Donors demand Baylor stop spending millions to fight transparency

WACO - High-profile donors and concerned members of the Baylor community renewed their call for transparency at the University Thursday morning.

Bears for Leadership Reform, which represents more than 15,000 students, alumni and faculty members, sent a letter Thursday to Baylor's Board of Regents. The letter said the group remains "appalled at the total lack of transparency in response to the campus-wide sexual assault scandal" that has plagued the University for the last 18 months.

In the letter, Bears for Leadership Reform expressed concerns about the amount of money the University is spending to conceal information. One consulting firm estimated Baylor would spend more than $32 million on lawyers and public relations experts when all was said and done.

"Recently, the university added six new lawyers whose sole purpose seems to be to suppress evidence and prevent the truth from coming out," Bears for Leadership reform wrote in the letter.

The group also demanded the Board of Regents support legislation from Republican Senator Kel Seliger of Amarillo that would require Baylor -- and any Universities that receive taxpayer money -- to comply with Texas' Open Meetings Law. After the legislation was filed, Baylor hired expensive lobbyists to try to kill the bill at the state capitol in Austin, Bears for Leadership reform claims.

For its part, Baylor University Spokeswoman Lori Fogelman denies it hired lobbyists and has no opinion either for or against the open meetings bill.

"This statement is untrue," Fogelman said. "Baylor has retained two additional advocates in Austin to answer questions by members and provide information related to the University's response to sexual violence. This was not done in response to any specific piece of legislation. In fact, Baylor has been working with staff to make improvements to the referenced bill."

Channel 6 asked Fogelman to explain the difference between what she called "advocates" and what she called "lobbyists." The story will be updated if a response is offered.

You can read the full, unedited letter below:

Dear Regents:

Bears for Leadership Reform (BLR) represents over 15,000 members of the Baylor Family, including alumni, students and faculty members. We remain appalled at the total lack of transparency in response to the campus-wide sexual assault scandal that has engulfed our university.  The core group running the Board of Regents has mishandled this crisis for 18 months and there is no end in sight. A handful of Board members seem determined to keep the Baylor Family in the dark as a never-ending trickle of bad publicity continues unabated. It is our belief that until you share the complete truth with the Baylor Family there is little possibility in bringing this tragedy to a close.

In December, a prominent consulting firm, HSSK, projected that Baylor will spend more than $32 million on attorneys and public relations related to this crisis. Yet, the Board continues to hire more lawyers to obscure the issues around lawsuits filed by the victims. Recently, the university added six new lawyers whose sole purpose seems to be to suppress evidence and prevent the truth from coming out. It appears that the Baylor BOR is more interested in spending money protecting the members of the Board of Regents and their secret actions rather than Baylor University. We ask the Board to share the truth instead of spending millions of additional dollars on more legal representation.

Important legislation has been filed in the Texas Legislature requiring private universities that receive taxpayer dollars to comply with the state’s Open Meetings law. This seems like a reasonable approach from a taxpayer’s perspective, but it’s also important to the Baylor Family since the Board has chosen to continue meeting in secret. Unfortunately, the Board’s leadership has responded by hiring high-priced Austin lobbyists to kill the bill. We believe spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in addition to the already estimated cost to Baylor of $223 million would be better spent on student tuition relief or faculty compensation.

And then there’s Section III of the Pepper-Hamilton (P-H) Recommendations, presumably derived from the still secret P-H report, which chastises the Board for failure to live up to governance standards. From the P-H Recommendations, there is clear evidence of failed Board leadership when P-H makes a plea to “resolve governance issues at the Executive Council and board levels.” We have asked and will continue to ask: what are those issues?

The P-H excerpt also specifically asks that Regents “review considerations and standards for new Board membership, including actual or perceived conflicts of interest, and implored the Board implement due diligence standards in the selection of Board members.” These are strong statements about the Board made by its own handpicked law firm. BLR and members of the Baylor Family have asked these questions many times before:

  • What are these “actual or perceived conflicts of interest?”
  • How have Board members’ conflicts of interest affected the victims of the tragedy at Baylor?
  • Have these conflicts of interest breached Board members’ fiduciary responsibility?
  • Who are these Board members, current and past, with “actual or perceived conflicts of interest?”
  • Has the Board failed to exercise due diligence standards in the selection of current Board members or former Board members?
  • Who are the Board members that failed to exercise “due diligence standards in the selection of Board members?”
  • Who are these Board members, current and past, which were elected without proper “due diligence standards?”
  • Doesn’t the Baylor Family have the right to know the answer to these questions?

Further evidence that this Board has failed to live up to appropriate Governance Standards is the recommendation that the entire Board undergo Association of Governing Board training.  This is a clear indication that not only has this Board failed to live up to appropriate standards, but it has also failed Baylor University, its students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

None of the above items from Section III of the P-H Recommendations concerning Board member conduct were included in the Board released “Finding of Facts.”  Why did the Board elect to not include their own failures in the Finding of Facts?  Is this why the Finding of Facts came from the Board itself instead of from P-H?  Is this an intentional cover up to protect certain Board members?

