My parents met at Baylor University in 1946 when my father was playing football for the Bears. My wife and I met there as well in 1965 when I played the same sport. After graduation, I left Waco and Baylor to proceed to medical school and residency in cardiology. Upon returning to Waco to pursue my medical career, I also taught at Baylor for 18 years in the Medical Humanities Program. I was honored to receive a Meritorious Achievement Award in Health Care by my beloved university last fall.
So as a student, athlete, alum and former professor, I offer these humble thoughts about our current crisis.
To begin with, I firmly believe prospective athletes should be recruited and told up front that they are students first. They should be subject to the same academic entrance requirements as any other incoming freshman. We shouldn’t lower the bar and hope those students can somehow “make it” here.
While that model may mean we miss out on students who have potential both in the classroom and on the field, it means we start with young men and women who at least have a sense of perspective on life and success. Simply stated, one can’t be given the privilege of representing Baylor on the field unless you can compete and succeed in the classroom. And while this surely will not completely eliminate episodes of campus and sexual violence, I do believe it will allow us to begin with a different set of expectations.
A decade ago I spoke those very words to key leaders at Baylor and within the athletic department and was given a blank stare back. The expectations of national championships and Tier One academics became the forbidden fruit for our culture at Baylor and we have paid the moral price for that.
Secondly, I believe Baylor University regents need to look into their own hearts of darkness and acknowledge their own moral complicity in this fiasco. As has every Baylor board of regents I have seen in my lifetime, this one is made up of good people who immediately begin power struggles for control, ego gratification and imposing their limited and often narrow vision for Baylor.
If the model of “the buck stops here” applies to this situation, then the buck stops not at the president’s office but at the board level. Yet I have not heard one board member state in effect, “I offer my resignation,” in order that Baylor might move forward from this with integrity and transparency. Instead, they tarnish the reputations and accomplishments of others and point the finger of blame in other directions while the truth lies buried beneath hidden agendas, cliques and power struggles. And they then cloak their language in theological piety, while their very actions suggest otherwise.
The other salient point that former Baylor Law School professor and onetime federal prosecutor Mark Osler so eloquently touches upon in his own recent column is that our board of regents is simply too large. It is unwieldy and lends itself to power struggles and endless infighting. And in the wreckage of this, all of us then become the losers.
There is a wonderful Greek word that in my mind should shape and become the moral compass for every person who loves Baylor. It is “kenosis.” From Paul’s letter to the Philippians, it refers to the self-emptying sacrificial love of Jesus. It means we come to the table to serve, not to conquer. It means that we must come to listen when we are gifted to positions of leadership. It means our own ego-driven desires, opinions and beliefs must be put aside for the greater good, which in this case is Baylor University.
In my humble opinion, the only leader who has consistently demonstrated this particular trait was President Ken Starr. He was a joyous, intelligent, compassionate and creative leader whose love for Baylor and Waco was evident in every word and deed. Future members of the board would do well to remember this model.
Michael Attas, M.D., FACC, is a retired cardiologist, former director of cardiology at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center and former professor of medical humanities at Baylor University.