The Baylor Alumni Association will defend itself against a lawsuit filed by Baylor University about trademarked name rights and present a counterclaim against the university.
BAA President Keith Starr announced the news in written statement Wednesday. The lawsuit charges BAA is improperly using Baylor’s name and trademarks.
The lawsuit stems from long-standing tension between the two entities about BAA’s independent status.
A transition agreement crafted by Baylor regents and a group of elected BAA leaders and members of the board, which would have dissolved the organization’s charter, failed to secure enough votes from alumni association members to pass. Those leaders and several other association board members resigned after the failed vote.
“We have tried for several years now to reach an agreement with the university that enables us to preserve our name; the title of our magazine, the Baylor Line; and keeps our commitment to thousands of Baylor alumni,” Starr said in the release.
“However, the university has rejected our attempts at peace for over a decade and has chosen to continue its efforts to marginalize the BAA, up to and including suing its officially recognized alumni organization.”
Keith Starr is not related to Baylor President Ken Starr.
Keith Starr told the Tribune-Herald the BAA is finalizing options for legal counsel to represent the organization.
“The executive committee is disappointed that we find ourselves being sued by the institution we all care about,” Keith Starr said.
Baylor filed the lawsuit last week in Waco’s 74th District Court, arguing that it has severed the licensing agreements that previously allowed the BAA to use the university’s name and to operate as Baylor’s official alumni organization.
The alumni association previously has argued that those agreements, signed in 1993 and 1994, are in effect in perpetuity and cannot be terminated, which should allow the group to continue operating with the same name.
Baylor initially gave the BAA until Dec. 8 to stop using its name, a notice that followed the Sept. 7 vote on the transition agreement.
The agreement had approval from 55 percent of BAA members who voted on the issue in person, then a requirement in the group’s bylaws. But a two-thirds majority was needed to approve it.
The university is seeking a judgment ordering the group to cease using registered marks, including the name “Baylor” and “Baylor University.”
The university also wants injunctive relief “to limit BAA’s purposes by reformation to provide only financial assistance to Baylor students.”
Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman on Monday said the BAA has “failed to act in response to the university’s continued request to provide any real or concrete plan of action to Baylor. The university is moving to protect the interest of Baylor, its students and alumni by seeking appropriate legal relief rather than simply waiting further for some indication of actual progress from the association.”
Fogleman declined additional comment Wednesday on the BAA’s response.
Baylor charged in the lawsuit that the BAA has “abandoned its charitable purposes” as outlined in the association’s bylaws, including raising money for student scholarships.
The suit specifically notes a $1 million scholarship pledge from the BAA in February 2013 that was never completed, though the BAA has said the donation was not completed because of the discussions surrounding the transition agreement.
“(BAA) has not abandoned its charitable purpose, to the extent that its charitable purpose has been impeded by conduct of the university,” Keith Starr said.
Baylor hired 10 of the BAA’s staff after the vote on the transition agreement, Keith Starr said. But Fogleman said those hires were requested and approved by association leaders and included as part of the transition agreement. Though the agreement failed, Baylor went through with the hires.
Alumni center razed
The university in July razed the Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center the BAA had used as its headquarters since 1978, and later kicked the remaining BAA staff out of on-campus offices the organization had moved into, an action that followed the Dec. 8 deadline.
Fogleman said the same elected BAA leaders who agreed to the transition agreement also signed off on razing Hughes-Dillard in a separate document, a claim also made in Baylor’s lawsuit.
The BAA has continued to meet to discuss its future direction and mission. The group’s board of directors announced plans earlier this month to solicit feedback from members on three possible options — solely raising money for scholarships, focusing only on alumni communications or a combination of both activities.
Keith Starr said the BAA still will proceed with those plans.