The main news out of Monday’s meeting between Baylor University donors and alumni heading up Bears for Leadership Reform and three members of the university’s embattled board of regents centered on the Bears’ push for an independent investigation going back to 2011 to determine why Baylor administrators and regents complied in fits and starts with a U.S. Department of Education letter strongly advising Title IX policies to address incidents of sexual violence. That alone signifies how absurd all this is becoming.
As a reporter noted during a subsequent press conference, this amounts to an investigation of an investigation into Baylor’s sexual-assault scandal, including allegations of institutional indifference regarding victims of sexual violence. However, this new inquiry would also examine regents’ actions through 2016, including regents’ oaths of secrecy and how many millions of dollars they’ve paid out in settlements. The irony is regents paid for their own nine-month investigation but have kept its details under wraps, allegedly to protect student victims.
Which raises one interesting question. We already know, partially through the regents themselves, of everything from gang rape to administrative retaliation against at least one assault victim. What could be worse? One possible answer, at least from regents’ perspective: Their own handling of all this.
While Bears for Leadership Reform leader John Eddie Williams and others described their 2½-hour meeting with the three regents as cordial, he stressed that regents continue to remain somewhat oblivious to the gathering storm around them. That storm includes increasing impatience by some alumni and donors over such matters as Title IX compliance, which Williams labels “the foundation of a lot of our problems.” Questions also loom over the May firings of a popular university president and winning football coach.
“It is my impression that they are somewhat inside a bubble and don’t know the depth of the skepticism [regarding] the board,” Williams said at the press conference after Monday’s meeting. “We emphasized very strongly [to regents] that this is not going away. This will not heal itself. This will not be solved with [their] just making a few changes in governance. We were very emphatic about that and I hope they understand that. I did not get a sense from what they told us that they appreciate or understand the depth of this issue.”
After the meeting, Baylor regent Jerry Clements assured Trib staff writer Phillip Ericksen that the board will respond to the group’s suggestion of an investigation, which Williams says is really a pre-requisite of sorts before Bears for Leadership Reform and regents can discuss efforts to make the board more transparent. However, to their credit, Williams and others made clear that the mere publishing of minutes and agendas — regents’ only clear-cut suggestion for transparency so far — falls way short of what Bears for Leadership Reform envisions.
For the sake of Baylor, Waco and themselves, regents should look out of their ivory tower and gauge the increasing rancor below. While limited accountability to alumni, faculty and the press might have sufficed in earlier times, their failure to grasp the crisis at hand only ensures questions about leadership at Baylor will continue to undermine all else the university seeks to accomplish, most of it worthwhile. If regents have nothing to hide, they should warmly welcome questions about their roles.
Let’s hope regents take the words of former Gov. Mark White, a Baylor alumnus, to heart: “This is not something that is going to wait until next semester. It’s something that we think should be and can be solved quickly. It’s going to take their participation and cooperation and leadership.”