integration as a way to avoid losing any of his financial constituency (White, 1971).

On March 1, 1960 President White received a letter from the Pastors Conference of the San Jacinto Baptist Association. In this letter, the pastors question the control of the administration over activities of the student body, specifically dancing. Seeing this as an unwholesome behavior they admit their hesitancy to recommend attendance to Baylor (Allison, 1960). These pastors had influence in their communities not only over students’ attendance to the university but also over potential donors from the San Jacinto area (Allison, 1960).

White’s response to the pastors was one of understanding, grief at the association of Baylor with dancing, and also a broad picture of the history of dancing at Baylor. White uses both a logical and an emotional religious appeal to portray the Baylor community in a positive light. He writes, “in our judgement, more give [dancing] up than take it up while here. We find that those who dance off campus while at Baylor, started back home in high school,” and “[Baylor] is the largest university with no campus dancing to be found in the world. We have the largest group of youth who do not participate.” White paints this picture of the campus environment because he says in the 1971 interview that potential donors might be ready to make a will and change the beneficiary at the last minute because of something that happened on campus (White, 1971).

White knew the implications a perception of secularization on campus might have on the future of Baylor. These events forecasted an emerging lack of Christian spirituality and focus at Baylor and could have instilled a no-confidence attitude from potential donors. White had to mitigate and stifle any budding unrest by painting a picture of Baylor that Christian donors could accept. In doing so, White continued to grow the financial stability of the institution. The question is whether this was achieved with integrity and in a way that set Baylor’s financial horizon up for future success as a whole.

Christian Appeals and Communication

Baylor seemed to have experienced hits to their prestige and ascribed values because of cultural events like dancing on campus and integration. White consistently communicated to the Baylor audience with distinctly Christian appeals. In a printed flyer White addressed the purpose of Baylor University as an institution devoted to Christian ethics and education. He narrates the purposes of Baylor with both didactic and anecdotal delicacy. White describes Baylor’s commitment to the individual, commitment to the Truth, and commitment to opposing Communist or Fascist ideals with “Christian ethics and standards” (White, undated).

The communication in this flyer seems to aspire to Christian transformation in the . White portrays Baylor as a shining light in contrast to the bitter foe of surrounding cultures, specifically the growing unrest with the communist Soviet Union. The appeals found in this short letter might be similar techniques White used from the pulpit to inspire his congregations. Here he utilized his religious experience to achieve his business and political goals. By exaggerating the communist state and painting Baylor in the opposite light, it seems that White is trying to downplay the negative cultural events of on-campus dancing and the issue of integration. He highlights the conservative religious temperament of the University to continue gaining the support of institutional donors. Ending his letter, he defines the University’s foundational right, “to expose all knowledge to the light of eternal principles and concepts as reflected in revealed Truth” (White, undated). White declares that revealed Truth, or the Bible, will be the guiding tool for decision making and understanding. Again, White provides a solid foundation for donors to stand on and assures them of the conservative Christian values of Baylor University.

In a 1952-1953 report on scholarships, White again uses language reflecting his Bible-teaching roots as he shares about the need of student recipients:

Many of the most promising students who knock at Baylor’s door cannot pay these full tuition prices. Their persistent plea for assistance is pathetic. Only a heart of stone could go untouched. (White, 1953).

In writing about the untouched heart of stone, he might be alluding to the biblical passage where the Egyptian Pharaoh has a heart of stone without compassion toward the Israelites (Holy Bible). This allusion could have touched on the heart and mind of his audience, appealing to their compassion for the plight of Baylor students. If White purposefully used the biblical narrative in the scholarship report, this is another example of White using communication techniques from his pastoral and preaching experience.

Even in his internal communication, White expresses his business-centric agenda with an appeal to the Christian heart. The Fifty Million Dollar Campaign utilized committees and campaign counselors to reach the projected goal. In a letter to Mrs. Mathis requesting her services as a campaign counselor, White (1953) envisions the underlying goal of the campaign “to undergird the University as a Christian institution of higher learning equal to any in the land.” White created a marketing campaign that utilized business-minded strategies – campaign counselors, for example – and garnered support through the Christian emphasis in his prose and written invitations.

White’s use of syntax throughout his tenure was baptized in the terminology of the pastorate as opposed to the strictly business vocabulary one might expect of an administrator. While lay administrators of Baylor might utilize persuasive communication with a hint of Christian overtones, White’s actual ministry experience earned him rapport inside and outside the Baylor community. Other administrators might have talked with financial language and statistics but it could be that White’s communication and appeals are more palatably received because he told engaging stories for his audiences.

Christian Financial Partnership

One of the most crucial endeavors White assumed during his presidency was increasing the financial stability and endowment of the University. In an internal audit report of the Baylor University system for the years from 1947 to 1959, the University saw its net worth go from $15,639,440 to $48,853,990, an increase of over $33 million (Baylor University, 1959). White reached out to various sectors of society as he sought to build the net worth of the institution. According to White, it was especially important to seek “people who shared Baylor’s philosophy,” those who were alumni, personal friends of White, and even those outside the Baptist denomination. (White, 1971). He mentions his personal friends were those he had made after having been “active in Baptist life a long time” (White, 1971).

