This article was published in the Fall 2009 issue of The Baylor Line.
FOR 150 YEARS, the Baylor Alumni Association (BAA) has provided alumni with an organization through which they can demonstrate—in both word and deed—their full support of Baylor University’s unique mission as an institution of higher education. Over the years, as Baylor’s mission has become a time-honored treasure serving the church and society (“Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana”), that passion for our alma mater’s well-being and promise has been steadfast and unbending, regardless of the political winds that might shift as administrations come and go.
Such was the wisdom of the BAKs founders, who anticipated that self-governance and an independent voice would empower the organization to provide the strongest support possible, as an alumni community, for Baylor’s commitment to academic excellence and the Christian faith. However, in recent months, a good deal of conversation in the Baylor family has concerned the BAAs independence. Some have asked, “Why is the alumni association independent? What’s the point? Couldn’t an in-house organization serve Baylor just as well?” Others have wondered, “What exactly does independence mean in terms of how the alumni association has operated and how it contributes to Baylor’s success?”
In recent years, and especially in recent months, Baylor administrators and regents have interpreted the BAA’s independence as requiring an increasingly stricter separation of the alumni association from the university’s operations and programs. This interpretation, however, isn’t some-thing that reflects the effectiveness and characteristics of the Baylor-BAA partnership over the years, BAA leaders say, nor does it correspond to common practices in higher education or to the distinctiveness of Baylor’s mission.
A distinctive service
As a self-governing, nonprofit corporation, the BAA is a rarity within the world of private higher education in America. Leaders of the BAA consider this status as a point of pride, viewing the organization’s self-sufficiency and scope of service as achievements that its counterparts have been unable to match.
However, officials at Baylor have used the BAA’s uniqueness in this regard as a point of criticism. Recently, the university forced the BAA off Baylor’s communications systems—including the removal of the BAA from the university’s e-mail addresses and toll-free phone line as well as links to the BAA from Baylor’s website. Defending the action, a Baylor vice president told the Baptist Standard, “What cannot be debated is that the Baylor Alumni Association’s relationship to Baylor University is a one-of-a-kind situation. It is the nature of the independence that has been sought by the Baylor Alumni Association that is distinct in higher education—not the fact that they maintain separate legal status, even though the number of institutions that are legally separate from their host universities is diminishing.”
Officials at the BAA take issue with this characterization of the BAA’s independence, which they say is misleading. First, they emphasize that far from being something recently “sought,” there is nothing new about the BAA’s independence. The organization’s standing as an independently governed, independently man-aged, and legally independent nonprofit corporation has been the same since 1978, they note. And it has been sixteen years since Baylor, in its License Agreement with the alumni association, officially recognized the BAA as “the general alumni organization of Baylor University” and approved the BAAs function as “an independent ‘voice’ of alumni” that is allowed to take positions that “may be contrary to the administration of the University or its Board of Regents.”
Even as recently as May 2007, the Baylor administration, in a report to the Board of Regents, reinforced the view that an alumni relations organization like the BAA can be viewed as being faithful to its bylaws and constitution and to its role in supporting the mission and vision of an institution even if it exercises its editorial independence to speak out on a specific issue. As the administration’s report stated, “It is important to distinguish support for broad principles from support for particular administrative actions.”
BAA officials contend that the “nature” of the BAA’s independence–rather than being distinct in higher education, as Baylor’s representative has asserted—is one closely shared by other self-governing alumni associations. Such organizations, constituting a majority among the Big 12 Conference’s schools, are similarly empowered with independent governance, independent management by an executive director who reports solely to the alumni association’s board, and independent legal status.
These peers of the BAA also possess the ability, through their publications, to serve as an independent voice of alumni. “We do believe in having a separate voice to speak for all alumni,” Joe Irwin, president and CEO of the Georgia Tech Alumni Association and president of the Council of Alumni Association Executives (CAAE) for 2009-10, told the Line. “That being said, our role is to promote both our alumni and our university to continue to build the reputations of both. While administrations come and go, alumni have a vested interest in making sure that their investment in the institution continues to provide a handsome return.”
In the recent Baptist Standard article, the Baylor vice president contended that the BAA—in the reporter’s words—”has savored its independence but also has claimed entitlement to the benefits of connection to the university.” The Baylor administrator was quoted as saying, “They can’t have it both ways.”
Jeff Kilgore, executive vice president and CEO of the BAA, noted that this attitude is a radical departure from the university’s approach to the BAA-Baylor partnership over the last three decades. He said the organization’s functional and service-oriented connections with the university have not been viewed by the BAA or previous Baylor administrations as an “entitlement” that solely benefits the BAA, but rather as a means of more efficiently and dynamically serving the alumni community and strengthening the bond between alumni and their alma mater.
