Some Baylor regents may need to resign, former regents assert

Bears for Leadership Reform released a letter that criticizes the Baylor University board of regents for their handling of the Pepper Hamilton law firm's investigation into sexual violence. (Photo / Baylor Marketing and Communication)

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WACO—If any Baylor University regents failed in their responsibility to the school, they need to resign, 14 former regents said in a Feb. 6 letter to the university’s governing board.

Bears for Leadership Reform released the letter that criticizes the regents’ handling of the Pepper Hamilton law firm’s investigation into sexual violence and calls for increased transparency and accountability.

Former regents Mary Chavanne Holmgren, Randy Ferguson, Randy Fields, Gale Galloway, Gracie Hilton, David McCall, Drayton McLane, Jaclanel McFarland, Laree Perez, Ella Pritchard, John Starky, Emily Tinsley, Hal Wingo and John Wood signed the letter.

“The reality is that until regents release the actual ‘agreed-upon scope’ of the investigation, it is very difficult for anyone to determine if the investigation was or was not flawed,” the letter states.

“The details of the assaults certainly should not and do not need to be released. However, we strongly believe that the pertinent facts of the investigation in the form of a written report and the agreed-upon scope of the investigation should be released to the Baylor Family.”

Concerns about governance

The letter particularly focuses on questions raised by recommendations from Pepper Hamilton concerning governance. 

“If current regents on the board have acted inappropriately as suggested in Section III of the Pepper Hamilton recommendations, those regents—no matter how many—should resign from the board,” the letter stated.

Among other matters, the firm recommended the regents “review considerations and standards for new board membership, including actual or perceived conflicts of interest, and implement due diligence in the selection of board members.”

“The selection and election of regents—the ultimate leaders of Baylor University—is perhaps one of the most important actions of the board,” the letter stated. “If the office of regent has been compromised through the lack of exercising proper fiduciary responsibility, lack of appropriate due diligence, or conflicts of interest by regents, the regents responsible for these actions should resign their duties and allow their position to be filled by another person.”

Accrediting agency places school on warning

The former regents also expressed concern the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges placed Baylor on a one-year warning for noncompliance regarding student support services, control of intercollegiate athletics and institutional environment. 

“The accreditation of Baylor is certainly one of its most important assets. The fact that SACS has felt it necessary to put Baylor under a “Warning” status appears to be just further indication the regent board is not providing the governance leadership that a major university board should be providing,” the letter stated.

The former regents specifically requested the board:

  • Ensure that all victims of sexual violence are “getting whatever help is necessary for them to move forward with their lives.”
  • Make sure the Baylor campus is safe and that all appropriate Title IX procedures are in place and implemented.
  • Release all the facts from the Pepper Hamilton investigation, including its agreed-upon scope, as a written report.
  • Take seriously the importance of SACS accreditation and “provide the necessary leadership, guidance and governance to remove the accreditation blemish that Baylor has recently received.”

Board of regents chair responds

Ron Murff, chair of the Baylor regents, noted he and his board first learned about the letter from a news release forwarded from media.

“Many of the actions requested in the letter to demonstrate transparency and accountability already are well under way,” Murff said.

“We are passionately committed to ensuring the victims of these horrendous crimes receive the support they need and deserve. That process is ongoing.

“We have begun to implement a range of governance reforms drawn up by both representatives of the Baylor Family and independent experts. We are at the forefront of complying with Title IX policies and procedures after approving the 105 recommendations proposed by Pepper Hamilton. And we take seriously the importance of SACS accreditation. We, of course, thank the BLR for their ongoing input and support throughout this process.”

Town hall meeting scheduled

In a related matter, Murff responded to an invitation from Fred Norton of the Baylor Line Foundation to participate in a Feb. 15 town hall meeting in Waco on governance reform. Representatives of Bears for Leadership Reform already announced they would take part in the gathering.

In a Feb. 6 letter, Murff said he would be unable to participate in the public meeting but was “certainly open to feedback from the Baylor Line Foundation” regarding the report of the regents’ governance review task force, and he offered to set up a conference call for Norton with Greg Brenneman, who chaired the task force.

Murff also noted a new email address—BoardRelationsOffice@Baylor.edu—set up for the board to receive input from the Baylor Family, and he said a new website will launch soon.

“We intend to conduct a media availability session following the upcoming board meeting to discuss Baylor’s governance reforms and our next steps,” he continued. “Additionally, we are considering open forums for the campus community to discuss and understand board governance later this spring.”

Big 12 takes action

On Feb. 8, the Big 12 board of directors announced it will withhold 25 percent of Baylor’s revenue from the conference, pending an independent review of structural changes made in the wake of the sexual violence scandal. The funds will be placed in escrow until the independent audit is completed. 

“While the withholding of conference distributions is an unexpected financial event, we do not deem these actions to materially impact the overall financial position of the university,” Interim President David Garland said. “We pledge our full cooperation, and we will work with the Big 12 Conference to conduct the audit as expeditiously as possible.”

“This third-party review at the request of the Big 12 Conference will provide an opportunity for us to demonstrate our progress to date and our ongoing commitment in establishing Baylor as a leading institution in athletics compliance and governance and for preventing and addressing sexual assaults on college campuses.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The last three paragraphs were added after the article originally was posted.

 

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