The Baylor Line Foundation (BLF) will hold a Town Hall Meeting on Governance Reform on Feb. 15 at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, despite the Baylor Board of Regents’ decision to formally decline the invitation. The town hall is an effort to end an impasse between the regents and the Bears for Leadership Reform (BLR) over separate proposals that each organization says will expand representation to the Baylor family and provide greater accountability and transparency.
The Town Hall will be held Wednesday, February 15, 2017, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame (1108 South University Parks Drive in Waco). It will also be streamed live on Facebook by KWTX through both the TV station and BLF’s social media platforms. You can also access it directly on the KWTX website at http://www.kwtx.com/livestream2
“Consistent with our mission to inform and engage Baylor alumni, we are happy to provide this public forum where members of the Baylor Family may come together to discuss what’s best for Baylor University,” said BLF President Fred R. Norton, Jr. ‘80, JD ‘83. “Many alumni are understandably questioning Baylor’s governance model in light of the regents’ admissions of failures in the proper administration of Baylor’s Title IX office.
Regents Chairman Ronald Murff sent a letter to Norton last week declining the BLF’s invitation, saying the Regents ”are unable to participate in the Town Hall,” but welcome feedback from the BLF. He provided an e-mail address – BoardRelationsOffice@Baylor.edu — for alumni to provide their thoughts. Murff’s letter also claimed that alumni and members of the BLR already had a chance to provide feedback to its Governance Review Task Force of three regents and three non-regents. The task force, which published a 30-page report with recommendations that will be discussed later this week at the regents’ quarterly board meeting, started its work in November and, from the outset, acknowledged a perception of micromanagement and secrecy by the board, according to the report.
The bylaw amendments would seem to provide some common ground for a broader discussion with the Baylor family. The bylaw amendments include new voting privileges for regents representing specific groups, an expanded website with information on the board, and a rigorous selection process for regents, but do not include a measure to open board meetings to the public, a key component of the BLR’s proposal.
The BLR quickly accepted the invitation and said they will be represented at the town hall by John Eddie Williams, Randy Ferguson, and Liza Firmin. Alumni-Elected Regents Dan Chapman, Wayne Fisher, and Julie Turner have told the BLF they will attend, and other regents are expected to arrive in Waco on Wednesday evening before the organization’s board meeting.
“We will still have an open and constructive debate on this most important matter, knowing that the regents intend to take action on their own proposal during their meetings in the days that follow,” Norton said. “We believe participation by the regents would have helped to rebuild the Baylor family’s trust in the governance process. While we’re obviously disappointed that the Regents continue to avoid face-to-face discussions with alumni, we believe that individual members will decide to attend or watch the broadcast and hope that what they hear will influence their discussion during their board meeting this weekend,” Norton said.
The BLR, a group that includes large donors and former Baylor regents, proposed a governance structure in mid-January that follows a 10–10–10–4 model, meaning that 10 regents would be elected by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, 10 regents by Baylor alumni and 10 regents by the Board itself. The proposal also calls for one regent elected by the Baylor Letterman’s Association Board of Directors, one regent elected by the Baylor Bear Foundation Board of Directors, one regent elected by the Student Congress and one regent elected by the Faculty Senate. These last four regent positions, which currently exist in a non-voting advisory role without the privilege of attending committee meetings, would become full voting board seats under the BLR plan.
The moderator for the event will be Tony Pederson ‘73, a Baylor Line Foundation director, former senior vice president and executive editor of the Houston Chronicle, and current chair of the Journalism department at Southern Methodist University.
“We will continue to hold out hope that the regents will recognize that Tony will facilitate a robust, respectful, and even-handed dialogue about governance reform that gives them the opportunity to discuss their visions for reform with the BLR and the Baylor Family. The meeting will allow members of the Baylor Family to ask respectful questions and share their views about this critical challenge facing Baylor.
“Our board is disappointed that the dialogue between the Board of Regents and the Bears for Leadership Reform – and between the university and the Baylor family — has been conducted only through press releases and media statements,” said BLF Executive Vice President Allen Holt ’80. “We still believe that this town-hall format allows the regents to demonstrate to the entire Baylor family that their approach to this situation is rooted in their love and care for Baylor.”
The regents will consider granting voting privileges to regents representing faculty, the Bear Foundation and the “B” Association. A second, voting faculty representative also would be added to the board under the proposed change.
Each of those roles would serve standard regent terms: three-year terms with a limit of three consecutive terms. A regent must then sit out for at least one year before attempting to rejoin the board. The board also would operate with three vice chairs instead of one, expand the roles of Regents Emeriti, bolster regent performance assessments, grow the executive committee to between 10 and 15 regents and restructure other committees.
“We believe that members of the Board of Regents should welcome feedback from its core constituents before they vote on these proposals,” Holt said, adding that he doesn’t understand why the Board of Regents has declined to attend. “These have been incredibly difficult and painful times for the Baylor Family. Everything the Baylor Line Foundation does is designed to remind alumni why they love Baylor, and we believe that resolving everyone’s concerns about our current governance structure will go a long way toward rebuilding trust in the institution.”