Thursday’s rousing, decidedly muscular rally of pivotal Baylor University alumni and donors not only demanded overdue accountability and transparency from the Christian institution’s beleaguered Board of Regents but made clear that future donations from such prominent donors as business magnate Drayton McLane and Houston attorney John Eddie Williams are in peril. But is anyone at Baylor listening?
If Baylor regents continue to show what the newly formed Bears for Leadership Reform contends is indifference and even contempt for their concerns about the questionable handling of sexual assaults and other issues dogging Baylor, regents may find themselves without the support of their own alumni. The fact McLane, regent emeritus, is among those feeling taken for granted and unheeded by regents is astonishing, given the football games played in the $266 million, state-of-the-art stadium named for him in 2013.
Yet a more troubling concern became apparent, both during Thursday morning’s rally of 650 or so folks and when organizers such as Williams, former regent Emily Tinsley and former Texas Gov. Mark White sat down for an extended interview with the Tribune-Herald editorial board in the afternoon: If even half of what Bears for Leadership Reform and other critics say is true, the Baylor Board of Regents is not only tone deaf but operating in an ivory tower high above a fast-dwindling constituency.
Of course, regents say their No. 1 priority involves students. Yet in alienating alumni and donors while offering few reassuring answers to the public and ducking difficult but legitimate questions from the local press (by literally fleeing our presence), one could argue regents and their penchant for secrecy are doing long-term harm that tarnishes this great university’s potential and casts a long shadow over students who are the alumni of tomorrow.
Baylor alumnus John Eddie Williams — for whom the football field at McLane Stadium is named and who is part of the reform campaign — tells us that, at the least, regents should promptly publish detailed minutes about regent meetings (assuming closed-door meetings continue); show the vote tallies concerning decisions and actions; list names of regents appointed to committees and projects; and reveal all legal settlement terms. “In a perfect world,” Williams said at the rally, “the regents would be up here talking to you today.”
We have an even better idea, one long overdue: How about Baylor start acting like the top-tier university it supposedly aspires to be by vowing to vigorously subscribe to open-meeting laws for public institutions? If the current regents aren’t confident enough in their own actions and not articulate enough to honestly discuss them and answer questions from the public and the press, then it’s high time for them to step down, as some in Bears for Leadership Reform now propose. It’s time for regents who can display that confidence and can demonstrate that ability to communicate honestly and in detail. That’s leadership. The regents, supposedly now studying the issue of transparency (between fitful meetings with out-of-town media), shouldn’t need to call in experts about this.
And one other thing. Baylor regents should quit hiding behind their supposed fears: Publish and fully disclose the Pepper Hamilton law firm’s complete report of findings about who failed and how in this ongoing sexual-assault scandal, with redactions to protect the victims. Some claim they’re afraid to publicize the heinous crimes it quite obviously contains. But can what’s left be any worse than instances already disclosed, ranging from gang rape to administrative retaliation against some of the victims?