Open meetings, press availability and a dramatically restructured board are among the latest demands for Baylor University regents from “Bears for Leadership Reform,” a group of high-profile donors and alumni that has pressured the board for more than two months in the aftermath of the school’s sexual assault scandal.
In response, Baylor regents Chairman Ron Murff said the board will soon adopt more than 30 recommendations given by the board’s Governance Review Task Force, which began its work in November.
In a teleconference Wednesday afternoon, John Eddie Williams, a Houston lawyer whose name adorns the football field at Baylor’s McLane Stadium and a prominent member of Bears for Leadership Reform, proposed a format of 34 voting regents. Baylor’s current board is larger but has fewer regents with voting privileges, at 32.
The reform group’s ideal board would consist of 10 regents elected by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, 10 elected by Baylor alumni and 10 elected by the full membership of the board. Additionally, one regent each would be from the “B” Association, the Baylor Bear Foundation, Student Government and Faculty Senate.
All regents, except for the student regent, would serve three-year terms and serve no more than three terms total. The chairperson could not hold the role for more than two years total, and the board of regents’ executive committee would be disbanded.
Other changes proposed by the Bears for Leadership Reform included: board meetings held in open session; publication of meeting dates, agendas, minutes and governance documents; explanation of board committees; discontinuation of the board’s nondisclosure agreement; and press availability after meetings.
‘Become a leader’
“It’s very important that we not just match what other universities might do, but that we become a leader, and leader in transparency and accountability to be the very best, because we can do that,” Williams said.
Williams said the reform group’s request for the executive committee to be disbanded results from current regents telling him they feel marginalized because the executive committee “seems to have all the power and control, and is keeping the knowledge closely held, even from the entire board.”
Murff, meanwhile, said the board of regents’ task force delivered its final report to the board’s governance committee Monday, and legal counsel was directed to draft changes to the board’s bylaws in accordance with the task force’s 30 recommendations. The full report will be published online within the next week, Murff said, and the board of regents would vote on the bylaw changes at its next meeting Feb. 17.
“I have been impressed by the comprehensive work of the Task Force in compiling its report,” Murff said in a statement. “I am extremely grateful to these men and women for devoting so much of their time to produce a thorough and unsparing assessment of our governance policies and procedures.”
Murff could not be reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, and it wasn’t clear how closely the board of regents’ task force recommendations align with the demands made Wednesday by reform group leaders, or how many, if any, of the regents’ 30 recommendations involved restructuring the board.
Murff said the regents’ task force reviewed similar board operations at for-profit and nonprofit institutions and consulted with governance experts and experienced board leaders in compiling their 30 recommendations.
“Both the Baylor family and the public should know that the process of continual board assessment and improvement will always be an integral part of normal operations at Baylor,” Murff said in his statement. “We will follow well-established procedures for changing our bylaws in an expeditious manner. And we look forward to providing more details about the recommendations and changes in progress.”
In the teleconference, Williams said he was unaware of any forthcoming board governance changes.
Current board format
Baylor’s board of regents currently includes three voting regents representing the Baylor Line Foundation, formerly the Baylor Alumni Association. Those three positions are selected by a nominating committee. The alumni selections were born out of a lawsuit settlement between the alumni group and the university after more than a decade of well-chronicled tension between Baylor regents and administrators and the long-independent Baylor Alumni Association.
Up to 25 percent of the regents are elected by the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
The rest of the membership is elected by the board itself.
Currently, the board also includes one nonvoting representative each for faculty, the “B” Association and the Baylor Bear Foundation. Two students also serve as nonvoting regents.
Williams and former Texas Gov. Mark White have been among the more vocal members of Bears for Leadership Reform. The group also includes Temple billionaire and stadium namesake Drayton McLane, former regent Emily Tinsley and former board of regents Chairman Gale Galloway.
The group also has the support of legendary former head football coach Grant Teaff and major donor Nell Hawkins. It has gained more than 15,000 Facebook supporters since its formation in November.
Last month, with the help of an independent law firm, the group projected the sexual assault scandal could cost Baylor $223 million, including the ensuing lawsuits and settlements, among other factors.
Williams has said he has honored his financial commitments to Baylor, but he knows of many who have withheld donations because of the scandal. He said he knows one person who wrote $25 million once intended for Baylor out of a will.
In May, regents fired Ken Starr as president and Art Briles as head football coach. Ian McCaw later resigned as athletics director, and two other athletics staffers were fired after Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton LLC found “fundamental failure” in Title IX implementation at Baylor and throughout the football program.
Former Baylor regent and current Bears for Leadership Reform board member Randy Ferguson said Baylor’s constituents have lost “a great deal” of trust in the school’s board, which spurred the formation of Bears for Leadership Reform and its recent public push for change and transparency.
“Ultimately, this plan is trying to help rebuild some of that trust with the Baylor family,” Ferguson said. “Clearly, one of the things that will (rebuild trust) would be to have some other additional faces or newer faces on that board.”