On the Board’s website, there is a Q&A, which states the following:

“But there is no doubt, that as the Pepper Hamilton investigation makes clear, everyone in a Baylor leadership role shares responsibility for the way Baylor mishandled reports of sexual violence and support for victims. For that, the Regents acknowledge their fair share of blame.”

In the context of this scandal, the concept of “fair share of blame” is misleading to the Baylor Family. In addition to grievously mishandling assault reports and victim support, there are many other failures by Board leadership that can be gleaned from the woefully inadequate summary of the P-H report. These include:

  • The lack of a proactive compliance function that would have identified the nature of the risks attendant to sexual and gender-based harassment and violence and interpersonal violence;
  • The University’s failure to maintain systems or protocols to coordinate information or keep centralized records necessary to fulfill compliance mandates; and
  • The University’s failure to provide sufficient or qualified support within the Title IX Office when it hired a full-time Title IX Coordinator in November 2014.

What makes these dramatic shortcomings so important is that Baylor is a member of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB). The AGB very clearly states that the monitoring of sexual misconduct issues is part of a Regent’s fiduciary responsibility:

“Unlike a commercial business, a college or university’s overall well-being is measured not only by financial indicators, but also by several non-economic factors, including the quality of campus life. As a result, boards have a fiduciary duty to address issues of overall campus culture, including sexual misconduct. Generally, governing boards should monitor sexual misconduct issues consistent with their oversight of all institutional risk.”

The bylaws of Baylor University say a Regent may be removed for cause, with cause being defined as “…any behavior that is inconsistent with the role of a Regent. Such behavior may include, but is not limited to, a breach of a Regent’s fiduciary duty to the University.”

In our opinion, the failure of leadership described in the P-H Recommendations is enough to suggest a serious breach of fiduciary responsibility on the part of leaders of the Board of Regents. This failure of leadership has had a profound impact on the victims of this tragedy and the reputation of Baylor. Indeed, Baylor has become the national poster child for sexual assault on campus due to the lack of proper programs, policies and procedures. More significantly, the Board is an example of how failed leadership, that operates and deliberates in secret, can allow a scandal to continue to engulf a university. The Board’s website says the “Regents acknowledge their fair share of blame,” yet none of the Regents responsible for these failures has resigned or been removed from office.

We ask the members of the Board of Regents to take responsibility for their actions. This includes answering the simple, straightforward questions listed above. More importantly, we ask you to take full responsibility and remove those from the Board whose failed leadership and failed fiduciary responsibility allowed this burgeoning scandal to befall our university.

Respectfully Yours,

Bears for Leadership Reform

You can read Baylor's full, unedited response here:

Baylor University continues to be aware of the Bears for Leadership Reform’s views. Today’s statements by the BLR ignore the considerable progress the Baylor Board of Regents has made to create greater visibility into the governance of the University, as well as to combat the issue of sexual assault.

Since last year, the Board has taken the following steps, which the BLR has consistently refused to acknowledge:

·      A change of University and Athletic Department leadership;

·      The adoption of 105 recommendations from the Pepper Hamilton law firm to improve Baylor's response under Title IX. The majority of these measures already have been implemented or operationalized;

·      The dissolution of the Board’s Athletic Committee to bring intercollegiate athletics more in line with the mission of the University;

·      Continued training for Board leaders by the Association of Governing Boards and other resources;

·      The adoption of 20 pages of recommendations by an independent Board Governance Task Force, involving some of the country’s most respected corporate leaders. The changes included:

§  Development of a new statement of commitment and responsibilities;

§  Establishment of an executive committee, along with the creation of two additional vice-chairs;

§  Opened up the Regent nomination process to more stakeholder participation;

§  Granted voting rights to faculty, student, Bear Foundation and B. Association Regents;

§  Changed the procedures for selecting Board leadership;

§  Developed a new schedule for committee meetings to allow broader participation;

§  Created a Regents website to include membership and biographies;

§  Posted University foundational documents, board schedules and agendas, and committee assignments online; and

§  Conducted media debriefing following the last Board meeting.

As for the issue of public meetings, the Board has thoroughly considered this question. In addition, the Governance Task Force reviewed policies and procedures at other highly respected private universities, as well as recommendations from the American Bar Association, and confirmed the Board’s position. For private institutions such as Baylor, public meetings would preclude robust and frank discussion among the Regents about sensitive issues such as sexual assault.

 

The BLR has made their opinions known both to the public and to us on many occasions. As always, Baylor’s Board of Regents remains open to input from across the Baylor Family.

© 2017 KCEN-TV


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