As I begin my sixth year of service as president of Baylor University, the ongoing dispute between the university and the independent Baylor Alumni Association continues to be a source of deep personal disappointment to me. Most recently, private communications among some of my colleagues that were released publicly reveal the frail humanity in all of us that, in the heat and frustration of a moment, can lead any of us to say things that should not be said.
From my earliest days of service to this great university, the pivotal words that I encouraged all to embrace in every instance of interaction with the association have been “courtesy, respect and hospitality.” Heartfelt public apologies have been made for lapses in judgment that resulted in harmful comments that did not faithfully reflect our Christian commitment. We also deeply regret the circumstances that have made it incumbent upon us to initiate litigation in order to protect the brand, the name and the marks of our university. After a good deal of careful and prayerful reflection, we are doing what we believe is necessary to protect and advance the best interests of our beloved university that — by God’s grace — is thriving and enjoying across-the-board success.
We take issue with a variety of points and perspectives contained in recent reporting and commentary relative to Baylor’s ongoing disagreements with the privately incorporated BAA, but the profoundly unfair characterizations of the work and motivations of Baylor’s Board of Regents are truly in error. So while we remain steadfastly committed to the hopeful message that speaks to the greater good and bright future of our university, this particular record needs to be set straight.
When I began my servant leadership in June 2010, I asked the board of regents for the opportunity to work within the Baylor family to try to bring healing to old wounds. Those efforts represented a natural follow-on to several years of study by Baylor to identify a sound operational model for national alumni relations and to determine how best to provide for vigorous alumni participation in the life of the university.
In 2012, a small committee of regents became actively engaged in private meetings with the BAA’s senior elected officials. These conversations were aimed at identifying common ground and resolving this long-simmering dispute. Regular meetings, honest and spirited discussions and active negotiations between Baylor regents and the BAA’s elected officers lasted nearly a year. Those discussions ultimately resulted in a mutually agreed-upon transition agreement. That agreement, in turn, was endorsed not only by the BAA’s leadership but by Baylor’s Faculty Senate, Staff Council and Student Government.
Ultimately, the transition agreement was also endorsed by a substantial majority of BAA members participating in on-campus balloting. Indeed, the proposed agreement was approved by 55 percent of those present to vote, but it failed to reach the super-majority approval required by BAA bylaws. Subsequently, most of the BAA’s leadership resigned rather than continue the era of friction-filled separation. Nevertheless, the Baylor regents persisted in active discussion and negotiations with the BAA’s new leadership in the hope of achieving a fair resolution. Unfortunately, those continuing efforts by Baylor regents proved unsuccessful.
Following the profound disappointment accompanying the unsuccessful transition agreement vote, and the additional failure to reach agreement with the new BAA leadership, I sought authority from the board of regents to seek a legal remedy in order to protect Baylor’s brand, name and marks. After thorough consideration, the board of regents accepted my recommendation. We are thus engaged in an unfortunate but necessary legal process which, along with our abiding love for Baylor, compels us to exercise restraint in our public comments at this time.
What we can say — and what the record clearly shows — is that Baylor’s administration and board of regents enjoy a rich and mutually supportive relationship. It is said frequently that this is a great time to be a Baylor Bear. It truly is. The many contributions of Baylor’s volunteer regent board — which now includes regents representing faculty, students and alumni — to Baylor’s remarkable recent success cannot be overstated. With their time, talent and treasure, the energetic alumni and generous donors who constitute our board of regents are skillfully guiding the university with integrity and distinction. The members of Baylor’s volunteer board merit our heartfelt thanks, as they continue their work to ensure that the light emanating from our cherished university will, by God’s grace, shine ever more brightly into the future.
Ken Starr is president and chancellor of Baylor University, a Christian university of more than 15,000 students.