Baylor regents investigate board member
for interfering in drug investigation
By Mark Wingfield
Baylor University's board of regents has launched an investigation of board member Jaclanel McFarland, reportedly on charges that she interfered with an undercover drug investigation on campus.
McFarland, a Houston attorney and former vice president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, denied the allegation. She contends she is being pressured to leave the board because she has opposed several recent initiatives of President Robert Sloan.
Sloan and other university officials declined to comment on the investigation or allegations against McFarland. “Our hands are tied because of the legalities involved in the investigation,” said Baylor spokesman Larry Brumley.
The story broke in the Waco Tribune-Herald Saturday, May 17, the day after accusations against McFarland were made in an executive session of the board of regents. No one present in that executive session would comment to the Standard about what happened there.
The Tribune-Herald reported that a subcommittee of the regents concluded initial evidence warranted a full investigation by the board if McFarland did not resign. Brumley said the university could not divulge that evidence beyond the regents.
McFarland said she first heard rumors about an investigation on Wednesday, May 7. At that point, she called Sloan, she said, to ask if he knew anything about it.
Sloan told her he didn't wish to discuss the matter with her, she said.
McFarland then called Drayton McLane, chairman of the regents and a Temple businessman. McLane arranged for McFarland to meet on Friday, May 9, with himself, Sloan and Bill Brian, an attorney from Amarillo who also serves as a Baylor regent.
At that meeting, McFarland said, she was urged to resign from the board to spare her family “embarrassment.”
By her account, the visiting delegation warned her that criminal charges could be filed against her but that if she resigned from the board, they would intercede to have those charges dropped.
McLane and Brian declined to comment, citing confidentiality requirements of their duties as regents. Baylor spokesman Brumley said Sloan could not comment on the matter either.
The university did release a statement May 23, however, that said: “Baylor University Regent Jaclanel McFarland has recently communicated with the media regarding an internal investigation over her conduct. The Baylor board of regents is conducting such an investigation. The rules set forth in the bylaws of the university govern such investigations. These rules provide that neither Baylor University nor any regent has the right to make public any information obtained through such investigation. Baylor has abided by these rules and will continue to do so.”
McFarland, who has been a visible figure within Texas Baptist denominational affairs, called the turn of events “surreal” and said she was shocked by the allegations against her.
Although the university has not publicly stated any allegations against McFarland, she and others reported she has been accused of tipping off members of Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity to the presence of an undercover police officer.
According to press accounts, Baylor's Department of Public Safety placed an undercover officer inside the student population and he in turn pledged the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity this year. The 22-year-old officer enrolled in classes and lived in Penland Hall, a student dormitory.
The undercover operation came to a conclusion April 29 with the arrest of six people for selling illegal drugs and the arrest of one other for possession of illegal drugs. None of those arrested were reported to be members of the fraternity, although six of the seven were Baylor students.
A May 5 memo distributed to the university community by Baylor's chief of police, Jim Doak, said the “lengthy undercover operation” was designed to “remove individuals from the university community who were known to provide contraband to students and others.”
“At no time did anyone within the TKE fraternity nor anyone within Baylor Student Life have knowledge of this operation,” Doak wrote.
He reported that “no active members of the TKE fraternity were involved in any capacity with distributing contraband.”
The memo extolled the fraternity as a “model of efficiency” and reported it conducted pledge activities without hazing.
That reflects an improvement for the fraternity, which in February 2002 was suspended from campus for the rest of that semester due to allegations of hazing violations.
Doak concluded his memo by saying the public safety department “has achieved the stated goal of this operation.”
Yet, according to the Tribune-Herald, university officials have complained that the undercover operation was cut short because the officer's cover was blown. The newspaper quoted an unnamed source as saying the seven arrests were minor compared to what Baylor law enforcement had hoped to achieve.
McFarland's 22-year-old son, Allen, has been a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon, although he did not attend Baylor during the 2002-2003 academic year. He enrolled in the fall at McClennan County Community College, then returned to Houston to work in his parents' law firm to save money for an overseas study trip.
University officials reportedly have alleged that Jaclanel McFarland knew of the undercover operation in her role as a regent and informed her son, who in turn tipped off members of the fraternity. McFarland explained to the Houston Chronicle: “Supposedly, I knew when no other regent did. I told my son, and he told someone who told someone.”
The regent affirmed to the Baptist Standard in a May 20 interview that she had no knowledge of the undercover operation prior to its conclusion and could not have told her son or anyone else about it. Other regents confirmed to the Standard that regents had not been told of the undercover operation.
