WACO—About five months after Baylor University’s chief lawyer sent a letter insisting the Baylor Alumni Association “cease and desist” its use of Baylor’s licensed trademarks, the university filed a lawsuit against the independent organization.
Baylor filed the suit in McLennan County’s 74th State District Court June 6, seeking a judgment to prevent the group from representing itself as the school’s official alumni association and compelling the organization to fulfill its charitable purpose by limiting itself to providing financial aid to Baylor students.
Warned of impending legal action
Last month, Baylor President Ken Starr sent a letter to the association’s board of directors, giving notice of impending legal action.
“After nearly two years of discussion, the legally independent alumni association has failed to make significant progress in defining for itself—consistent with its governing documents—a role responsive to the ongoing needs of Baylor University, our students and our alumni around the world. Now, more than ever, Baylor needs to act in unity,” Starr wrote.
“By this late date, the association’s governing board should have reshaped the identity of the association long ago, consistent with its historic charitable purpose. Because the board has failed to act with any manifest intention to fulfill its solemn responsibility, Baylor University now has no other recourse but to seek appropriate relief so as to enforce that purpose.”
Pledge to President’s Scholarship Initiative
Starr’s letter—and the lawsuit that followed—also asserts the alumni association’s board of directors in February 2013 voted to give $1 million to the President’s Scholarship Initiative, but “not one penny has been donated to the university in fulfillment of this pledge.”
Furthermore, Starr said, the association’s audited financial statements for the last two fiscal years showed the support the group offers to Baylor and its students represented less than 2 percent of the organization’s total annual expenditures.
George Cowden III, then-president of the alumni association, replied to Starr by noting the organization has contributed more than $100,000 in scholarships in 10 years through its endowed fund and disbursed an additional $212,000 since 2010 through its Legacy Scholarship Program to children of alumni families with demonstrated need.
Regarding the additional $1 million to Baylor for scholarships, Cowden wrote: “Final details were left pending until representatives of the BAA and Baylor University could meet to discuss and agree upon how those funds would be used. Discussions over this potential donation then became subsumed in the negotiations over the proposed transition agreement, which would have required much of the BAA’s funds to be transferred to Baylor. Since the transition agreement was not approved by the BAA’s membership, the terms of the BAA’s potential donation were never finalized.”
Vote to disband failed
Last September, members of the alumni association voted 830 to 669 to approve an agreement that would have disbanded the association, turned over all alumni activities to Baylor University and created the Baylor Line Corporation as a separate entity. However, the measure failed because it required a two-thirds vote. The university subsequently terminated its licensing agreement that allowed the alumni association to use the Baylor name and its registered trademarks.
In May, the alumni association published an issue of the Baylor Line. It featured a 12,000-word cover article that described the BAA’s perspective on the 12-year dispute between the association and the university’s board of regents and administration.
‘Disappointed’ at lawsuit
Keith Starr of Tyler, elected president of the alumni association May 31, said his group was “disappointed” the university filed the lawsuit.
“We have tried for several years now to reach an agreement with the university that enables us to preserve our name, the title of our magazine, the Baylor Line, and keeps our commitment to thousands of Baylor alumni,” said Starr, who is not related to Baylor’s president.
“However, the university has rejected our attempts at peace for over a decade and has chosen to continue its efforts to marginalize the BAA, up to and including suing its officially recognized alumni organization.
“The BAA now will defend its legal rights, present its counterclaims and oppose Baylor University’s relentless effort to silence the association, which has served as an independent yet supportive voice of Baylor alumni for more than 150 years.”
Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said the university was “deeply saddened and profoundly disappointed” that the association had failed to provide a concrete plan of action to resolve the situation. “The university is moving to protect the interests of Baylor, its students and its alumni by seeking appropriate legal relief rather than simply waiting further for some indication of actual progress from the association,” she said.