“Web links and other types of service arrangements are commonplace between universities and their alumni associations, regardless of such associations’ independent status,” Kilgore told
the Baptist Standard. “That’s simply because such arrangements make good sense, since they serve the best interests of both organizations. My alumni affairs colleagues have verified this and recognize the potential customer-service issues and negative effect on donor relations that these recent developments could have on both the university and [the alumni association].”
Kilgore noted that the kind of functional separation that Baylor has recently forced upon the BAA—creating daylight between the two organizations where alumni had only seen a seamless unity of service before—is uncommon in higher education. Self-governing alumni associations and the universities they serve have a mutually beneficial interconnectedness that takes many forms, he said, ranging from direct funding to the sharing of communications systems and alumni data. It’s not uncommon, he added, to find regular interaction between both organizations’ chief staff persons, with an alumni organization’s executive director even being invited to participate in the university president’s executive council meetings.
“To cite the rarity of self-governing alumni associations at private universities as a fundamental stumbling block to the Baylor Alumni Association’s success and effective partnership with Baylor is inconsistent with the enthusiasm about Baylor’s goal of becoming a rarity in American higher education—that is, a major research university with a strong Christian mission and identity,” Kilgore told the Line. “It could reasonably be argued that the alumni association’s independence—just like Baylor’s Christian commitment—forms a unique strength and point of pride for the school.”
Kilgore continued, “The issue isn’t whether or not Baylor’s general alumni organization should be an independent organization. That’s a settled matter, as the BAA has been independent for more than thirty years. The real issue—the one truly dividing and damaging the Baylor alumni family—is why Baylor’s presidents and some of its regents have decided during the last two years to sever the various functional and service-related connections through which the university and its officially recognized alumni group have engaged in partnership over several decades. Why is the university pushing the BAA away—cutting ties and disparaging the BAA in print—when we represent the majority of the university’s alumni donors and have proven our loyalty and relevance to the school during 150 years of existence?”
The BAA’s independence has allowed it to play a valuable and irreplaceable role in defending and supporting Baylor’s mission, the association’s officials said. Through the Baylor Line magazine, alumni are provided with a publication whose content reflects the full range of their interests and concerns, including balanced coverage of controversial issues. This approach is the foundation of the magazine’s relevance and credibility, which in turn build a strong, trust-based relationship between readers and the university.
Financially, the BAA and its nineteen thousand members make a big impact, noted Waco banker David Lacy ’79, the BAA’s president for 2009, pointing out that last year the BAA independently contributed more than $1.8 million of alumni services and pro-grams for the sole benefit of Baylor University—essentially, service for free.
“There are many reasons why an active alumni association is relevant and important to any university, not the least of which is encouraging alumni giving,” Lacy said. Indeed, the university’s records attest to the fact that the Baylor Alumni Association’s relevance to Baylor lies as much in the realm of fund-raising as it does in friend-raising. During fiscal year 2005-06, the most recent year for which figures are available, the BANs life and annual members also made gifts to Baylor amounting to $14.2 million for the year. Of all alumni who gave to the university that year, 53 percent of them were BAA members—making the BAA the representative face of a majority of Baylor’s alumni donors.
“It has been my own observation over the years—and one with which I am sure my Big Ten predecessors and contemporaries would agree—that those alumni programs that best serve both alumni and the university are the ones in which the alumni are given an opportunity to develop their own policies and program objectives,” Robert Forman, former executive director of the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan, has written.
Such opportunities have been afforded to Baylor alumni ever since the Baylor Alumni Association was founded in 1859 in Independence, Texas, where Baylor was first located. That spring, Baylor president Rufus Burleson announced the creation of an alumni association, and by the June graduation ceremony the initial membership numbered forty-two former students—twenty-three men and nineteen women. The initial objective of the nascent organization was to raise money for and to help recruit students to the small college.
Twenty years later, at its annual meeting, the alumni association passed a resolution that continues to serve as a foundational document today: “Resolved 1st. That the Alumni of Baylor University will pledge themselves at all times, and under all circumstances, and everywhere, to maintain, defend, and support, by all means in their power, the original design of the founders of the Institution, to make it a true educational establishment of the highest grade.”
At that annual meeting in 1879, which Baylor president William Carey Crane attended, officers for the coming year were elected and another resolution was passed, which read, “That a committee will now be appointed to cooperate with the committee of Trustees to raise funds to complete the main building.” Before the meeting was adjourned on June 12, more than $700 had been raised.
