The board of directors for the Baylor Alumni Association wants to amend some of the terms of a proposed agreement to merge with Baylor University to better protect the editorial independence of its Baylor Line magazine.
The board met in a special meeting Saturday to discuss a proposed transition agreement that would have the university oversee all alumni outreach through its own Baylor Alumni Network, but allow the alumni association to continue publishing the Baylor Line, which it has printed since 1947, among other concessions.
Members debated for more than two hours whether to take a vote declaring its support or opposition to the agreement, which will go before the full membership for approval or rejection on Sept. 7.
But a majority of the 42 board members who gathered in person and by phone Saturday agreed to not take action, thinking that taking a stance either way could impede ongoing discussions to preserve editorial control of the magazine.
“I think that they would love an excuse to dig their heels in (and halt negotiations), and that it would be very risky for us to vote ‘No’ today,” said longtime board member Ella Prichard, of Corpus Christi, who made the motion to adjourn the meeting without a vote. “I also think, though, that to vote ‘Yes’ on this blank check . . . sends the wrong message to the Board of Regents that we’re pushovers and that there’s no reason for them to negotiate further.”
Mike Bourland, a Fort Worth attorney who has handled the negotiations with Baylor, told the group he submitted a list of proposed transition amendments to a Baylor attorney last week but had not yet
received a response.
The list included ensuring that Baylor Line staff members would have access to university officials to report stories and that the magazine’s content will be decided by staff without influence from the university.
“There’s a lot of questions out there, and this is a complex matter,” said Baylor higher education professor Robert Cloud, who also sits on the board of directors. “Because of the trust issues that exist between the two entities, if we could get some concrete resolution to some of those questions before Sept. 7, I think I’d feel more comfortable about my vote.”
Many of the board members spoke of ongoing tensions with the university during the past decade in expressing skepticism of the transition proposal.
The relationship between the university and alumni association took a turn in the early 2000s when the Baylor Line gave voice to faculty members who were critical of former Baylor president Robert Sloan’s leadership.
“We’ve been taking all the punches. We’ve got the black eye,” Baxter said. “Where do we punch back? Or do we say we don’t punch, we lay down, we say ‘yes,’ and we go into an agreement and hope that the university will do us some kind of justice or favor?”
The proposed transition agreement would license a new Baylor Line Corp. to continue publishing the magazine with current staff, while the university would manage alumni activities. It also would create a nonvoting alumni seat on the Baylor Board of Regents, as well as a new Baylor Alumni Advisory Board made of some current BAA leaders to consult on alumni outreach.
“I don’t trust that they’re going to do what they say they’re going to do with this transition agreement,” said Marie Brown, a board member who sits on the executive committee and also leads the Baylor Black Alumni Club. “We have to add more (safeguards in the agreement). We have to demand more from them.”
Some board members did voice support for the transition agreement, if only out of concern that Baylor eventually would force BAA out of operation in its desire to manage alumni relations.
“They are not going to let us continue with business as usual,” BAA Secretary Kyle Gilley said. “We need to face that fact. And whatever we do today and how you vote on Sept. 7, it has implications for this organization moving forward, including whether we can use the name Baylor, and what happens to our staff.”
Baylor anthropology professor Lori Baker said the future outlook for BAA is already dim because few students on campus know or care about the functions of the alumni association.
Some are already more familiar with the Baylor Alumni Network, a free alumni outreach program the university created in 2002 as an alternative to the paid activities of BAA.
“At this point, we’ve been fighting and we’re going to lose,” Baker said. “There’s not going to be a next generation of Baylor Alumni Association members because they don’t know. The ones whose parents have educated them about what’s going on, don’t care.”
Baker said she also thinks Baylor already has been prepared for a future without BAA, regardless of any sour feelings behind the proposed merger, and “wrote us off a long time ago.”
Her concerns have some grounding in recent events. Baylor last month demolished the Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center, which had served as BAA’s headquarters since 1978.
A Chicago-area alum’s attempt in court to delay its demolition until after the Sept. 7 vote on the transition agreement failed.
Baylor officials said the alumni center site was needed for a grassy plaza leading to a pedestrian bridge across the Brazos River that will create access to the new on-campus football stadium under construction.
The university is in the early stages of a feasibility study for a new $19.5 million alumni events center to be built next to the stadium sometime in 2015, but it is unclear if it would include space for Baylor Line staff, who currently are working out of Baylor’s Clifton Robinson administrative tower.
Two top BAA administrators already have left the organization for new positions, including Baylor Line editor Todd Copeland’s move to Baylor’s communications department.
And Baylor on Sept. 8 intends to terminate the current licensing agreement that allows BAA to perform alumni functions.
A two-thirds majority of BAA members who attend the Sept. 7 meeting at Waco Hall is needed to pass the agreement.
BAA President Collin Cox, a Houston attorney, said he plans to hold a conference call with the board of directors in the next 10 days to further air any concerns about the transition agreement and share any progress on negotiations for the Baylor Line.
“These are big, fundamental changes, and we want to talk about it as much as we need to,” Cox said. “We’re ready to look at the agreements again and continue negotiating to see what we come up with.”