BU alumni group calls on regents to delay vote on governance proposal

(Baylor University photo/file)
(Baylor University photo/file)(KWTX)
Published: Feb. 15, 2017 at 5:03 PM CST
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The Baylor Line Foundation, which hosted a town hall meeting Wednesday night on changes proposed in the wake of the school’s sexual assault scandal, is calling on the university’s regents to delay a vote Friday on proposed governance reforms.

The board’s Governance Review Task Force released a 27-page report in late January detailing proposed governance changes, on which regents are scheduled to vote when they meet on Friday in Waco.

The alumni group, however, wants the board to participate in town hall meetings to discuss the proposed reforms with university alumni and supporters before they vote on whether to implement them.

“Clearly, the life of Baylor, as we know her, may depend on this decision. Surely those responsible for her future will want additional input before voting on something of this magnitude,” the foundation said in a statement Thursday.

The town hall was intended to be a forum for a discussion involving the board of regents and Bears for Leadership Reform, a group that’s calling for greater transparency and major changes in the way regents are selected.

But regents formally declined to participate, although five regents were among the more than 150 people who attended the meeting Wednesday night.

None of them spoke or answered questions.

Former Texas Gov. Mark White who is now on the board of directors of the reform group, said the board’s decision not to participate was a mistake.

“Those people have been making one mistake after another, doing things that make no sense at all,” White said.

“Any person of ordinary sensibilities, when invited to come and talk about the issues of Baylor, should be here.”

Regent Wayne Fisher attended the meeting and afterward said the finger-pointing should stop.

“Everybody can tell us what the problem is and I’m looking for some folks to tell us what the solution is, and I’m trying to be a part of gathering that,” said Fisher.

“We just have to find a way to do what’s best for Baylor instead of what’s best for the media, what’s best for factions here. We all need to get together, and I’m trying to be an agent for bringing that about.”

In a statement released after the meeting, Board of Regents Chairman Ron Murff said the board has “heard the concerns of the Baylor family and solicited their suggestions.”

“I am confident these proposed changes from an independent governance review task force will incorporate best practices in board governance,” he said.

“As we continue to refine Baylor's governance policies and procedures, I want to thank everyone who has contributed to this often-spirited conversation. As the Baylor Family, we all want what's best for the University we love,” he said.

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The Baylor Line Foundation hopes the town hall meeting it hosted Wednesday night in Waco will serve as a catalyst to break the impasse between the university’s regents and Bears for Leadership Reform, which is calling for greater transparency and board reforms in the wake of the school’s sexual assault scandal.

The only problem is that regents formally declined an invitation to participate.

In a letter to the foundation’s president, Fred Norton, Jr., Board of Regents Chairman Ronald Murff said regents “are unable to participate in the Town Hall.”

Murff said in the letter that alumni and members of the reform group had a chance earlier to provide feedback to the board’s Governance Review Task Force, which released a 27-page report in late January detailing proposed governance changes, which regents will review when they meet on Friday in Waco.

“We will still have an open and constructive debate on this most important matter, knowing that the regents intend to take action on their own proposal during their meetings in the days that follow,” Norton said in a statement on the foundation’s website.

“While we’re obviously disappointed that the regents continue to avoid face-to-face discussions with alumni, we believe that individual members will decide to attend or watch the broadcast and hope that what they hear will influence their discussion during their board meeting this weekend,” he said.

The Baylor board currently has 34 voting members including three who are alumni-elected as the result of a settlement agreement in a lawsuit that Baylor filed against the Baylor Alumni Association, which is now called the Baylor Line Foundation.

Of the remaining 31, 25 percent are technically appointed by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, but the current board controls that process and can veto any BGCT appointee.

The other 75 percent are appointed by the board itself.

Bears for Leadership reform wants to allow the board to elect only 10 of its 34 voting members and for the Baptist General Convention of Texas to elect 10 members without board approval.

The group also wants 10 board members be elected by alumni, and is calling for voting rights for non-voting regents named by the faculty, Student Congress, the Bear Foundation and the “B” Association.

The plan also calls for open meetings of the board along with published meeting dates, agendas and minutes.

The organization also wants all governance documents to be made public as well as information about the board’s committees, the members who serve on them, and what their responsibilities are.

The reform group is also calling for elimination of a required non-disclosure agreement for board members, giving regents the freedom to voice their opinions and to be available to media for questions after Board meetings and to carry on regular public discussions with students, faculty and alumni.

Bears for Leadership Reform embraces some of the changes proposed by the Governance Review Task Force, but says in other area, the proposals fall short.

“There are some good suggestions in the University's proposed governance document," BLR President John Eddie Williams said.

"But they're baby steps, not real reform. And transparency and accountability are missing,"

The task force report says individual regents “cannot and should not attempt to speak for the board, which should speak with one voice.”

“Regents should not, however, discuss the details of board or committee discussions or disclose how other regents vote. Further, public announcements and press communications should be the duty of the chair, in consultation with the president.”

The task force did not recommend changing the existing process for selecting regents, but does suggest granting voting rights to regents nominated by the Bear Foundation and the Baylor “B” Association and increasing the number faculty regents to two, who would also be granted voting rights.

The task force also recommended the creation of a board website, which is now online, that includes information about the regents, the board’s calendar, agenda and summaries of board meetings, but concluded that “open meetings would risk unnecessarily disclosing competitive information and detract from the free and open exchange of views and robust dialogue that are necessary to fulfill the regents’ fiduciary duties.”

"It's a status quo plan," said former Regent Randy Ferguson, who co-chairs the BLR's Research and Policy Committee.

"That's not what they Baylor family wants or deserves from its leadership in response to this crisis. Hopefully, some regents will recognize this and demand more."