The proceedings from the meeting concluded with the address of a committee “appointed to address absent brethren, as to the pre-sent condition and future prosperity of our alma mater.” After summarizing a number of positive news items regarding enrollment, the quality of faculty members, and facility construction, the committee’s members ended with an appeal to alumni to champion the cause of Texas-based higher education:
“It seems to us that state pride, and decent respect for the future of our institutions, civil and political, and the future welfare of the two million people already in Texas, to say nothing of the constant augmentations from births and immigration, demand of us ample educational facilities; and like-wise admonish us to keep our sons and daughters at home, and to educate them among people with whom they are to live, and to instill in them sentiments of independence and individuality. In this way only can the future grandeur, glory, and stability of our grand state be built up and assured. We invite the hearty cooperation of every student of Old Baylor’ in attaining this noble end. Our motto is ‘Facilities for Home Education, and Home Education,’ and, while promoting the means of education and securing its ends in our alma mater, we do not lose sight of the social features of our organization; but, we trust that with each recurring commencement we may gather within the hallowed walls of our alma mater, and grasp fellow alumni by the hand, and renew sweet memories and live the olden times over again.”
In the following decades, the partnership between the independently governed BAA and Baylor worked well as the BAA played a significant role in the life of Baylor, sponsoring the first official Baylor Homecoming in 1909 and leading a variety of fundraising efforts.
After a fire gutted the Carroll Chapel and Library building on February 11, 1922, the alumni association—led by Mayes Behrman, Baylor’s first full-time alumni secretary—conducted a six-week “Baylor Alumni Rebuilding Campaign” to raise funds for the building’s restoration. The effort brought in more than $200,000 in pledges by the end of April, and on December 12, 1923, the building was formally re-opened—newly restored and now housing the law school and the university’s library facilities.
When Baylor was in need of securing a permanent endowment of $2 million in 1927, the association collaborated with Baylor president Samuel Palmer Brooks and the university’s Board of Trustees in inaugurating an alumni endowment campaign through a resolution on October 21, 1927, that asserted, “the Alumni and Ex-students of Baylor University are bound and obligated by every consideration of gratitude, appreciation, and loyalty to preserve and advance the welfare of this Institution.”
The fundraising effort, eventually named the “Greater Baylor” campaign, made its initial push the following year, from November 23 to December 4, 1928. The General Education Board of New York had pledged $300,000 if, by the end of 1930, Baylor could raise at least $600,000 for the endowment fund, which would eliminate the school’s indebtedness. In December 1930, with the campaign still short of its mark, the alumni association’s incoming president, Earl B. Smyth, wrote in the Baylor Monthly, “Alumni of Baylor, we must not fail the Mother School in this day of her greatest opportunity. She is calling to us now to do our best for her.” On January 1, 1931, President Brooks announced that Baylor had met the goal and was eagerly awaiting the General Education Board’s contribution.
The independently organized Baylor Alumni Association had once again proven its effectiveness in generating alumni support of Baylor. But its leaders were always looking for ways to improve its operations and deepen its partnership with the university. They took their pledge of service as a serious commitment.
At the alumni group’s 1941 commencement meeting, the BAAs officers presented a reorganization plan after a two-year-long self-study. Following the plan’s approval, the renamed Ex-Students Association of Baylor University was granted a charter by the State of Texas for the purpose of promoting all the educational and other activities of Baylor University. The group’s two stated priorities were raising funds for the Union Building, whose construction had begun on October 15, 1940, and preparing for the school’s centennial celebration in 1945.
“The history of education in the United States shows dearly that the true greatness of a university may well be measured by the extent of the continued interest of its former students in the Alma Mater,” association president Dr. Milford O. Rouse said at the time.
The next step
In October 1946, Baylor alumni received the first issue of the Baylor Line. The new magazine—whose name derived from the title of the school’s alma mater, referring to the long line of Baylor graduates marching “forever down the years, as long as stars shall shine”—was published by the Ex-Students’ Association of Baylor University as the successor to the Baylor Century, a fundraising-oriented publication produced by the university in connection with the observance of Baylor’s centennial in 1945.
Alongside the Baylor Line’s masthead, on the second page, ran a column that celebrated the association’s new responsibility for the publication of Baylor’s official magazine and the broader dawning of a new day in alumni relations at the state’s oldest institution of higher learning. “Long considered an outstanding need for Baylor has been a closely knit, active and wide-awake Ex-Students’ organization,” it stated. “Leaders of the Association moved in that direction last spring with the appointment of the first full-time executive secretary in the Association’s history. And for the first time in history, the Association is operating separately from the University itself.”
