WACO—A group within the Baylor Alumni Association is opposing a proposal to dissolve the 154-year-old association, create a separate nonprofit corporation to publish the Baylor Line magazine and allow Baylor University to unify its alumni-engagement program.
Bill Nesbitt, a Waco banker, and several other members of the Baylor Alumni Association organized Independence at Baylor because they believe the proposal negates two previous agreements between the association and the university.
Nesbitt asserted the Baylor Alumni Association’s executive committee was “running scared” of the university and its board of regents when it approved the proposal, which followed more than 10 months of negotiations.
Representatives of the alumni association and the board of regents negotiated “with utmost good faith” to reach a compromise acceptable to both parties, said Collin Cox, president of the Baylor Alumni Association.
“We were not afraid of anyone,” said Cox, a Houston attorney. “We feel like the proposal makes sense for the Baylor Alumni Association and the university as we move ahead in a new era.”
Independence at Baylor objects to the proposal—which requires a two-thirds vote of Baylor Alumni Association members present at a Sept. 7 called meeting—because it nullifies a 1993 licensing agreement between the alumni association and the university.
The group asserts the 1993 document grants the Baylor Alumni Association the perpetual right to perform alumni functions for Baylor, unless the university believes the association has defaulted in its responsibility. The 1993 agreement requires the university to give written notice and grants the alumni association 120 days to remedy perceived deficiencies.
Independence at Baylor also insists the university violated a 1994 agreement governing use of the Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center, which Baylor plans to demolish to make way for a pedestrian bridge to its new $250 million football stadium. The university owns both the land and the building, but it granted the alumni association the right to occupy it unless it needs the land and can find no suitable alternative.
The Baylor Alumni Association is slated to vacate the building by July 3 and relocate temporarily to offices at Robinson Tower. Baylor will pay for the temporary move and—pending approval in September—will pay for the Baylor Line Corporation to move into permanent offices in the same facility as the university’s vice president for communications.
The 1994 agreement
The 1994 agreement states: “Baylor may terminate the Baylor Alumni Association’s right to use the Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center only in the event that Baylor needs the land on which the center is located for its purposes and no other land is reasonably available to Baylor for the purpose for which the land is needed. Should the Baylor Alumni Association’s right to use the Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center be so terminated by Baylor, Baylor shall provide the Baylor Alumni Association with another building on the Baylor campus, the size, condition, quality of construction and location of which is approximately the same as the size, condition, quality of construction and location of the Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center.”
Nesbitt sees three possibilities regarding the alumni center. Demolition may proceed, it may be delayed until after the alumni association votes on the proposal, or his group may take legal action.
“It could all end up in a big legal dispute. Nobody wants that. The alumni association certainly doesn’t. I can’t imagine the university does. It seems like a situation just begging to be resolved,” he said.
When asked for a response, John Barry, vice president for marketing and communications at Baylor University, referred questions to Cox as president of the Baylor Alumni Association.
“The Baylor Alumni Association is an organization with 17,000 members and just as many opinions. It doesn’t surprise me that some would disagree with the proposal,” Cox said. “We welcome that, and we believe it is good and healthy for us to have a discussion about all the issues between now and September.”
Like any settlement between parties who disagree, the proposed agreement reflected compromise that required both the university and the alumni association to give up some things each wanted, he noted.
The relationship between the independent alumni association and the university became strained about 10 years ago. The alumni association’s magazine, the Baylor Line, at that time took positions critical of the school’s administration and board of regents. The university developed its own alumni services office—the Baylor Alumni Network—and began publishing its own magazine for alumni and donors.
The proposal to dissolve the alumni association calls for a new independent, self-supporting nonprofit corporation that would be created to publish the Baylor Line magazine and preserve an “independent voice” for alumni—an important negotiating point for the alumni association, Cox noted.
The proposal includes a provision that creates the Baylor Alumni Advisory Board to work with the university’s alumni engagement programs. Directors of the Baylor Alumni Association will be able to choose to serve on the advisory board, on the board for the Baylor Line Corporation or in neither capacity. The proposal also grants a nonvoting position on the Baylor board of regents to an alumni association representative.
However, Nesbitt said, provisions in the proposal calls on the Baylor Alumni Association to surrender too much freedom and independence.
“There’s nothing independent about it,” he insisted. “If you want to know why there’s a need for an independent voice, just take a look at the board of regents and what they’re trying to do.”