Neither Bears for Leadership Reform nor anyone else concerned should be outfoxed by initial reform ideas crafted for Baylor University’s embattled Board of Regents. While we’re glad some regents are earnestly discussing useful ways to improve board transparency and accountability in the wake of a sexual-assault scandal that has tarnished administrators, coaches, players and especially regents, no one should assume mere publishing of board minutes and agendas will halt protest, including some very angry and vocal donors.
One reason public uproar over Baylor’s mishandling of sexual-assault allegations has continued for more than a year is because regents’ secrecy has created an increasingly isolated echo chamber of governance. Whether the topic involves the firings of Baylor President Ken Starr and head football coach Art Briles last May; October’s stinging departure of Title IX Coordinator Patty Crawford, who was supposed to lead the charge to correct these matters; or multiplying allegations of more rapes and more assaults, regents contributed to it all through erratic accountability.
In an interview with Trib higher education writer Phillip Ericksen, regent chairman Ron Murff said internal conversations between the board’s executive committee and governance committee produced the decision to post agendas and minutes starting next year. Only catch: The university already issues press statements summarizing action by regents (or at least what they choose to publicize after their closed-door meetings). To us, it sounds as if the board will be taking those press releases, stamping “Minutes” on them and claiming “transparency.”
Murff told the Trib this week that open regent meetings or partially open meetings are “a little more difficult to do” because of Baylor’s private-university status and best-practice interpretations. Huh? Actually, there’s nothing difficult about it, given that public universities and other public entities do it all the time, understandably retreating into privacy when legal or personnel issues are discussed. Just imagine how the light of transparency, accountability and informed and open discourse might have reversed the very dark narrative now regularly spun about Baylor.
As Bears for Leadership Reform leader and significant Baylor donor John Eddie Williams noted in so many words for an upcoming Trib Q&A, we don’t believe regents are malevolent gnomes hiding in darkness, craftily rubbing their hands together as they engage in deceit and skullduggery. But there’s absolutely no doubt their current strategy has only allowed lawsuits and new controversies to spawn and spread, largely unimpeded. At the very least, regents should be confident enough to regularly meet with the press and public after meetings to better explain their actions. And right now they have much to explain.