Livingston

Linda Livingstone begins her presidency at Baylor University on June 1, even as alumni press hard for answers regarding a sexual-assault scandal.

Many in the Baylor University community who are understandably weary of nearly two years of continuous public embarrassment, nationwide scorn and ridicule will see Dr. Linda Livingstone’s appointment as president as a signal that we can finally move forward again. Yet I say: “Not so fast. We still have unfinished business that needs tending.”

Which brings me to Baylor University regent Cary Gray’s April 22 column in the Waco Tribune-Herald — one voicing strong resistance to determined state legislative efforts to force the Baylor University Board of Regents to hold open governance meetings — and an equally resolute rebuttal offered by Baylor Line Foundation President Fred R. Norton.

Norton’s statement that Gray’s column “indicates a startling lack of accountability” is absolutely true. Even after incurring more than $220 million in estimated settlement costs and legal fees, as well as through donations now being withheld and unknowable additional costs linked to the university’s damaged reputation, not to mention the pain and suffering of sexual-assault victims over a nearly five-year period — even after all this, not a single member of the Board of Regents has been held accountable for what happened on their watch.

Anyone who does not believe that at least some of the BU regents played a significant role in creating this mess is a fool. How else can one explain how quickly the regents caved during settlement negotiations with fired head football coach Art Briles? How else does one explain the regents’ steadfast refusal to provide honest answers to the fundamental questions of: What happened? Who knew about it and when did they know it? What did they do, or not do, when they got this information?

Senate Bill 1092 — legislation to compel open board meetings at private universities receiving at least $9 million in taxpayer-funded tuition equalization grants for low-income college students (in other words, Baylor) — would not be under consideration if the Board of Regents had simply come clean with all the facts when this first started to come to light. Now we are left to wonder what else is still unknown. What else might we discover about the past, or about what may still be going on? What other dark things are in our future? Is Baylor’s accreditation at risk? Will there be more public spectacle when people wearing badges start delivering subpoenas to members of the Baylor University Board of Regents?

And, as Norton asks in his broadly issued statement of April 24, how might things have been different if there had been more transparency in how the BOR conducts business and if we had a different way of selecting our leaders?

In his column Mr. Gray felt a need to enlighten “noise” makers like me regarding the concept of “sovereign immunity,” its origins in English common law and how it influences the way public and private universities conduct business. In turn, I offer Mr. Gray some of what I know about real “accountability.” I retired last year after a 41-year career in international and domestic offshore drilling operations. For many of those years I worked as an O.I.M. (Offshore Installation Manager), the legally designated on-site “person in charge.” As such, I was accountable (to my employer and the government) for safe and efficient operations and compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.

In operations that complex and dangerous, there is always risk to people, the vessel and/or the environment. Anyone who has ever carried that responsibility knows that it is a very heavy load and that, if one of those potential risks is manifested in reality, he is subject to both civil and criminal prosecution and penalties. Even if one does not face prosecution for one of those unplanned events, that person will likely be held accountable by his employer in the form of loss of compensation, demotion or a career-ending dismissal. Anyone who has ever served in that capacity knows this before accepting the job.

That person also knows that while he can delegate responsibility for the execution of operations, he can never delegate accountability for the results that follow. Anyone who is unwilling to assume those responsibilities and the accountability that goes with them has no business being in that position. I am sure that others in the Baylor community have a similar understanding of the word “accountability” from their own careers.

All of which is to say that before we can put the current troubles behind us, all of those people who are responsible for the original betrayal, the subsequent cover-up and the damage that continues to flow from both must answer for that with more than token accountability. If this means replacement of every member of the board, that’s a price I’d be willing to pay.

Incidentally, I find it more than ironic (actually, I find it pathetic) that even one of our regents requires a lesson in accountability from an ex-roughneck. I advise Mr. Gray to get used to the “noise.” It’s going to get louder.

One last comment: No institution or organization can expect to endure, let alone prosper, without full accountability from its leadership. In the Jan. 22 edition of the Trib, Roger Sanders (B.A. class of ’70 and J.D. class of ’73) provided a position statement in the form of a full-page ad in which he listed four foundational principles that should guide the path forward into a healthy and peaceful future. Those are uncompromising commitments to a search for the truth, acceptance of accountability, development of a shared long-term vision and a willingness to make peace.

All four of these principles are intertwined and interdependent. Each of these depends on the other three. Without any one of them, anything that is built on that foundation will fail. Without the whole truth, full accountability is not possible. Without accountability, any vision and statements about who we are, where we are going and how we are going to get there are inauthentic and hypocritical. Without all of the other three, there will never be a healthy peace.

Royce Starnes graduated from Baylor University with a B.A. in history, class of ‘72. He retired last year after a 41-year career (the last 20 with Shell Oil Co.) in international and domestic offshore drilling operations. His son, Doug Starnes, also graduated from Baylor (B.A. in history, class of ’02).