After noting that annual membership dues would be set at $3 per individual or $5 per family, the column continued, “In connection with membership fees, the natural question is, What will one get out of membership in the Baylor Ex-Students’ Association?’ It is agreed that the three most important advantages are:
1. The satisfaction of working in a voluntary organization, greatly strengthened and enlarged, with other loyal and interested exes for the welfare and progress of Baylor University.
2. Receiving the Baylor Line at least nine times a year, with news of exes from all over the country and news of Baylor.
3. First chance at football tickets.”
The new alumni leader alluded to in the column was Jack Dillard, a 1938 Baylor graduate who seven months earlier had accepted an invitation to lead the alumni organization. In a letter to alumni sent out on June 20, 1946, Dillard had written, “Your association, for the first time, is operating separately and independently from Baylor University itself. The history of all outstanding ex-students groups shows that they operate best when separate from the university.”
Dillard was the first full-time director whose salary was wholly provided by the alumni organization. From 1928 to 1932, Baylor employee Louise Willis had followed Behrman in managing the alumni office as alumni secretary and editing the Baylor Monthly. And from 1932 to 1946, Lily Russell, who successively served as Baylor dean of women and director of public relations, had maintained the alumni association’s files and aided its operations.
The Ex-Students Association was provided an office in Pat Neff Hall, and Dillard set to work raising the funds necessary to complete the Union Building, whose construction had ceased in 1942. The building had stood as an empty shell of concrete and steel during the years of the United States’ involvement in World War II.
Work resumed on the Union Building when Dillard was hired, and two and a half years later the construction was com-plete, with the alumni group moving into offices in the new building. Soon after the Union Building’s formal opening on Sep-tember 16, 1948, Baylor president W. R. White praised alumni for their part in financing the much-needed facility (which was renamed the Bill Daniel Student Center in 1981), telling those gathered for an October 22, 1948, board meeting of the Baylor Ex-Students Association, “We have all joined hands in building a greater Baylor.”
A new era
Firmly established as an organization independently governed by elected directors and led by a chief staff person whose salary was paid by the group, the Ex-Students’ Association continued to develop and flourish in its partnership with Baylor.
The next stage in the alumni association’s growth came through its collaboration with the successive administrations of Baylor presidents Judge Abner V. McCall and Dr. Herbert H. Reynolds.
Before becoming Baylor’s president in 1961, McCall had served as president of the Baylor Ex-Students Association’s governing board from 1956 to 1958. As a result, he was intimately familiar with the organization’s strengths and the role that it played in the life of Baylor.
In 1969, Reynolds accepted an offer from McCall to become executive vice president of Baylor. Over the next twenty-six years—first serving twelve years principally as executive vice president and chief operating officer, and then serving as Baylor’s president from 1981 to 1995—Reynolds would prove instrumental in the alumni association’s development as a robust, independent organization.
In 1975, responding to a challenge from McCall to improve its operations, the association established a Special Study Commit-tee to evaluate the goals and direction of the organization. At the time, about $120,000 of the association’s annual budget of $131,434 came from the university’s general operating funds. After almost a year’s work, including lengthy meetings with McCall, Reynolds, and other administrators, the committee presented two recommendations to the Board of Directors on April 30, 1976: “1. That the name of the Association be changed to the Baylor Alumni Association. 2. That the Association become a dues paying organization to enable alumni to participate in the support of the Association.” The board unanimously approved both recommendations. Individual annual memberships were set at $15 a year, and life memberships were set at $200.
In the June 1976 issue of the Baylor Line, association president Dr. Jim Cole explained the reason for the adoption of a dues system, which had fallen out of use since its advent in the 1940s. “Taking a hard look at the association, the committee decided that, in view of escalating costs, their main concern was finding a way to expand services to an ever-growing alumni body while relieving the university of much of the financial burden for doing so. A study of many effective alumni associations convinced the committee that a dues structure was the best option available for our organization,” Cole said.
In its November 5, 1976, edition, the Baylor Lariat reported, “Raymond Vickrey, executive director of the association, said the new system of membership would provide Baylor alumni with a greater sense of belonging. He said most of the alumni questioned about the change said they felt the association would be stronger if a member had to pay to belong.”
