Finding new leaders has been added to the to-do list of the Baylor Alumni Association, which is in the process of charting its direction since the university announced plans last month to formally sever the group’s rights to serve as Baylor’s official alumni organization.
All but one of the BAA’s five officers announced their resignations this past weekend, former president-elect Si Ragsdale said. Ragsdale, BAA president Collin Cox, secretary Kyle Gilley and past president Elizabeth Coker already have stepped down or soon will end their service.
The four leaders had been prominent proponents of a transition agreement that would have transferred alumni outreach activities to Baylor and dissolved the BAA to create a new Baylor Line Corp. that would continue publishing the association’s 66-year-old alumni magazine, The Baylor Line.
The agreement did not gain approval by two-thirds of members who voted on the transition agreement in a Sept. 7 vote at Baylor’s Waco Hall. Baylor President Ken Starr wrote in a Sept. 10 letter that BAA would have 90 days from the failed vote to cease using the Baylor name and other university trademarks.
Ragsdale said the officers did not collectively agree to resign together, but announced it Saturday during the BAA’s first formal board of directors meeting since the vote.
“I was so invested in the transition agreement all summer, I just felt like it was time for the alumni association to move on with new leadership,” Ragsdale said. “And I was one of those who thought the transition agreement was a good idea, I pushed for it and it wasn’t accepted . . . and I felt like it was time for me to resign and not participate any further.”
Gilley and Coker did not return phone messages seeking comment. Cox declined comment, but emailed a copy of his resignation letter to the Tribune-Herald.
In the letter, Cox stated: “This is a very difficult and personal decision. But I do not believe a more adversarial approach against the university is consistent with the BAA Constitution. I therefore am not the person to lead the association at this juncture. I will stand aside, prayerful that God’s will shall be done and that the Baylor family — the entire Baylor family — shall heal.”
In addition to the top leaders who resigned, nine of the other 48 board members also stepped down, bringing the total resignations to 13, Ragsdale said.
Also, nine association staff members have resigned to take positions at Baylor, leaving only two employees remaining, Chief Operating Officer Chad Wooten said.
The resignations come in the midst of ongoing deliberations on what the BAA should do to continue operating, given the looming deadline from the university.
“That’s going to be another issue we’re going to have to deal with, in the case of where the discussion goes and who’s going to facilitate that discussion, there’s no question about it,” said board member Robert Cloud, a Baylor professor.
San Antonio-based board member George Cowden III sits on BAA’s nominating committee. He said the committee hopes to nominate new officers at an upcoming board meeting this Saturday who can quickly step in to guide the organization’s transformation.
There are six members on the committee.
“I think the most important thing is to have someone who is willing to hear all sides of the issues,” Cowden said.
The organization distributed an email survey last week with three different possible courses of action.
About 50 percent of the nearly 1,900 who responded were in favor of a plan to reorganize into a foundation with a focus on raising money for student scholarships at Baylor, according to a news release on the association’s website.
Another 30 percent favored an option to defend the BAA’s legal rights to continue using the Baylor name, while 19 percent wanted to change the organization’s name and branding but continue with alumni outreach separate from Baylor.
Cloud said he thinks reorganizing as a scholarship-focused foundation would be the best solution, even though that would limit the scope of work the BAA has done in its 154-year history.
He said he thinks most members would be opposed to a possible legal fight with Baylor about naming and licensing rights. Cloud said he suggested during Saturday’s meeting that the BAA should attempt another round of negotiations with Baylor’s regents and administration for a peaceful compromise, but that few board members thought the university was open to such talks.
“There’s just really good people who have differing opinions about the future, and I have to say that includes the regents and administration and not just those of us in the BAA,” Cloud said. “Very few people would have wished that it would have ended this way, in my opinion.”
But some BAA members think that, despite Baylor’s intentions to terminate existing licensing agreements with the BAA, the current contracts with the university bar that from happening.
Kent Reynolds, son of the late former Baylor President Herbert Reynolds, said he does not think a lawsuit is imminent if the BAA continues operating as it always has.
“There’s no reason in the world an in-house alumni outreach and an independent alumni organization can’t work together for the betterment of Baylor, and the entity that is ultimately hurt the most by the ongoing dispute is Baylor University,” Reynolds wrote in an email.
Tom Nesbitt, a BAA member and Austin-based attorney, said the onus would be on Baylor to mount a legal challenge to stop the BAA from using the university’s name, so he thinks the association should simply defend itself in a lawsuit, if necessary, but continue business as usual.
“I would expect an institution like Baylor, that prides itself on integrity, to honor its contracts,” Nesbitt said. “If they won’t honor their contracts, then there’s a civil justice system to hold them accountable.”
Nesbitt was one of five lawyers who represented Chicago-area association member Kurt Dorr, who in the summer obtained a temporary restraining order to stop Baylor from razing the Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center, BAA’s on-campus home since 1978.
A federal judge later lifted the order, which allowed Baylor to demolish the building July 26 to clear way for a grassy plaza to be created in front of a pedestrian bridge across the Brazos River leading to the new on-campus football stadium under construction.
Board member Marie Brown, of Dallas, said she disagreed with defending the contracts because the possibility of a lawsuit is not beneficial to either the BAA or the university. But she was torn on whether the association should switch to a scholarship foundation or work toward re-branding without the Baylor name and continue alumni outreach, a process that would be costly and time-consuming.
Like Cloud, Brown hopes for another chance to meet with Baylor leaders and hammer out an agreement. But she said the alumni association now has to reach some sort of consensus to create a viable plan to continue operating.
“You have people who are really wanting the alumni association to defend itself, and then you’ve got people who are like, ‘Let’s just let it go,’ ” Brown said. “And then you’ve got people like me who are in the middle, not sure whether to go left or right, because left is not all bad and right is not all bad.
“I think when you have people who are totally split, it’s hard to make a decision.”