By Sara Tirrito
City Desk Editor
By the end of October, Baylor and the Baptist General Convention of Texas expect to have a new relationship agreement to replace the 20-year-old one currently in place. The need to renegotiate with Baylor was brought up in February after the university’s board of regents decided to alter its bylaws so that non-Baptist Christians could occupy one quarter of its seats.
Houston Baptist University, another Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) partner, made a similar change to its governing board in March, opening it to non-Baptist Christians as well, though that change had previously been voted against by the BGCT.
However, Baylor’s move to open its board to non-Baptists ran directly counter to at least one stipulation in the current agreement between the university and the BGCT, sparking some discontent.
Stipulations in the current agreement relating to the situation at hand include:
“All members of the Board of Directors shall be Baptists.”
“The BGCT recognizes that Baylor is an independent, nonprofit, nonmember corporation…with the full legal right, power and authority to amend or rescind its articles of incorporation or bylaws without approval or consent of the BGCT or any other party.”
“No amendment to this agreement shall be effective unless the amendment is in writing and lawfully executed by both parties.”
Some members of the BGCT did take part in discussions with the Baylor Board of Regents about allowing non-Baptists to be elected before the change was ever put in place, Buddy Jones, chair of the board of regents, wrote in an email to the Lariat.
He added that the board has impressed upon the BGCT how important the university’s history remains to them.
“We have consistently made it clear to BGCT officials that we continue to hold dear Baylor’s Baptist history and heritage and that we look to uphold and honor that proud tradition in the future,” Jones wrote. “This includes the creation of new programs, such as the Baptist Studies Center for Research, as well as increasing scholarships awarded to the children of Baptist ministers and missionaries by more than 300 percent, more than half a million dollars, beginning this fall.”
President Ken Starr acknowledged the change in the board’s bylaws was part of the reason that the BGCT called for a renegotiation, but said he believes the relationship between the two entities remains very strong.
“There clearly are people within Texas Baptist life who did not want Baylor University to welcome fellow Christians to the board,” Starr said. “I’ve done no polls, I’ve seen no polls, but what I do know is that there’s a great spirit of love and cooperation and mutual affection between Baylor University and the Baptist General Convention of Texas.”
Not wanting to talk too specifically while negotiations are still under way, Steve Vernon, associate executive director and acting executive director of the BGCT, said renegotiations are needed because of the current agreement’s age, and also because both institutions have undergone changes.
“Baylor has changed and the Baptist General Convention of Texas has changed, and that’s why we felt the need for the renegotiations,” Vernon said. “I don’t think you can read any more into it than that at this point.”
However, the BGCT does want to continue to foster a strong relationship with the university, he said.
“We are much more interested in how we are going to move ahead together than in revisiting the past,” Vernon said.
Jones and Starr also believe the future of the relationship agreement has a positive outlook.
“It will all be positive,” Starr said. “There will continue, I am confident, to be financial support flowing from the BGCT. We look forward to the BGCT’s continuing to elect 25 percent of our board. I don’t anticipate any significant structural changes at all.”
As one part of the new agreement, the BGCT is looking at “simplifying [the] arrangement” for electing regents to the Baylor board, Starr said.
Vernon said the BGCT is reviewing its guidelines for recommending nominees to all of its partnering institutions.
The BGCT executive board is slated to receive a committee report regarding the new agreement in September. It will then need approval from the BGCT executive board and the Baylor Board of Regents.