During lunch with a disappointed, pro-transition pact Baylor Alumni Association member on Tuesday, I suggested Baylor University might be wise to shelve its repeated threat of legally seeking to yank the licensed name “Baylor” from the BAA and its magazine, that letting attrition do the job over time might be preferable to the spectacle of Baylor and its fiercely independent, 154-year-old alumni organization battling in court — something that might leave all a laughingstock.
“We already are a laughingstock,” the alumnus fumed.
A few hours later, Baylor President Ken Starr announced that, in the wake of the BAA’s failure last weekend to secure enough votes from members to endorse a pact merging the university and the BAA, Baylor would follow through on regents’ vow and give the BAA 90 days to quit using the name “Baylor,” including on the BAA’s 66-year-old magazine, The Baylor Line. BAA leaders who supported the merger as a way to keep the magazine in production and independent acknowledged disappointment not only in Saturday’s vote but the decision by Baylor regents to terminate what very few ties the two groups have left.
Whereas the proposed transition pact largely represented generous terms of surrender for the BAA, Baylor’s decision this week represents a potential coup de grâce. Indeed, Saturday’s often mean-spirited debate between BAA members before the vote revealed a badly divided bunch ostracized from campus life and the Baylor students of today. Now BAA leaders must decide whether to fight the university that BAA members are supposed to support.
Consider the tragic irony: Not only did the BAA executive committee bless the painstakingly negotiated agreement that would have merged the BAA and Baylor, most BAA directors endorsed it. So did most BAA membership meeting in Waco Hall, by a vote of 831-668 — except that BAA bylaws mandate that approval of any agreement gain a two-thirds vote. So while 55 percent of membership meeting last weekend approved of the pact, the margin wasn’t enough to accept (depending on your view) peace at last or insulting terms of surrender.
Few moments were as defining as when, during the BAA business meeting, Baylor student Emily Knaub took the mike on the “pro” side of the auditorium to urge unity and camaraderie — only for an alumna to rise and protest the student’s participation. However correct the alumna was in protocol, it was ironic given that one of the concerns besieged BAA board members have is that the average age of BAA members is reportedly 58 years old — and that of the last 69,000 Baylor grads, only 3,400 have joined the BAA. At that rate, the BAA could well go extinct in another generation or two.
Another telling moment came when one of those vehemently opposed to folding the BAA into the robust Baylor Alumni Network asked in exasperation, “Is everyone just tired of fighting?”
Well, yes, some are, particularly those who believe the fight against controversial Baylor President Robert B. Sloan a decade ago should end, given that he’s long gone. The BAA survived Saturday but now trudges onward bloodied, hamstrung and divided by the vitriol that BAA members unleashed on one another before the vote. Sherry Edwards, 58 and speaking for the agreement, spoke of the endless friction among alums in an organization that is increasingly ineffectual: “I’m tired of walking into a room filled with green and gold and wondering whose side everyone is on.”
That said, one must wonder whether Baylor’s bulldozing of the Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center this summer — and just as BAA members began really scrutinizing the transition pact — was prudent, regardless of overtime costs for construction crews waiting around to do the job. A veteran BAA member steadfastly opposed to the agreement told me this week, “When they tore that building down, they really ruptured this thing.”
Infighting has only intensified on social media since the vote. On the BAA’s Facebook page, some have demanded the heads of BAA board members for not reflecting BAA interests (notwithstanding the fact most of the BAA voting backed its leadership Saturday). Everyone laments the BAA bylaws — pro-forces over the two-thirds rule, both camps over why alumni beyond Waco couldn’t vote online or by mail. Some Wednesday night welcomed yet another round of fighting, with one declaring delight at the prospect of Baylor regents testifying in court under oath.
Meanwhile, others revealed they’re thinking of the future even without the hallowed “Baylor” name. One suggestion trotted out: the Jerusalem on the Brazos Alumni Association.