In an interview with the Line in 2005, Reynolds recalled the rationale for the administration’s support of the alumni association’s decision to become a more independent, dues-based organization. “Judge McCall came over to visit me one day and said, ‘I want to talk to you about the Ex-Students Association. I believe we ought to think about the independence or autonomy of the alumni association,”‘ Reynolds said. And let me just say right up front that it was more philosophical than financial, no doubt about it, because there had been times in the life of the alumni association when that independence was very important. So he said, ‘I think this is some-thing we ought to strive for, because there may be times in the future when the alumni association will need to speak with a more independent voice about the university. I won’t mind that, and I would hope that you feel the same way.’ I told him, ‘I agree with you. I think there is real merit to moving in this fashion: And then later we began to talk about the financial aspects of it. But that was not the primary issue; the primary issue was creating an independent alumni association that would be able to operate, by and large, in an autonomous fashion.”
The new identity and renewed sense of mission energized the alumni association and proved successful in increasing alumni activity and the organization’s general operations. In 1977, the association established the annual spring reunion of the Heritage Club, composed of alumni who had been graduates for fifty years or more. And in the spring of 1978, the BAA presented McCall with a check for $122,000, which was the first payment from member dues made to the university as a reimbursement for operational expenses.
In June 1978, the BAA moved from its offices in the Student Union Building to the new Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center, the funding for which began in 1976 with a gift from Raymond and Genevieve Dillard and their children, Nancy Dillard Franklin and Hughes Dillard, in memory of Mrs. Dillard’s mother, Annie Hughes. The total cost for the 6,200-square-foot, U-shaped building was $590,502, nearly 80 percent of which was paid for by alumni gifts.
Marking a key moment in its history, on August 11, 1978, the Baylor Alumni Association became legally incorporated as a separate, tax-exempt nonprofit organization. In combination with the group’s new home on campus, this new legal status further bolstered the association’s profile and capacity to serve Baylor and strengthened alumni’s sense of ownership in the enterprise of alumni coming together, in an independently organized manner, in sup-port of their alma mater.
One of the fruits of the increasing collaboration between the BAA and Baylor was that on June 1, 1979, the alumni association assumed responsibility for overseeing a university-launched pro-gram called Baylor Nationwide, which aimed to mobilize alumni by staging meetings across the country and establishing program leaders in all fifty states. “One of the most positive changes at Baylor in recent years has been the growth in effectiveness of the Baylor Alumni Association,” Reynolds wrote at the time in describing the new arrangement. “Alumni have always been vitally interested in Baylor’s future and have contributed immeasurably to Baylor’s progress. However, the advancements of the association in the last four or five years are particularly notable. Response to the new organization with a dues-paying membership structure has been tremendous. The new alumni center is among the finest such facilities in our nation. The staff continues to grow and can under-take more programs to benefit Baylor.”
By June 1981, the Baylor Alumni Association’s membership stood at 12,305, of which 7,097 were life members, and the group’s endowment had passed $1 million. The association had also created, in April 1981, the Abner V. McCall Fund, offering individual alumni the opportunity to pledge $10,000 in gifts over ten years with a goal of accumulating $5 million in endowment by 1985. In explaining why the fund had been named after McCall, Cole, who had become the association’s executive vice president in 1978, said that “none of his predecessors manifested the measure of interest and support of the alumni association that Judge McCall has.” With McCall nearing his retirement as Baylor’s president, the naming of the fund in his honor was a fitting tribute to the man who had been a galvanizing force for the organization.
In an interview with the Baylor Line a few months before his retirement, McCall said, “When I first came into the presidency, I had been the Ex-Students president just a short time before. It was kind of a test. And I want to thank the alumni and the alumni association for their support and loyalty to the university during these years. The alumni have been more active and more supportive than ever before.”
Later, during a meeting of the BANs Executive Committee on July 19, 1986, McCall spoke about the purpose of the alumni association, noting that a number of Baylor’s various alumni relations and university relations goals “are best furthered by an independent, financially self-supporting alumni association with its own publication.” McCall went on to serve as president of the BAA again in 1991.
Examples of partnership
As the BAA entered the 1980s, its standing as an independently governed, independently managed, and legally independent non-profit 501(c) (3) corporation was fully established. And, in fact, those three primary characteristics remain the defining traits of the BAA today. They are traits that have served the Baylor-BAA partnership well for decades, BAA officials say, and—until recently—they were not considered obstacles to collaboration or a reason for functionally and programmatically separating the BAA from the university.
Thus established as an increasingly stronger volunteer organization of thousands, the BAA was in a strong position to serve Baylor’s best interests when, during the late 1980s, the university began to squarely face the increasing politicization of the South-ern Baptist Convention (SBC) and its implications for Baylor and the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), which at the time appointed the entirety of Baylor’s governing board. If the governance of the BGCT were to be taken over by the conservative leadership of the SBC, through an infiltration of the messengers attending the BGCT’s annual meetings, then Baylor’s own governing board would have been imperiled.
