The Baylor Alumni Association on Thursday unveiled a new agreement with Baylor University outlining plans to continue to publish its alumni magazine ahead of Saturday’s vote on whether to relinquish other alumni activities to the university’s control.
The licensing agreement for the proposed Baylor Line Corp. was posted online on BAA’s new Baylor Line website Thursday just before a noon conference call with members addressing final concerns about the separate transition agreement to be voted on Saturday.
The transition agreement, if approved, would dissolve the BAA and license the new Baylor Line Corp. to continue publishing The Baylor Line alumni magazine.
Two-thirds of the members who vote at the special meeting in Baylor’s Waco Hall must approve the agreement for it to go into effect.
Among the provisions outlined in the Baylor Line Corp. document are pledges that the university will allow reporters from The Baylor Line access to school officials, including administrators, regents and athletic figures, though it states that university sources still may refuse interviews.
The Baylor Line Corp. agreement also states that Baylor cannot censor content or opinions as long as the reporting is accurate and meets ethical journalistic standards; that the university will provide an advance copy of its Baylor Magazine to the organization, while The Baylor Line will continue to be submitted to Baylor’s communication’s department ahead of printing; and that Baylor will allow The Baylor Line Corp. access to its database of new graduates and alumni through a third-party vendor so the new organization can send subscription solicitations annually.
Collin Cox, president of the BAA, said he hopes the agreement will alleviate alumni concerns that approving the transition agreement would endanger the independent editorial direction of The Baylor Line, which the organization has published since 1947.
“We needed some certainty as to what this publication would look like to attract the kind of talent it deserves,” said Cox, noting that it has been without an editor since Todd Copeland joined Baylor’s communications department in June.
“This period of uncertainly has been hard, and I think if this transition agreement is passed and the licensing agreement goes into effect, it gives us a clear runway to take off.”
The Baylor Line Corp. agreement states that the organization also would work closely with Baylor Vice President of Marketing and Communication John Barry, though Cox anticipates that the relationship will focus more on coordinating interviews than planning content for The Baylor Line.
A separate clause in the agreement does state that the corporation “should remember that the public may judge Baylor University by the utterances of (The Baylor Line).”
“Everyone who uses the Baylor name has a responsibility to use it wisely, and it’s not that Baylor gets to approve what is (printed) beforehand, it’s just that we’re licensing the Baylor name,” Cox said, noting that professors similarly are cautioned that the university can be tied to things said in their classrooms. “We have to realize that people may think at times that we speak for Baylor, so we have to be sure to indicate our independence . . . and we have a responsibility to make sure the reader knows our point of view.”
If approved, the transition agreement has a 10-year life span and would automatically be renewed for five-year periods unless The Baylor Line fails to meet nationally recognized standards for university publications. That could allow Baylor to terminate the licensing agreement.
The university has spent considerable energy advocating in favor of the transition agreement.
Baylor paid for billboards along Interstate 35 and Valley Mills and Waco drives featuring a “Vote Yes” campaign button along with the tag line “We’re moving #BaylorForward.” That same tag has been used in social media messages by both Baylor and the BAA urging passage of the agreement.
Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman declined to provide an estimate for how much the billboards cost.
Baylor President Ken Starr has written columns featured in the Tribune-Herald lauding the transition agreement, legendary Baylor football coach Grant Teaff has been featured in advertisements urging a “Yes” vote, and Baylor’s faculty and student senates each have endorsed the agreement.
Fogleman said she did not think the university planned the widespread outreach campaign with input from BAA’s leadership.
“We do have a position, but from our perspective it’s all about what’s best for the university. . . . A single, comprehensive, nationally focused and university-based alumni outreach program,” Fogleman said. “I think the university has shown that we have created a very robust alumni relations network, and we hope to have the help of all Baylor alumni, including those who have faithfully supported the Baylor Alumni Association.”
Fogleman in an email stated that, of the 69,000 alumni who graduated from Baylor between 1990 and 2013, only 3,400 joined the BAA. The university thinks its Baylor Alumni Network, which hosted 36,642 alumni in events in 26 states during the 2013 fiscal year, more effectively reaches alumni from across the country.
Si Ragsdale, the BAA’s president-elect and one of the three members who negotiated the transition agreement with Baylor regent representatives, said the average age of the BAA’s members is 58. That is partially due to Baylor cutting off BAA access to graduates’ contact information in 2009.
The BAA has about 17,000 members.
“Our percentage of graduates is getting less and less and less,” said Ragsdale, a 1975 graduate. “It’s a curve that is going precipitously down, and it’s very problematic for us. Those old guys like myself, how long are we going to be around anyway?”
BAA secretary Kyle Gilley, another member of the negotiating team, said in the conference call with members that Baylor has said it does not intend to renegotiate another agreement with the alumni association should the transition agreement fail.
The university in May issued a notice of intent to terminate all existing agreements that allow BAA to function and use the Baylor name effective Sept. 8 if the transition agreement fails.
“The university has notified us that we would be designated as an unauthorized organization by Baylor, essentially breaking all of our ties with the university,” Gilley said.
“A ‘No’ vote results in one certainty — we become an association with no ties to Baylor, and an uncertain future.”
BAA leaders said they think the group would face costly litigation to retain rights to use the Baylor name if the agreement failed.
Cox noted in the conference call that the organization racked up about $46,000 in legal bills in July during a lawsuit in which BAA lifetime member Kurt H. Dorr of Chicago unsuccessfully sought a permanent injunction against tearing down the Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center on campus, which had been the BAA’s headquarters since 1978.
“Those people that think that litigation is clearly a better option. We did that for one month this year, and we almost didn’t make payroll,” Cox said. “To continue that kind of litigation for year after year against the university has all kinds of downsides.”
The BAA has about $5.4 million in cash assets, with about $200,000 of that earmarked for endowed scholarships, Chief Operating Officer Chad Wooten previously told the board of directors.
It also is uncertain whether the eight BAA staff members who were relocated to Baylor’s Clifton Robinson administrative tower after the alumni center was demolished will be forced to move out of those offices.
“We’re only focusing on Saturday and trying to make sure that people know the options, that they make an informed choice as to yes or no,” Cox said. “I personally believe that a ‘Yes’ vote is the only vote that protects our staff, that gives us the editorial independence that we value in The Line, and that allows everyone to stop fighting.”