Baylor University’s board of regents will publicize agendas and minutes for all future quarterly meetings, Chairman Ron Murff said Tuesday.
Murff said the decision to post agendas and minutes came out of internal conversations between the board’s executive committee and governance committee. Past agendas and minutes will not be posted, and the new protocol will start with the board’s February meeting.
The change comes days after the first meeting of Bears for Leadership Reform, a group of powerful Baylor donors and alumni who criticized regents for their response to a sexual assault scandal that has rocked the university for more than a year.
“From my perspective and from our perspective, we take seriously the input that they can provide,” Murff said of the group. “We recognize that many of them are former board members. Many of them are very accomplished in their fields. We know they love Baylor. We know they have Baylor’s best interest in their minds.”
The group of donors also called for the facts behind an investigation by Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP. The investigation found a “fundamental failure” in Baylor’s Title IX implementation since 2011, regents reported in May. The board fired Ken Starr as president and Art Briles as head football coach the same day.
The board heard an oral presentation from Pepper Hamilton and released a 13-page “findings of fact” document.
“A report, if you will, from them is still something that is under consideration,” Murff said, but he would not offer more specifics.
Last month, regents told the Wall Street Journal that 17 women had accused 19 football players of sexual or physical violence. Regents then told the Dallas Morning News that Briles had failed to take action on at least one incident he was aware of, offering a glimpse of detail into the report.
When asked about the Bears for Leadership Reform request of an expanded website including a list of board committees and governance documents, Murff said it is one of several steps regents are considering.
“We haven’t made a decision along those lines yet,” he said. “That’s a possibility.”
He said open meetings or partially open meetings are “a little more difficult to do” because of Baylor’s private university status and best-practice interpretations.
“We’re considering a lot of different issues and where we can get better and where it will be helpful,” Murff said. “We’ll certainly consider that and make decisions along those lines.”
The posting of meeting agendas and minutes made sense to the board to increase transparency, Murff said.
“We’re happy to do it,” he said. “It’s a reasonable suggestion and one that we think we can meet and should meet.”
Murff said the newly formed Governance Review Task Force and the board’s governance committee were instrumental in making the decisions, along with guidance the board sought from higher education experts Cathy Trower and Ray Cotton.
“Dr. Cathy Trower and Ray Cotton challenged the regents to identify and adopt meaningful changes in governance that will better position the board to support the university in achieving its mission well into the future,” Murff said in an additional statement posted to Baylor’s website.
“It’s very critical,” he said. “It gives us some perspective from outside Baylor. These are an example of two people that have significant expertise in higher education and higher education legal matters and in higher education governance and structure matters.”
He said both have worked with the board periodically in the past several years.
A memo from Regent J. Cary Gray published on Baylor’s website outlines the board’s action in governance training and studies of best practices.
The board this summer eliminated the athletics committee and formed an executive committee, composed of committee chairs.
Houston lawyer and Baylor donor John Eddie Williams, a leader of Bears for Leadership Reform, said he applauds the board for taking “a step in the right direction.”
“I hope our efforts have had some effect, and it appears that they have, and we look forward to more openness and more disclosure,” Williams said. “We have serious concerns about the board’s past conduct and are interested in seeing the past minutes and past agendas.”
The group also includes donor and Regent Emeritus Drayton McLane, former Texas Gov. Mark White, former board Chairman Gale Galloway and former Regent and former Baylor Alumni Association President Emily Tinsley. Former Baylor football coach Grant Teaff is not a member but said the opening prayer for the group’s first meeting.
Murff said further changes in board governance are possible, and he said the board is willing to share its plans. He said issues raised by Bears for Leadership Reform are issues regents constantly consider in decisions about best practices.
“We think it’s reasonable and we should be listening to them, and we will,” Murff said.