Members of the Baylor Alumni Association voted overwhelmingly Saturday to accept the terms of a settlement agreement ironed out in March that put an end to an acrimonious lawsuit between Baylor University and the BAA.
Of the 3,601 BAA members who voted online from April 4 to April 28 and in person Saturday at the Waco Hilton, 98.5 percent, or 3,548, approved the measure, while 53 voted against it.
The lawsuit was resolved less than three weeks before a trial was set to begin in Waco’s 74th State District Court.
If the terms of the settlement had not been approved by a vote of the BAA membership, the entire agreement could have been negated, said BAA president Tom Nesbitt, an attorney in Austin.
“I think the vote turning out like it did tells me that people perceive this as what it is,” Nesbitt said. “It is good for everybody. It preserves the existence of the organization. It preserves an independent Baylor Line (magazine). That is so important to so many people, and it honors what Baylor has been saying for wanting to primarily handle alumni events through the Baylor Network. This is a creative, honorable agreement that is not perfect for either side but is fair to all sides.”
As part of the agreement, for the first time in the history of Baylor, the alumni group will have a say in the selection of three members of the Baylor Board of Regents.
The newest members, approved by the BAA vote and selected by the BAA board and a Baylor Board of Regents committee, are Wayne Fisher, an attorney from Houston; Dan Chapman, a banker from Dallas; and Julie Turner, of Dallas, an active community volunteer and wife of Jim Turner, a former chairman of the Baylor Board of Regents.
“These three alumni-elected regents are highly qualified, serious people,” Nesbitt said. “Perhaps more important than their superb qualifications, Dan, Wayne and Julie symbolize that, despite all of the conflict and rancor of the past few years, here are three alumni whom both sides of this family conflict respect and trust. There is healing power in that.”
Baylor President and Chancellor Ken Starr said the approval by the BAA membership will help the university keep moving in the right direction.
“The BAA membership has come together in a unified effort to strengthen relationships among all members of the Baylor family and with a firm commitment to support students who, as future Baylor alumni, remain actively connected and engaged with their alma mater. We are deeply grateful for the dedicated servant-leaders who, motivated by a unity of purpose and a deep and abiding love for Baylor University, worked diligently and thoughtfully to provide a clear path forward to serve the best interests of Baylor students and alumni worldwide.”
Under the terms of the agreement, Baylor will pay the BAA $2 million for tearing down the Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center on University Parks Drive, and the BAA will change its name to the Baylor Line Foundation. The foundation will continue to operate as a nonprofit and will raise money, provide scholarships to students and continue to publish the Baylor Line magazine.
In exchange for the $2 million, the BAA waived its rights to a replacement for its on-campus headquarters, which Baylor officials contend had to be razed to make room for the pedestrian bridge over the Brazos River that links the campus to the new McLane Stadium. Richard Willis, chairman of the Baylor Board of Regents, said he also was pleased that BAA members approved the agreement.
‘Bold step forward’
“We applaud the BAA leadership and membership, who (Saturday) took a bold step forward and endorsed, by a clear majority, a forward-looking agreement that brings all legal differences to a unified conclusion and, more importantly, strengthens scholarship support for Baylor students and engagement with all alumni. The board looks forward to welcoming future alumni-elected regents whose additional diverse perspectives as members of the Baylor family will enrich and inform the work of the university.”
Nesbitt noted that the agreement calling for the BAA name change is not the first time the association, formerly known as the Baylor Ex-Students Association, has changed its name.
“The overwhelming and enthusiastic support of so many members of the BAA demonstrates a commitment to this organization as it moves ahead,” Nesbitt said. “And more importantly, it shows a steadfast desire by our members to move onward in our support of the university we hold dear.”
Baylor sued the BAA in June 2014, alleging the association was improperly using Baylor’s name and trademarks. The school moved to cut licensing agreements with the BAA in December 2013 following failed attempts to merge the alumni association with Baylor’s in-house alumni network.
The BAA countersued, contending that Baylor breached its contract with the association, conspired to silence the BAA’s independent voice by trying to put it out of business and improperly tore down its campus headquarters under false pretenses.
The university was seeking a judgment that the BAA be terminated or re-formed and limited to helping students with financial aid.
Buddy Jones, a former BAA president and former chairman of the Baylor Board of Regents, said the dispute resolution was a long time in coming.
“First of all, this should have happened years ago. But frankly, the old saying ‘Better late than never’ applies here,” Jones said. “For many, many years, the leadership of this organization has not represented the members’ wishes, and now that they have given the members a voice, we have seen an overwhelming approval of the landmark lawsuit. The members are voting on what is best for Baylor University.”
To seal the deal, Nesbitt said Baylor officials and alumni will hold a celebratory dinner June 11 at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in an event called “Onward!”
The dinner will be held to thank the three new regents for agreeing to serve and to honor U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade, a federal judge in Dallas who Nesbitt said spent “countless hours” for almost six months serving as an unofficial mediator between the sides and helping broker the agreement.
“We expect it to be a great moment for the Baylor family to come together and move forward together,” Nesbitt said.