The battle over the need to reform the Baylor Board of Regents is fast becoming a ping-pong game. And some of the players may be bringing larger paddles to the table.
The week started with an online invitation from “Bears for Leadership Reform” to an event at the Texas Rangers Museum on Thursday morning. It was followed by some news stories and the creation of a Facebook page that quickly attracted thousands of Likes. Next came a Wednesday evening announcement by Baylor about the formation of a Governance Review Task Force — just hours before the 10 a.m. meeting, which attracted more than 400 members of the Baylor family. And shortly after the end of the meeting came a “Letter to the Baylor Family” from Regents Chairman Ron Murff that defended the board’s actions and reinforced its claim that it was trying to be more transparent.
On one side of the debate is a group of wealthy donors (including Regent Emeritus Drayton McLane, John Eddie Williams, and Gale Galloway), former Texas Governor Mark White, former football coach Grant Teaff, and other prominent alumni. On the other side is the Board of Regents, which has been under fire for weeks from the Baylor family and the national media.
The speakers representing Bears for Leadership Reform on Thursday (Link to video of the event) stopped short of calling for a formal removal of board members – although the crowd certainly seemed in favor of it. They also did not threaten to withhold donations (although Williams did express surprise that the Regents chose to characterize some of the group’s founders as “fat cat donors”). They did not threaten to take the Regents to court, to urge a housecleaning, or to demand the university reinstate Art Briles as football coach (although many post-event media headlines focused on McLane’s call for Briles’ honor to be restored). They also declined under questioning from a TV reporter to accuse the Regents of lying, but it’s clear they want to see change. Soon.
“We don’t need secrecy; we can handle the truth…In a perfect world, the Regents would be up here talking to you today,” said Williams, who acted as the host for the event. He talked with passion about his love for a school that gave him an academic scholarship, an athletic scholarship, and a need-based scholarship so that he could attend, and said he’s done what he could to give back to Baylor and give back to the students.
“I am heartbroken that we have a cloud over ourselves.” said Williams, who added that he believes the board has become “tone deaf to the Baylor alumni, to the Baylor family, the students, the faculty, the people who work at Baylor.” He said the new group was created “because we believe that there is time for transparency; there is time for accountability in our governance; and (there is) a time for integrity.”
The mood at the event reflects the results of a survey conducted by the Baylor Line Foundation earlier this week. More than 1,400 members of the Baylor family responded, with 92% saying that the organization should continue its call for greater transparency by the Regents; 89% saying the university should be “more forthright” about disclosing Pepper Hamilton’s concerns about the Regents’ role in how the university handled the complaints; and 75% saying that the university should ask Pepper Hamilton to create and publish a written report on its investigation – with 60% of all respondents saying that should be done on an accelerated timeframe over the next one to three months.
Perhaps more important when gauging the level of concern, two-thirds of the respondents said they were not planning to donate to Baylor this year. When asked on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being extremely active), how active the foundation should be in advocating for a change in the governance structure, current board makeup, and future selection process at Baylor, 53% said “10,” and the weighted average was 8.3.
“We are encouraged to hear the Bears for Leadership Reform echo our call for transparency and accountability,” said Baylor Line Foundation President Fred Norton ‘80, JD ‘83. “And we are optimistic the voices of those stalwart alumni identified with that effort will be heard.”
During the event on Thursday, Williams expressed sadness that Pepper Hamilton identified a need for reform at the Regent level and that it took the university six months to appoint a committee, a sentiment echoed later by Gov. White, who said the university’s announcement on Wednesday “wouldn’t have come out yesterday if it weren’t for this meeting today,” adding that “every one of the issues that we’ve been talking follows a trail that leads back to one place – the Board of Regents…This is a Baylor problem, not an Athletic problem.”
White told the story of trying out for the Baylor basketball team and being pulled to the side after a couple hours by Coach Bill Menefee, who put his arm around him and told him, “Son, you’re good and you love Baylor and you’re trying hard, but you’re just not tall enough for your speed.” White told the crowd, drawing a big laugh before adding, “It’s not that our Board doesn’t love Baylor but sometimes you get people in places where they don’t fit or they’ve been too long”.
White went on to say that he received a call from a current Regent this past summer who told him that “this would all blow over. He sounded like the Mayor of Pompeii” during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
A succession of speakers who followed White echoed his theme that “there is no mechanism to change this board, and it’s time for a change…and we want it now.” They all agreed there are great people on the board, but also agreed that the board as a whole has lost their support.
Former football player James “Rell” Tipton, a corporate lawyer from Houston, said that while he respects former teammates who now serve as Regents, it’s clear that “when you look at the board as a group, the decision making hasn’t been good.”
And in an event held in the shadows of McLane Stadium, it seemed appropriate that the stadium’s namesake, Drayton McLane, would weigh in on the organization’s goals.
“We need to determine what the real facts are,” he said. “Were the right decisions made by the board? That’s the real issue.”
Williams added that the group needs the facts before it can recommend changes.
“We’re seeking public support from the Baylor family,” he said, adding that he’d prefer the board address the Baylor family before publications like the Wall Street Journal. “We want to come together and make our voice so loud that they’ll have to come to this podium and tell us what’s going on and they’ll have to listen to us. The buck stops with the board, and our focus is on the very top – with the board.”
For former Regent Chairman Gale Galloway, one of the driving forces behind the creation of the group, success in this effort will be defined by the completion of a “reassessment of all aspects of Baylor governance with significant input from people who are not currently on the board and timely implementation of recommendations from that assessment.
“We can’t rely on the current Regents to fix their own problems, but I do pray that we can work together to get this university – and our leadership – back on track, focusing on those things that make Baylor great and unique,” he said.
Links to Other Coverage of this Event:
- USA Today
- Baptist Standard
- Texas Tribune: The Brief
- Fox Sports
- Waco Trib
- Houston Chronicle (subscription)
- Austin American-Statesman
- Dallas Morning News (subscription)
Photo Credit: Eric Guel