Baylor University and Baylor Alumni Association settle legal dispute

Baylor University and the Baylor Alumni Association settled claims in a legal dispute. (Photo / Baylor University)

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WACO—Less than three weeks before a scheduled trial, Baylor University and the Baylor Alumni Association announced they settled claims in a lawsuit filed in 2014.

“With this lawsuit behind us, we look forward to ushering in an exciting new chapter for our members and for Baylor, an institution we all hold dear,” said Tom Nesbitt, president of the alumni association, in a joint statement issued by the university and the association. “We are eager to move forward together—united as one Baylor family.”

The settlement marked the end of about a decade and a half of contention between the university and the independent alumni association, a dispute most visibly marked by Baylor’s demolition of the Hughes Dillard Alumni Center—the alumni association’s on-campus home since 1978.

“The ultimate goal of both university and BAA leadership has been to bring about a unified effort among all members of the Baylor family to continue to move Baylor forward in a positive direction,” Baylor President Ken Starr said.

“This agreement, with its emphasis on cultivating strong relationships between all alumni and their alma mater and its firm commitment to support student scholarships, is the remarkable result of diligent work by a group of dedicated servant leaders, for whom we are deeply grateful.”

According to the terms of the settlement:

  • The university will continue to operate the outreach, events and engagement programs of its in-house Baylor Alumni Network.
  • The Baylor Alumni Association will remain an independent non-profit entity and change its name. The association’s board will consider several options, including the recommended Baylor Line Foundation.
  • The renamed association will continue to publish the Baylor Line with editorial and operational independence.
  • The association will focus its fund-raising efforts on student scholarship programs and will sponsor activities and events that support its membership and purpose.
  • Baylor will pay the association $2 million, to be used in any way that advances the organization’s charitable purposes. In exchange, the association will waive its rights to a replacement for the Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center, Nesbitt said.

Alumni-elected members to join regents

In addition to other terms, the settlement provides for three alumni-elected members to Baylor’s board of regents. The first three regents—serving one-, two- and three-year terms—will be agreed on by both the university and the alumni association and appointed by the board in June.

In following years, all Baylor alumni will be invited to participate in open elections to determine alumni-elected regents, with the first alumni-elected regent replacing the one-year appointee.

“Never before in Baylor’s history have the alumni had the right to directly elect members to the board of regents,” Nesbitt wrote to alumni association members in a letter posted on the organization’s website.

“These new alumni-elected regents will have the same rights and duties as all other voting regents, and will bring fresh, new ideas and opinions to the board— something we believe is critical to a healthy and successful Baylor going forward.”

Baylor’s board of regents already expanded its membership in recent years to include a representative from the Baylor Bear Foundation and the Baylor “B” Association, along with two student regents and a faculty representative, Board Chair Richard Willis noted.

“This diversity of perspectives has enhanced our conversations on a variety of topics. The majority of regents are also alumni, and we value that distinct perspective and look forward to welcoming these alumni-elected regents to the work of the university,” Willis said. “I add my gratitude to all the individuals who worked so thoughtfully and deliberately on this agreement.”

Some issues still require approval

Some terms of the settlement still require agreement by the parties involved, Nesbitt reported to alumni association members.

“If for some reason the parties cannot agree on the initial three regent selections, the settlement will be void. Also, if BAA members reject the BAA’s new name, Baylor will have the right to render the entire settlement agreement null and void,” he wrote.

Claims and counterclaims

Baylor had filed suit against the alumni association June 6, 2014, about five months after the school’s lead attorney sent a letter demanding the Baylor Alumni Association “cease and desist” using the school’s licensed trademarks.

The alumni association subsequently filed a counterclaim, asserting Baylor breached its license and recognition agreements and its promise to provide the alumni association a building.

The university sought to cut off its licensing agreement with the alumni association in December 2013 after an agreement that would have disbanded the association fell short of the required two-thirds vote of association members. The proposed agreement also would have turned over all alumni activities to Baylor University and created the Baylor Line Corporation as a separate entity.

Prior to that vote, the university demolished the Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center, asserting it needed to make way for a plaza leading to a pedestrian bridge connecting the main campus to the new Baylor football stadium.

The university provided the alumni association office space in Clifton Robinson Tower for several months but eventually forced the association to relocate to an off-campus location in Waco.

Starr affirms alumni engagement

Starr expressed appreciation for Baylor’s alumni and underscored the university’s commitment to serve their interests.

“The steadfast commitment and active engagement of alumni have been vital to Baylor since the university welcomed its first graduates in the 1850s,” he said. “We will continue in the years to come to serve the best interests of our alumni worldwide and to ensure that the light emanating from our cherished university continues to shine brightly and reflect positively on all who feel an affinity for Baylor University.”

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