White seemed to rely heavily on the Baptist idealism of the university as a common denominator with donors. Using the specialized language of the pulpit, he played to the values of his church-going audience. White recollects the story around “the largest will that’s ever been made for Baylor” coming from one of his long-time friends (White, 1971). He quotes this man’s reasons for giving,

I want to make out my will and my good friend Dr. White has sold me on Baylor University and sold me in the idea that I was going to have to answer for what happened to my money after I die, to the point, to the degree that I could be responsible… I’m afraid that the Lord will make me stand up in heaven in the corner about a thousand years if I don’t do the right thing. (White, 1971)

This friend shows the persuasive power President White had on his constituency. Apparently, with great subtlety, White was able to weave the personal lives of donors into the greater biblical narrative of faithfulness and Christian stewardship. While it might seem a like a simple appeal to the heart, White could have been focusing on the Bible’s direction on how to use and steward money. This donor potentially felt a pressure to give toward Baylor.

The ministerial-based leadership President White offers is also unique because of the direct heritage he shares with the Baptist denomination. Since he was previously a pastor at Baptist churches around the state and Oklahoma, and at one time the executive secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention, White had important relationships with local churches (White, 1971). He utilized the connections with these churches and their pastors in his fundraising efforts. In fact, one of his marketing letters was directed at churches. In a letter on presidential scholarships, White says “that hundreds of Christian people, churches and businesses throughout the Southwest” should contribute small or large amounts to the fund, stating, “there is no better or more enduring investment than making a Baylor education possible” (White, 1953). He leaned on his connections, his genuine attachment to local churches, and communicative abilities to raise money and meet the ambitious goal of the Fifty Million Dollar Campaign. Using connections is not a bad technique, by all means the relational connection could help build enduring support for the institution. However, the implication of White pursuing donations from his personal and comfortable circle of relationships could mean that he missed important donors not in his inner circle.

Here Stands Baylor Courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University
Here Stands Baylor
Courtesy of the Texas Collection archives,
Baylor University


President W.R. White was a wise master builder; he knew what his Christian audience at Baylor was looking for. On the surface, his pastoral experience of tending to his flock did not necessarily equip him as an administrator and leader in higher education. However, in looking at the financial reports and massive campus expansion achieved during his presidential tenure at Baylor, White showed adept skill at achieving the agendas he set forth. The Baylor community apparently sought to be an academic contender in the landscape of higher education and at the same time to be distinctly religious.

Relying on the communicative skills he acquired in the pulpit and his pre-existing relationships among the Baptist denomination, White was able to accomplish to an equal or greater degree what lay leaders at Baylor also aspired to: financial stability and increased philanthropy. While White’s leadership during this era is impressive and many of his goals were accomplished, the manner in which he secured support could be seen as manipulative. His communication glossed over perilous incidents and guided potential donors toward observing the Baylor he desired for them to see. White’s persuasive tactics, as seen with his long-time friend who gave the largest gift to date as of 1971, were biblically-based. However, utilizing biblical stewardship and God’s judgement as a tactic to gain support seems extreme. White used his pastoral communication skills to play to the desires of the Baylor clientele but the ways in which White did this set Baylor on a direction it could not maintain without him

White built a monolith on the assumption that religious appeals at faith-based institutions of higher education are the key to philanthropy. Rather than utilizing data and academic merit to provide credibility for financial backing, he relied heavily on . Under the guise of religious language, the community probably felt comfortable in the coalescence of academics and faith as White espoused. While White sought to establish Baylor University as a dominant and respectable institution in Texas and the United States, he could have actually missed creating diverse streams of support since he focused on gaining support from personal friends.

The original intentions of capital fundraising were accomplished through direct religious appeals. These appeals led the administration and clientele of Baylor down a path hard to turn around from – a business plan that is systemically dependent on religion and the religious appeals and communication strategies of one man. While White’s business plan was effective in quickly raising financial support for Baylor, his efforts and techniques could be seen as short-sighted since he focused on a particular audience rather than additionally seeking the support of audiences through non-religious rhetoric. The implications of his business strategy and Christian leadership will continue to unfold in the years following White’s twelve-year tenure as president of Baylor University.


Allison, G.N. (29 February 1960). [Pastors Conference Letter to President White] W. R. White Collection, Correspondence: Affiliations & Associations series (Box #2, Folder: Letter to Pastors, Dancing Situation, 1960). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Baker, E. W., (1987). To Light the Ways of Time: An Illustrated History of Baylor University 1845-1986. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.

Baylor University (1959). [Internal Audit of Baylor University system] W.R. White Collection, Baylor University series (Box #8 – BU Records, Folder: President’s Report 1959-1960). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

Hardin-Simmons University. The Bronco, Yearbook of Hardin-Simmons University, 1941, yearbook, 1941; Abilene, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth38625/m1/15/:accessed October 1, 2016), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Hardin-Simmons University Library.

White, W.R. (1953). [Presidential Report on Scholarships] W.R. White Collection, Baylor University series (Box #6 – BU Records, Folder: Greater Baylor Campaign). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

White, W.R. (27 September 1957). [Letter to Mr. Williams] W.R. White Collection, Correspondence – people series (Box #2, Folder: Integration). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

White, W.R. (undated). [Here Stands Baylor publication] W.R. White Collection, Baylor University series (Box #8 – BU Records, Folder: Public Relations 1955-56). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.

White, W.R. (2 November 1971). Oral memoirs of William Richardson White (series 1, interview 5). Interview by G. O. Hilburn [Tape Recording]. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.  Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/buioh/id/10055/rec/14

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