Today’s wildly fractured thinking in America makes it increasingly difficult to properly gauge alleged lapses in leadership, which must leave some with exceedingly mixed feelings about former Baylor University regent Neal “Buddy” Jones’ emails branding as “perverted little tarts” and “very bad apples” female students he suspected of drinking alcohol. Much of society nowadays holds that leaders be held accountable for deeds, not words. Even many supposed evangelicals now excuse malicious rhetoric in favor of Christian actions and works.
If that’s the new standard for leadership in our nation, where does this leave Jones, swept up in a lawsuit against Baylor filed by attorney and former state legislator Jim Dunnam on behalf of 10 alleged sexual-assault victims? The 10 insist the former regent’s emails maligning certain female students as “insidious and inbred” for imbibing show a campus culture where the policy against drinking could serve as useful “pretext to shame, silence and threaten to expel a female student” — especially a student inconveniently alleging assault.
If on the other hand you regard one’s language as telling, such emails must raise serious questions, not only among Baylor alumni, students and parents but also regents. Jones’ remarks may be an aberration of regent behavior. Let’s assume they are. But considering other emails by Jones that show him calling the fiercely independent Baylor Alumni Association “terrorists” and enlisting BU administrators in devious schemes to break the BAA, one must wonder if fellow regents then were aware of such impulses in closed-door meetings — whether about “tarts” or “terrorists” — and why some might have chosen to tolerate such behavior, given it strikes us as less than Christian, which is what Baylor is supposed to be all about. Indeed, the emails attached to this Title IX lawsuit are from 2009 — and BU regents nonetheless elevated Jones to board chair in 2011.
One wonders whether recent reforms in board governance would have allowed conscientious regents — we assume some existed — to pursue actions to censure or eject from their exalted number one of this disposition. One thing’s sure: It sure adds weight to efforts by the alumni group Bears for Leadership Reform and others pressing for more transparency in BU regent meetings. Had meetings been open and public in recent years, it’s possible that such impulses as Jones’ would have become painfully apparent, perhaps even to the embarrassment of fellow regents. Instead, the emails — further evidence of Jones’ trying to exact his idea of justice on others by inappropriately micromanaging BU administrators — only bolster claims of the alleged victims in this case.
In short, these latest revelations add to persistent calls for more accountability to Baylor alumni, students, parents and the public of how, where and why Baylor went so terribly awry in handling sexual-assault claims involving students, athletes and administrators through the years. It’s part of a broader fight for the very soul of Baylor. Jones’ emails suggest how easy it is for university leaders to look the other way — and how their young charges can suffer because of this neglect and cloistered irresponsibility.