As proud members of the Baylor family, we remain deeply troubled by the response of Baylor’s leadership to the yearlong sexual and domestic assault scandal that has engulfed our university. Words cannot adequately express our sadness for the survivors of these tragedies. They and their families remain in our prayers.
As evidenced in the Baylor University Board of Regents Findings of Fact, this unconscionable scandal is not the fault of any one individual. Nor is it isolated to the athletics department. Rather, this scandal — this “institutional failure” — is the result of a culture that has its roots inz a failure of leadership.
Baylor “failed to provide institutional support and engagement by senior leadership.” Baylor “failed to consistently support complainants.” Baylor “failed to take action to identify and eliminate a potential hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, or address its effects for individual complainants or the broader campus community.”
Baylor failed. We failed.
To ensure this never happens again, the Baylor family must come together to repair the university’s governance issues. That starts at the top with the board of regents.
We need a board that we can believe in. To rebuild the trust that has been eroded, secrecy and innuendo must be replaced by truth and transparency. Deflection of responsibility must yield to a willingness to embrace accountability. When you mess up, you fess up. The board must put in place substantive reforms that change how it operates to restore Baylor’s integrity and ensure a brighter future.
Pepper Hamilton investigators issued several recommendations that strongly suggest problems with governance at Baylor. In fact, there was an entire section devoted to “Governance, Leadership and Compliance.” We need to know why investigators felt compelled to recommend resolving “current governance issues at the Executive and Board levels.” Why was additional training of regents recommended? Why did investigators recommend a review of “considerations and standards for new board membership?” And what were the “actual or perceived conflicts of interest?” Why did investigators recommend “due diligence standards in the selection of board members?” Why did investigators recommend regents be trained to “remain within appropriate reporting protocols and lines of communication when addressing members of the administration and the athletics department?” For the Baylor Family to have trust in any reforms it is imperative that these questions be answered truthfully and fully.
We are not asking the board of regents to disclose privileged attorney-client information. We recognize that victim identities and student records are protected. But the regents must not be allowed to cloak themselves in privilege and hide behind their lawyers. As the stewards and public face of our university, regents owe the Baylor family a full factual accounting of the “institutional failure” that led to this tragedy without PR spin and without selective disclosure of facts skewed to cast a favorable light on regents.
This week the board will vote on recommendations to change aspects of university governance. We implore the regents to engage in a respectful, constructive dialogue with the Baylor family. Answer our questions and hear our concerns so we can have confidence that real reform is underway. Under normal circumstances, the board of a private university can meet in private. We respect the right — and even the need — to sometimes meet in executive session. But these are not normal circumstances. This is a tragic and critical time for our university and things have reached the point where regents cannot be permitted to make decisions behind closed doors.
A regent has nothing to fear by allowing the Baylor family to see the rules governing the board and its procedures. Let the Baylor family see the bylaws, code of conduct and conflict-of-interest policies and all the confidentiality agreements that prevent regents from speaking publicly on issues of importance at Baylor.
Full transparency — not an ongoing dribble of select information — is what the Baylor family wants and deserves from its leadership in response to this crisis so we can have confidence that all have been held accountable and that the right changes are being made to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again. Without transparency, accountability and reform across the board, a dark cloud will continue to hang over our university. The Baylor family cannot heal or move forward without it.
John Eddie Williams, a Houston attorney, is a member of the Baylor University class of 1976 and a graduate of Baylor Law School. Liza Christian Firmin, also of Houston, is a member of the Baylor class of 2006 and earned her master’s degree from Baylor in 2008. Both are members of Bears for Leadership Reform, a group of alumni, students and faculty dedicated to transparency, accountability and positive governance reform at the world’s largest Baptist university.