“We weren't told about this,” McFarland said. “I didn't know about it until it came out on TV.”
While refusing to discuss what was said in the regents' executive session, McFarland said any evidence against her that she is aware of is “triple hearsay.”
McFarland said she spoke May 20 with Steve McConnico, an Austin attorney hired by the university to participate in the investigation. McConnico told her, she said, that he had no solid evidence against her or her son.
McConnico, a Baylor Law School graduate who works in the Austin law firm Scott, Douglass & McConnico, did not respond to the Standard's request for an interview.
The Standard could not ascertain whether any criminal charges or complaints have been filed against McFarland.
Likewise, the status of the regents' investigation of McFarland could not be determined. University spokesman Brumley declined to characterize the status of the investigation. It is being handled by “outside counsel” rather than in-house, he said.
McFarland and others close to her have suggested that she has been targeted because of her vocal opposition to several recent decisions at Baylor. Although initially a strong supporter of Sloan, McFarland in recent years has become a vocal critic, particularly of the spending required to implement Baylor 2012, the university's 10-year strategic plan, and Sloan's recent purchase of a jet.
By her own account, McFarland gave Sloan poor marks on a recent job evaluation. She gave him “D's” and “F's” on the evaluation, she told the Houston Chronicle.
By multiple accounts given to the Standard, she led the charge against the jet purchase in a conference call between Sloan and some regents who questioned the purchase. Regents reportedly had been told about the $2.3 million purchase after a $100,000 deposit already had been made.
Brumley questioned the relevance of the jet purchase to the current investigation of McFarland. “Regents were completely in the loop on that,” he said.
McFarland also has opposed the university's increase in spending to fulfill the goals of Baylor 2012.
Although Baylor officials would not discuss details of the ongoing investigation, they implicitly rejected the assertion that McFarland is a victim of retaliation.
If Baylor presses to remove McFarland from the board of regents, it would be the first time in the university's 158-year history for such a step to be taken.
The case would take on particular interest because McFarland is among the one-fourth of Baylor regents elected by the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Until 1991, the BGCT elected all Baylor's trustees. When the Baylor board amended the university charter to declare a self-perpetuating board, the BGCT worked out an agreement to elect one-fourth of the regents, with the remainder elected by the board itself.
Baylor's bylaws give minimal provision for removal of a regent, stating: “A director may be removed from his or her position as a director only for cause and by employing due process procedures applicable to private entities. The removal of a director may occur at a regular or called meeting of the board of directors, provided notice of intention to act upon the question of removing the director has been stated in the notice of the meeting as one of the purposes of the meeting.”
Meanwhile, the mother of a Baylor student who roomed with the undercover officer has complained that Baylor put her student and another roommate at risk in the undercover operation.
The Tribune-Herald reported May 22 that Diane Ambrosio, mother of 19-year-old Andrew Ambrosio, believes her son was placed at risk by the presence of the undercover policeman.
“I really feel like they used our sons,” the mother said, reasoning that a drug dealer could have tracked the officer back to his dorm room and harmed everyone present.
The May 22 story also reported that some Baylor students and members of Tau Kappa Epsilon suspected the undercover officer as early as last fall. “We knew he was a narc,” Andrew Ambrosio told the paper.
Ambrosio said the undercover officer also dated a Baylor student who apparently was unaware of his true role.
Ambrosio and the third roommate eventually learned the undercover officer was 22 years old when they found his wallet lying on the floor, he said.
All three roommates were present in the dorm room April 29 when police burst into the room and conducted a mock arrest of the undercover officer at the same time other arrests were made in Penland Hall.
The Tribune-Herald also reported that members of the fraternity confronted the undercover officer on the Friday before the April 29 raid, but the officer denied he was a police officer.
On May 22, the Tribune-Herald also reported the names and charges against individuals arrested in the drug sting. The three students arrested in Penland Hall are 19; three others who live in apartments near the campus are 21. The seventh person, who was not a Baylor student at the time of his arrest, is 20.
Five of the six Baylor students were charged with misdemeanor counts related to selling or possessing marijuana, the paper said. One was charged with two felony counts related to drug delivery. The non-student was charged with four counts of delivery of a controlled substance and one count of possession of an illegal substance. Two of those charges are felony offenses and three are misdemeanors.
Below are links to other news reports:
Waco Tribune-Herald, May 17
Waco Tribune-Herald, May 22
Waco Tribune-Herald, May 22
Houston Chronicle, May 19