Lost in all of the intrigue and skullduggery about mishandled sexual assaults, regent secrecy, contract buyouts and high-level incompetence enveloping Baylor University these days, the Baylor Line Foundation — formerly the Baylor Alumni Association — celebrated an event that Baylor President Ken Starr cited as one of his chief accomplishments before his demotion by Baylor regents last month: The formal burying of the hatchet between the long-warring BAA and Baylor.
All were jovial during the Baylor Line Foundation’s banquet at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame last weekend — and for good reason. As part of an agreement resolved after two years of legal jousting, the feisty but dedicated alumni group now has a say in electing three voting members to the Baylor University Board of Regents. That’s critical for a group resolute in its role as an independent watchdog over all that happens at Baylor. It’s also vital for anyone weary of the BU regents’ clandestine and confounding ways.
A year ago, when the fight between Baylor and the BAA was at fever pitch, those of us on the sidelines couldn’t imagine the BAA one day getting even one voting BAA member on the Baylor board of regents. After all, this struggle had gone on for more than a decade, pivoting heavily on efforts by at least some in Baylor leadership to muzzle and bring to heel the BAA.
Though the struggle had its roots in the embattled administration of Baylor President Robert B. Sloan, it erupted again during Starr’s tenure, culminating in Baylor’s 2013 decision to raze the BAA’s campus headquarters on the pretense of needing the space for a river walkway to the $266 million McLane Stadium under construction. This was followed by the BAA’s scorching release of emails illustrating just how frustrated Baylor administrators were in dealing with former Baylor regent chair Buddy Jones, who some argue was obsessed with crushing BAA “terrorists.”
Yet all was sweetness and light at the June 11 “Onward!” banquet. Nearly 300 attended, including a few BU regents as well as former regent chair Jim Turner and regent emeritus Drayton McLane, who offered a message of reconciliation. Starr, football coach Art Briles and athletic director Ian McCaw — all casualties of BU regents’ cryptic May 26 shakeup amid an ugly scandal involving administrative mishandling of sexual-assault cases — were reportedly invited but politely declined.
And when Baylor Line Foundation President Tom Nesbitt took his turn at the lectern, he heaped praise on many on the other side of the struggle for hammering out an agreement, including Starr and Baylor regent J. Cary Gray. Honoree of the evening: U.S. District Judge and Baylor law graduate Ed Kinkeade, sought out to mediate the peace by Starr and Lyndon Olson, a member of the BAA board of directors and former U.S. ambassador to Sweden. Nesbitt said Kinkeade spent months going back and forth between the groups, pressing and cajoling and hounding the others into an agreement.
“What a remarkable night filled with many emotions,” Nesbitt told me. “Like any family, we have our challenges, our quarrels and our crises. ‘Onward!’ was about a recognition that, even though we will not always agree about everything, we are united in our desire to move onward in support of our beloved Baylor.”
Though Baylor is paying the Baylor Line Foundation $2 million for tearing down Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center — still a sore point for alumni — the most promising long-term development is the right by Baylor alumni to name three of their own to the Baylor board of regents — and with full voting privileges. Nesbitt says the first three — Dan Chapman, Wayne Fisher and Julie Turner — “will bring fresh, new ideas and opinions to the board.” Some of us will consider it a victory if the trio can press other BU regents to embrace better governance practices and at least be more articulate about what’s happening at Baylor. During his droll remarks, Nesbitt said he worried about what serving as a regent can do to one.
“We go back a long way,” Nesbitt said of Chapman at one point. “I saw him out front earlier tonight. I clapped him on the back and said, ‘Hey, Dan. How are you doing?’ He declined comment and referred me to [Baylor University spokeswoman] Lori Scott Fogleman. He gave me her business card. On Lori Scott Fogleman’s business card, if you flip it over on the back, there’s a preprinted message there. It says: ‘We will not respond to rumor or speculation. We will release all official news in God’s good time, if at all.’”