So, what is it really like?
Five months into serving Baylor as its first alumni-elected Regent, this is the question I am asked most often. Those who have no ties to the Green and Gold are curious and confused. I am asked by those who love Baylor with unwavering loyalty. But the ones that give me pause are the questions that come from those who bear scars, frustration, hatred and confusion towards Baylor and the Regents. Truth is, I’m still learning what it’s really like. And, let’s learn together. Keep asking. If you ask, you care. So, let me give you some initial observations and explanations about what is changing and what is happening. I’m choosing to elaborate on some topics around procedure, reform and focus as I believe these are important for you to learn about. I see consistency in what the Baylor Family reads and sees and what is discussed. The words you hear from President Livingstone and Chairman Allison are what I’m seeing in action through the committee agendas and discussions. I can’t speak to the past but there is a real commitment to letting Dr. Livingstone lead and serve as the CEO of the University and to bring the Baylor Family together.
The messages communicated from the President’s office around her strategic priorities are the central focus of our meeting agendas and discussions:
DELIVERING an academic strategic plan with a clear path towards Baylor becoming a Tier One research institution.
DEVELOPING leadership capacity across academics, development, external affairs and student organizations.
ADDRESSING the reality of sexual assault – past and present – through increased support for students, candid discussions about the current climate on campus, the implementation of the 105 reforms, and continued collaboration with entities like SACSCOC and the NCAA in their ongoing investigations.
INCREASING the University’s endowment to better provide for scholarships and world-class teaching and research.
ACTING with intention to have the administration, staff and board better reflect the diversity of the student body and our world.
The Board adopted new governance months into following the new structure. What this means is that there is now a new committee structure allowing for all Regents to attend, review documents and participate in all committee meetings inclusive of the Executive Committee. For your information, I am on the Student Life and the Advancement and Development Committees. Why should you care about this? At a very basic level, opening the committee structure aligns the Board to what is considered a “best practice” among colleges and universities. Beyond that, however, it minimizes the likelihood of communication breakdowns, secrecy and an imbalance of power or decision-making.
Another important building-block that was just announced is that Baylor now has a full-time board professional who will serve as the main conduit between the Board and the administration in addition to being solely focused on board operations. Her name is Kristi Orr. She joins Baylor from the University of Texas Regents where she served in a similar role. This is important for you to know about because it is a move towards increased professionalism and spreads the accountability across both the administration and Regents.
I attended every committee meeting during both the summer and fall meetings in addition to most of the interim conference calls. In July, Linda was four weeks into her role and the Regents were operating with new Regents (faculty, student and Board selected) and the new committee structure. July was also a “retreat” where many of the training sessions focused on “best practices” led by a consultant with the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. All new Regents were required to attend an orientation that covered topics such as “confidentiality and transparency” and Title IX policies. In October, there was a noticeable and concerted shift in committee agendas and discussions being more focused on strategic topics and monitoring progress of the administration’s initiatives. That is progress.
So, what else?
Well, here are some other scattered observations…
Most of the decisions and agenda items are administrative and very straight-forward.
Time with students, faculty and administration is invaluable and are the most important interactions we have during the meetings. Already, we’ve heard stories of hope, hurt and promise that have brought us to tears and laughter.
Did you know, the Regents are all volunteers who give a minimum of 12 days per year to serve the University?
We don’t all agree with each other. And, we are still learning how to have active discussion and debate within the new committee structure. Chairman Allison has been very clear that respectful debate is a trait of a highly functioning board.
The alumni-elected position is a new and wonderful opportunity. It’s my hope that all alumni will consider who they nominate and elect with intention. It is historic and a real positive for Baylor in its ongoing governance.
The quality of so many of the students, faculty, alumni and administration is contagious. There are so many wonderful people making a difference daily in ways that are both seen and unseen. There is much good and great happening in the Baylor Family.
I give you this detail to provide insight and information. But, you and I both know that declaring “reform” is a just a word and a first step. As my father always told me “Your actions speak so loudly, I can’t hear a word you say.” The Baylor Family has suffered a crisis in trust as it relates to the Board of Regents. The proof of trust will bear out over time. And, there is no escaping the past. I can tell you that I am encouraged by what I see for the future.