Reynolds viewed the association’s magazine as an asset of increasing value to Baylor. Through its candid reporting on the situation, the Baylor Line educated alumni about the threat facing the university and Texas Baptist life. “[Reynolds] was checking out of a hotel in San Antonio after a BGCT meeting when one of the architects of the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention came up to him and said, ‘Why don’t you stop the Baylor Line from carrying all those untruths about what we’re trying to do?'” recounted Cole, the alumni association’s executive vice president from 1978 to 1991. “And Reynolds said, can’t, and I wouldn’t if I could.’ Then he turned and walked off. He walked away confident and happy that the alumni association was the last line of defense, that it was the number-one support system of the university and that it was stalwart as a sentinel at the gate.”
On September 21, 1990, Baylor’s trustees amended the university’s charter to replace the previous governing structure with a new Board of Regents that was only one-fourth appointed by the BGCT, thus mathematically removing the possibility of a takeover. The next day, the alumni association’s governing board approved a resolution affirming the charter change that read, in part, “This action by the Trustees will secure a stable climate in which academic freedom and excellence in a Christian context will continue to flourish, thereby maintaining the integrity of degrees held by and to be earned by all Baylor graduates.”
Due to its independence, the alumni association was favor-ably positioned to be a credible defender and advocate of the charter change and to mobilize alumni to attend the BGCT’s annual conventions in November 1990 in Houston and in November 1991 in Waco, at which Baylor’s action was the subject of scrutiny and votes related to the BGCT’s financial and institutional relation-ship with the university. The alumni association, through the Baylor Line and other mailings to alumni, worked in tandem with the university’s leadership.
By most accounts, the collaboration between the university and the alumni association in addressing and seeking protective measures against the threat of a takeover by the conservative faction of the SBC stands as the most significant legacy of the partnership between the association and Baylor during the Reynolds administration. At a banquet held to honor Cole upon his retirement from the alumni association, Reynolds acknowledged the importance of the association’s efforts. “There is no way that I could have withstood the kind of onslaught that has occurred through these years … without the help of Jim Cole and the Baylor Alumni Association and the independent voice of the Baylor Line,” he said.
Toward the end of Reynolds’s tenure as Baylor president, the university and the association signed a series of official agreements that provided a formal articulation of the central role and long-term importance of the alumni association in the life of Baylor. The first of these agreements, signed on September 8, 1993, granted the association a “perpetual and fully paid-up license” to use the names and marks of Baylor University Alumni Association and Baylor Alumni Association for its services and collateral products, as well as granting exclusive use of the name “Baylor Line” for audio, video, printed, and electronic products. The agreement called for the BAA to continue to “serve as the general alumni organization of Baylor, including coordination of alumni activities; maintain an administrative office in Waco; carry out … the Constitution and Bylaws of the BAA; publish an alumni magazine; and organize and sponsor activities for the Baylor Homecoming on at least an annual basis.”
The 1993 agreement also recognized the independent status of the BAA as well as the BAAs right to voice dissent as to the university administration’s decisions, if the organization felt compelled to do so. “For example, it is understood that licensee [BAA] is an independent ‘voice’ of alumni of Baylor University, and the positions taken by licensee (editorial or otherwise) which maybe contrary to the administration of the University or its Board of Regents shall not be alleged by licensor [Baylor] to constitute insufficient quality and shall not be grounds for licensor’s termination of this License Agreement,” the document read.
A second agreement, signed on May 27, 1994, following its approval by Baylor’s Board of Regents, recognized the Baylor Alumni Association as “the official alumni organization of Baylor University and all its academic units” and provided for the “exclusive right to occupy and use the Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center . . . for an indefinite term.”
In the spring of 1995, as he was leaving office, Reynolds made a comment in an interview with the Baylor Line that shed light on why he had decided to craft such legal documents, as well as on his more general support of the association: “I think that there are certain occasions when it is most helpful for alumni to have an independent voice that is not bridled by forces internal or external to the university. To the extent that the Baylor Alumni Association has that kind of autonomy, it has proved to be very beneficial; the association can speak out on matters of interest and concern, particularly when the university regents or administrators feel some inhibition to do so, for whatever reason.”
With its physical presence on campus thus assured in perpetuity, the BAA broke ground on an ambitious renovation and expansion of the Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center in 1997. The facility was completed in June 1998 at a total cost of $2.5 million, funded by gifts from alumni and friends that included $1 million given by an anonymous donor.
