As Baylor University sits on the precipice of truly devastating consequences, its board of regents remains firm in not granting further clarity in the ongoing scandal that has gripped America and plagues the school and community around them. Amazingly, for all the talk by others of “going down with the ship,” regents seem almost determined to take Baylor with them into the abyss.
So this is how the wise captains of industry steer the course of Baylor? Happy New Year!
Recent developments could have severe, if not damning, results for regents. Serious implications are at stake when one considers that Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission accreditation is now on the line. Equally risky, major donors are leading angry alumni in calling for an independent investigation of the board’s mishandling of the scandal. And if that’s not enough, national news media are adding to the pressure — and adding to the stigma of seeming regent inaction and inflexibility.
“The support that Bears for Leadership Reform received in the first six weeks has been phenomenal,” said Liza Christian Firmin, a member of the alumni coalition’s board of directors and a 2006 Baylor graduate. “Thanks to the engagement of thousands of members of the Baylor family, we have succeeded in heightening public awareness about the lack of transparency and accountability at Baylor and the need for positive governance reform.”
The board of regents recently responded to Bears for Leadership Reform demands for this investigation by insisting they’ll allow no such thing. Even the three regents supposedly representing Baylor alumni failed to be accountable. The board’s response to BLR’s implied, “We don’t trust you or your agents,” was in turn: “Well, since you don’t trust us, we reviewed the information and have found nothing wrong on our parts.”
And when Bears for Leadership Reform on Dec. 13 released the results of an economic analysis suggesting the campuswide sexual and domestic assault scandal could cost Baylor some $223 million, regents were similarly unmoved, releasing this stoic statement the same day: “Beyond confirming Baylor University is and will continue to be strong and financially healthy, we will not respond to such speculation with any further comment.”
At this juncture, regents seem pretty oblivious to an undeniable fact we see regularly in political life: When someone doesn’t trust you’re being honest with them, they’re sure not just going to take your word for it.
With a libel and conspiracy suit filed against the board, the investigation that regents seek to avoid is now almost inevitable, assuming the party suing isn’t just in it for a quick playoff. You can rest assured that regents will throw yet more money at all this to prevent any possible tarnishing of their public image — already damaged beyond reasonable repair.
From the outside, it almost appears the entire driving force for the regents was to get rid of head football coach Art Briles. With investigative journalists inching closer and closer to the truth, regents seem to be putting up a “United We Stand” front. Ongoing journalistic probes and law firms representing Briles and others might cause this front to falter. Whatever the result of all the dynamics now pressing Baylor, the Baylor University Board of Regents sure can’t hide forever.
The BLR too may have to switch gears at some point. John Eddie Williams, for whom the field at McLane Stadium is named, has stated some donors are withholding further donations till some ground is given by regents. Eventually, Williams and others could realize they’re getting nowhere with this board and will summarily demand the resignations of all regents and likely their mouthpieces operating in higher roles within the school. In short, regent chairman Ron Murff and his leadership cadre may take everyone else down with them.
It’s easy to see the regents are not going to emerge victorious in this game of chicken. While they seek to portray themselves as solid, visionary leaders standing strong, no one is buying it, especially with every watchful eye in the nation paying close attention to every hair on regents’ heads. Perhaps the board should go ahead, cut its losses and save face while they still have a face.
It’s a common adage: “Better to hear it from me than someone else.” After all, regents can’t dodge questions forever. Someone will eventually uncover the rest of the truth and the bodies buried in whatever academic skullduggery has transpired.
Terry Commander, of Bellmead, is a six-year veteran of the Navy, having served aboard the USS Vella Gulf for three years and 11 months as a fire controlman. His ship participated in overseeing a hostage crisis between Somali pirates and the crew of the MV Faina, which was carrying important military cargo.