New alumni group meets in Waco to discuss its plan for transparency at Baylor

New alumni group meets in Waco to discuss its plan for transparency at Baylor. Joe Gastler recaps the meeting.

I’m not entirely sure what I expected this morning. Maybe a couple dozen people in #CAB shirts? Maybe some heckling? Maybe some ugly words about the regents? Maybe some pointed questions from reporters? 

That’s not what this was. This wasn’t some exercise in futility. This was a diverse, vocal, powerful group of people from a wide variety of backgrounds coming together to say, “Enough!” The overwhelming feeling I had from the room was relief.

The meeting this morning kicked off to a full crowd of Baylor supporters, reporters, cameras, and broken hearts. The outbreaks of applause – which were numerous – were clear outlets of the emotion most of us have felt at watching our university flounder.

If you have the time to watch the video, I would recommend it. It was actually a relatively – get this – funny event. Former Texas Governor Mark White is a hoot. Plenty of self-deprecating jokes about being a Democrat, but much more subtext that this is an issue that unites our Baylor Family regardless of age, background, or other affiliation. That theme, the “Baylor Family” came back again and again. We’re hurting as a family. We need to move forward, as a family. One of the things people across this country know about Baylor is that we are a family.

John Eddie Williams was the master of ceremonies for this event. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard John Eddie talk at any length, but he was an excellent choice to represent the group. He’s honest, funny, plainspoken, and obviously outstanding in a courtroom. That man rejected the premise of nearly every question he was asked. He was a large part of what kept the feel of the room hopeful and uplifting.

As a younger alum, I was encouraged to see that they had included two relatively recent alums for the advisory board of this group. The only younger members you’ll find on the current Board of Regents have no rights, no voice, and no vote. It was a deliberate choice on their part too – the board members for BLR clearly reflect how the group thinks the BoR should be structured. A smaller group, representative of the best and brightest Baylor has to offer from all ages and generations.

Again – there’s a lot of good stuff in this conference. If you have time to watch it, do so. The conference closed with questions from the media. I’m going to expand on four questions I thought were most pertinent. All questions and answers are paraphrased.

Question:

How is it possible to change the Board? How do you actually make that happen?

Answer:

We’re not seeking a legal remedy. There’s no lawsuit. We want to get enough public support from the Baylor Family to force the regents to answer for their actions.

Commentary:

This is interesting to me. There will be plenty of folks who wave their hand dismissively and say, “well, then this has no teeth.” I think they’re wrong. The larger donors who are involved put a significant amount of money towards making this movement happen. They’ve hired a firm of their own, and they’re quite good. With the number of members this movement has already, it’s a large and growing percentage of the Baylor Family.

Question:

(From KWTX) The Board of Regents has hired Bunting, out of California, to do their PR, a firm that is notorious for going after victims of sexual assault. They declined our requests for information for months, and then went to the Wall Street Journal and 60 minutes to tell their story. Do you as a group believe that there is an actual report, and/or that the Board of Regents is lying about a number of the key issues raised in the Findings of Fact and that’s why they’re not standing here today answering questions.

Answer:

We deserve the facts. The Board’s PR Firm has a rep here today, maybe they can come up and answer some questions.

Commentary:

First of all, wow. I wanted to give that KWTX reporter a high five. What a great question. Secondly, here’s one such reference to what they’re talking about. Third, they’ve actually had at least one other PR firm in the last 18 months. They shifted from a firm that told them to keep their mouths shut, to one that told them to set the building on fire. I’m not a strategist, but… oh wait, I am. Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb.

Question:

Regarding your comments that this issue was a “non-atheltics” problem, is the feeling of this group that Coach Art Briles was scapegoated, and if he was, would this group seek his reinstatement after change to the Board occurs?

Answer:

Our focus is not on athletics, our focus is on the Board, leadership at the Board level. We can’t speculate on a hypothetical situation like that. I’ve always known Art Briles to be a man of integrity, but that’s not our focus here. You can ask individual members all you want, but as a group we have no position.

Commentary:

Again, I’m paraphrasing here, but that’s the jist of what John Eddie said in response. Here’s why I like this: respectfully, we’ve needed to shut our mouths about athletics for a while now. I’m not sure I realized it fully until this morning, but I’m glad these folks did. If it’s not an athletics problem, we should probably stop spending 90% of our time talking about this issue as it relates to athletics. That’s been our obsession. I’m guilty too. I thought it was a strong answer, and that it left a lot more room in the boat for the folks who want change, but don’t think Art Briles needs to come within 1,000 miles of coaching for Baylor again.

Question:

Obviously many of you up there are major donors to the university, and you have the ability to put more pressure on the board than the average Baylor supporter. Are you willing to put pressure on the university by closing your wallets?

The responses to this came in several parts:

John Eddie: I’ll let individuals answer that, but I will always find ways to support Baylor. They’ve taken some swipes at us lately in the press, by calling us fat cat donors, which I am. (laughs) I’m going to do my best to create change in the culture and the leadership. Will I withhold my financial support? That’s unknown at this point, but I will always find a way to support Baylor.

Mark White: I know Drayton wouldn’t say this, but it was announced the other day that he and his family had given $18 Million to help fund a new building for the Baylor Nursing school in Dallas. The Board asked him for that gift, and he gave it.

Drayton: Our responsibility as Christians is to leave things better than we found them. I talked to (garbled) at the Houston Chronicle on a regular basis, and he always asked me in tough times if I was angry. I don’t get angry, I don’t get frustrated. I try to solve problems. We didn’t threaten to withhold anything. We made an initial contribution to help build a new nursing building in Dallas.

John Eddie: Board has to ask themselves, do they want happy donors or reluctant donors? (laughs)

Commentary: Again, this strategically aligns BLR as a big boat, which is what it needs to be. There are individual choices to be made, but there is a compelling interest on the part of all Baylor alumni to get involved in demanding transparency and accountability from our leadership, namely the Board of Regents.

I said it on Twitter, and I’ll say it again:

The tone of today’s meeting was much, much more positive and uplifting than I expected. These are people with hope for Baylor. These are people with a vision for a better, more honest future for Baylor. There wasn’t much if anything in the way of direct hostility towards the Board. Many times, speakers said that the respected many regents individually, but that as a group they had made some very poor choices. This is worth getting on board. We need change. We need better leadership, and we need it now.

For more information on Bears for Leadership Reform, check out their Facebook Page, Twitter Account, Snapchat, or their website, www.bearsforleadershipreform.org 

If you’d like to contact me on Twitter, you can follow me @josephgastler. Sic ‘Em!


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