Dedicated on November 6, 1998, during Homecoming, the alumni center’s new incarnation offered three thousand additional square feet—for offices, the Kronzer Great Hall, the Cole Drawing Room, the Abner V. McCall Retired Faculty Reading Room, and the Herbert H. Reynolds Conference Room—with cherry-wood paneling and a stately ambience throughout that reflects the Baylor traditions of integrity and pride.
Baylor’s twelfth president, Dr. Robert Sloan, provided an endorsement of the renovation project in the BANs fundraising materials, and the alumni association and Sloan’s administration worked together in the early years of his presidency in a manner that carried over from his predecessor. The BAA continued to partner with the university as a provider of contracted services, receiving reimbursement of costs from the university. Those annual reimbursements reached an all-time high of $350,000 in fiscal year 2002-03.
After what became a controversial announcement by Sloan that the university would terminate this arrangement at the start of fiscal year 2003-04, the Baylor Board of Regents conducted a review of the university’s relationship with the BAA and issued a set of recommendations on November 7, 2003. Among those recommendations was “that Baylor University retain, as an independent contractor, the BAA to assist the University in organizing and staffing the following events or programs,” with such contracted services including Homecoming reunions, the Heritage Club, and the Class Ring program.
Acting on the regents’ recommendations, Sloan and the BAA signed a “Services Agreement” on February 12, 2004, which called for Baylor to provide an annual reimbursement of expenses and a management fee not to exceed $213,000.
The re-establishment of the “contracted services” agreement offered another example of Baylor’s longstanding tradition of entering into a mutually defined partnership with its independently governed and managed alumni association.
To be sure, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model for alumni relations. Some alumni organizations, especially at private universities and colleges, are departments of the university administration. A number of these departmental organizations enlist the services of an advisory board of alumni to help the cause. And then there are self-governed alumni associations, like the Baylor Alumni Association.
The differentiation of these two basic types of alumni organizations—departmental and self-governing—is based solely on the issue of governance, not on more general operational matters. Even alumni associations that are completely self-governed by an independent board are not totally separated from their respective universities or colleges; by nature, there is always some degree of connection, whether it’s through revenue received from the university, collaborative programs, technology and communications assistance, or simply the sharing of the institution’s name.
Departmental alumni organizations are typically found at smaller institutions that lack a history of broad-based, volunteer involvement and organization by alumni and its related independent financial resources. Such an organization is run like any other department on campus—wholly staffed by the university and exclusively governed by the administration, although it may enlist alumni volunteers as part of its operations. At Baylor, this type of organization is represented by what was initially named the Office of Alumni Services when it was created in 2002 and is now known as The Baylor Network.
In the case of departmental organizations that use advisory boards, the energy and social connections of alumni volunteers are combined with the wherewithal and organizational resources of the university. These organizations have a separately functioning alumni board—perhaps even with legal standing as a 501(c) (3) nonprofit corporation—that is sometimes itself identified as the “alumni association.” However, the alumni organization’s chief staff person reports to the university administration, often directly to the president, and the rest of the organization’s personnel are typically university employees. Many medium-sized or large private universities employ variations of this model, including Princeton University, Duke University, Tulane University, Stanford University, and the University of Southern California.
Self-governing alumni organizations like the Baylor Alumni Association are wholly independent legal entities that are staffed by their own employees. They are typically, if not always, legally constituted as a nonprofit corporation, with a governing board whose members serve as fiduciaries and sole policy-makers of the organization. The chief staff person reports only to the volunteer governing board and has full control over the organization’s daily operations, although he or she typically works in close coordination and fruitful collaboration with university administrators. Such groups typically draw most of their revenues from endowment, membership dues, and programs, although a large percentage also receive university funding. Like the BAA, most of these organizations provide direct financial support to their respective institutions, through student scholarships and other channels, and also publish the primary publication for alumni, serving as a means of alumni expression and functioning as an independent voice on cam-pus. Such organizations are typically found at large, public institutions and enjoy sizeable endowments, with nearby examples including the Texas Exes at the University of Texas at Austin and the Association of Former Students at Texas A&M University.
According to James L. Fisher, who served as president of Tow-son State University and of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), a close relationship with alumni, even those who choose to run their own organizations, should be welcomed and fostered by college presidents.
As Fisher has noted, “With independent associations, the risk is run of less efficiency and of an association’s developing so much autonomy that it becomes an unrestrained adversary. … However, although this can produce anxious moments, in reality it may prove to the president’s advantage. If a president is willing to gamble on his or her charismatic skills, an independent alumni association can become the most effective milieu for cultivating alumni support. . . . If the president is perceived as a more confident and open president, the alumni association, the institution, and the president will prosper.”
