In 1913, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis introduced the idea that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” Last week that shining idea of transparency took on added local significance when Baylor University regent Cary Gray dared to defend the university’s unrelenting cloak of secrecy in response to dozens of alleged sexual and domestic assaults involving Baylor students.
In a column in Sunday’s Waco Tribune-Herald, Mr. Gray argued against legislation authored by Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman Kel Seliger that would require regents to hold open meetings and make certain records available to the public for the first time in the institution’s 172-year history. Mr. Gray claims Baylor’s legal risks would increase if board deliberations are conducted in public view.
Maybe he knows something we don’t know about those secret deliberations. But open meetings don’t create liability, bad decisions do. Baylor is where it is — having admittedly violated federal Title IX procedures, enabled sexual assault and now facing a tidal wave of litigation — because of decisions regents made in the darkness of the Baylor boardroom. Mr. Gray’s attitude is part of the problem and it’s time for those who defend Baylor’s policy of secrecy to step aside. Regents instead are working overtime to kill Sen. Seliger’s bill and any effort to shed light on regency actions. Unfortunately, such an accounting is precisely what might enable Baylor to finally move past this scandal.
Regent Gray and others in board leadership have struggled mightily to conceal their role in this explosive scandal. Here’s a partial accounting: There are several pending lawsuits, a Texas Rangers investigation, a Title IX investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, a Big XII review of campus reforms and an NCAA inquiry. Even the university’s accreditation agency has put Baylor on notice.
These indict more than a troubled football program, reflecting an institution-wide problem in training, protocols, funding and sufficient scrutiny by leadership. Baylor’s lack of leadership allowed three years to pass without a full-time Title IX office after federal guidance in 2011 clearly suggested this need to all universities and colleges. Add to this mix allegations of hidden police reports and a secret regent athletic committee that the inquiring Pepper Hamilton law firm described as operating beyond the scope of proper responsibility.
To date, an estimated $25 million in severance has been paid to ensure silence, despite supposed justification by Baylor for firing certain individuals with cause. Moreover, regents have allowed the person in charge of public safety during this crisis to not only keep his job but also be given new oversight over Title IX. This has led to resignations, accusations and dysfunction. Amidst all this, the Baylor Board of Regents has not held itself accountable in any way.
We’re now more than 20 months into this crisis and there’s no end in sight.
It took creation of Bears for Leadership Reform (BLR) and our call for transparency, accountability and reform before the regents even created a “governance review task force.” And, yes, this task force has taken a handful of BLR suggestions such as full voting rights for faculty and student regents to marginally improve how Baylor is governed.
Yet the resulting governance plan will do little to restore confidence since the board would still elect itself, still operate in secrecy (complete with gag rules intact) and still refuse to share all facts about the sexual-assault investigation.
Sen. Seliger’s open-meetings bill offers a rare opportunity to take a meaningful step toward frank and informed discussions of university business. Pubic universities have thrived under Texas open-meetings statutes for more than 40 years. There’s no reason why these sorts of open discussions wouldn’t foster a more informed, engaged and inclusive Baylor community.
Baylor’s leaders have failed, yet remain withdrawn from the Baylor Family and secluded in a culture of secrecy. It’s unfortunate the Texas Legislature must get involved in the governing affairs of the university, but drastic measures have become necessary. It’s time for Baylor to lead in this direction — and not hide.