The self-governing alumni association is the predominant model in the Big 12 Conference, with nine of the twelve universities being supported by independently run organizations as their general alumni groups. Like the BAA, most of these alumni associations have had a long history on cam-pus and have been viewed by their respective universities as the best means of fostering an informed and engaged alumni body.
However, being a self-governed alumni association doesn’t necessarily mean that the organization receives no funding from the university for the services it provides or that it shouldn’t benefit from other types of institutional assistance and partnership. For example, five of the Big 12’s nine self-governing alumni associations receive direct funding from their institutions, ranging from 5 to 17 percent of those organizations’ annual budgets.
Viewed within this context, BAA officials say, the Baylor administration’s actions against the BAA in recent years—terminating the Services Agreement in 2008, restricting the BAAs access to data in the alumni database in 2008, deleting all links to the BAA on the university’s “Alumni & Friends” website in June 2009, and removing the BAA from the university’s toll-free number in August 2009—run counter to common practices in higher education and reflect a much stricter interpretation of what the Baylor Alumni Association’s independence means than previous administrations have held.
In 1851, Baylor’s trustees adopted “Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana” (“For Church, for Texas”) as the institution’s motto. These dual emphases—upon Baylor’s role as a Christian institution and its role as an institution of higher education serving society—have acted as pillars of Baylor’s identity and practices over the decades.
During his presidency, McCall emphasized this dual role of Baylor University. As he often said at commencement exercises, “It has not been Baylor’s purpose to graduate merely teachers, scientists, businessmen, lawyers, musicians, nurses, dentists, and physicians, but better men and better women with a deeper love of God and a more profound respect and more sensitive compassion for their fellow man.”
Baylor has historically operated under the premise that the life of the spirit and the life of the mind are not antithetical, but complementary. “Baylor was chartered to confront her students with both of these central aspects of life, and we believe that life will be made more meaningful as a result,” Reynolds told graduating students in August 1988.
Over the years, the Baylor Alumni Association’s leaders have consistently expressed the organization’s support of Baylor University’s mission to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community. The BAA has stated, in print, that it believes the best way for Baylor to fulfill its Christian mission is by striving to become the greatest university it can be while remaining steadfastly Baptist in its principles, policies, and practices.
And, BAA officials say, the alumni association’s independence is the key to advocating for the continuation of Baylor’s traditional dual emphases. Just as it enabled the BAA to rally support for Baylor’s ongoing commitment to academic freedom and religious liberty when Baylor faced the threat of fundamentalism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the organization’s independence and representative voice also position the BAA to serve as a guardian against any potential effort to move Baylor in the opposite direction—toward secularism.
A few months before his death, Reynolds summarized his view of the Baylor Alumni Association’s role as being to “maintain and enhance a sound and ongoing equilibrium in the life of Baylor University”
Kilgore, the BAAs executive vice president, still has the card on which Reynolds wrote that statement.
“I think part of what he meant was that as alumni we need to help ensure Baylor’s distinctive role in higher education as a Baptist university committed both to Christ and academic excellence,” Kilgore told the Line. “Most private schools founded in the eighteenth or nineteenth century had denominational roots, but they lost their Christian identity in pursuit of academic excellence. Now that Baylor is ambitiously pursuing a higher standing as a center of research and scholarly enterprise, this is a potential hazard that we, as alumni, need to be vigilant against.”
To most Baylor alumni, the thought that Baylor might become secular likely seems farfetched. But such an evolution has been a common—perhaps even predominant—theme in American higher education.
Writing about this issue in his book The Soul of the American University, George Marsden notes that by the 1920s many universities that had been founded by Christian organizations and had pursued an institutional life grounded in a religious commitment—such as Harvard, Yale, and Vanderbilt—were no longer explicitly tied to those ideals.
“The fatal weakness in conceiving of the university as a broadly Christian institution was its higher commitments to scientific and professional ideals and to the demands for a unified public life,” Marsden writes. “In the light of such commitments academic expressions of Christianity seemed at best superfluous and at worst unscientific and unprofessional. Most of those associated with higher education were still Christian, but in academic life, as in so many other parts of modern life, religion would increasingly be confined to private spheres. . . . Nothing stood in the way of the elimination of almost all religious perspectives from dominant academia. The result was academic conformity with respect to religion, often supported in the name of diversity.”
Kilgore noted, “The independent voice of alumni has certainly served Baylor well in the past and is intended to be there in the future to ensure that Baylor’s delicate balance of learning and faith is preserved.”