Bears for Leadership Reform discusses Board of Regents

Former Baylor football player John Eddie Williams speaks to a large crowd of alumni, faculty, and students at the first Bears for Leadership Reform meeting on Thursday morning at the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame. Photo credit: Morgan Kilgo

By McKenna Middleton | Page One Editor

Hundreds of Baylor faculty, alumni and staff gathered Thursday morning at the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame to voice a desire for change in university leadership.

Bears for Leadership Reform sent an invitation to the Baylor community, offering a safe place for them to share their concerns and join a movement advocating transparency and change to the Baylor Board of Regents.

“Recently, there has been a cloud over our university, and there should not be, and we believe sincerely that there’s been a lack of leadership,” said John Eddie Williams, an attorney and former Baylor football player. “We’re at a point where we have a board, in my opinion, that has become tone deaf to the Baylor alumni, to the Baylor family, to the students, the faculty … Our goal is to create a voice for those that want the board to listen.”

The group attracted an audience of over 200 people, and over 500 watched the event via livestream video on the group’s Facebook page. The page has over 8,000 likes.

The spokespeople for Bears for Leadership Reform comprised a diverse group of people included former regents, alumni and Drayton McLane, chairman of the McLane Group.

“I think they made some really, really major decisions in firing the president, athletic director, head football coach and other administrative people,” McLane said. “We need to understand why they made those decisions and how they came to those decisions and to be much more open and transparent and be responsible for that.”

According to the website, the group strives for transparency, accountability and reform among university leaders.

“We need transparency and a culture of openness if we are to operate as a university should with shared governance,” said Dr. Ray Bagby, an associate professor of entrepreneurship who has been with the university for 29 years. “The regents are not accountable to anyone at the moment, and a lack of oversight can create problems.”

Williams said the board is secretive, and the first step to change will be getting the facts first.

“We’re the people they should be talking to, and it seems like when they go to the Wall Street Journal, they’re trying to protect the needs of themselves and not the Baylor family. Unbelievable,” Williams said of a recent Wall Street Journal article in which regents spoke about some of the findings of the Pepper Hamilton investigation.

Former Texas Gov. Mark White, a Baylor alumnus and member for the Bears for Leadership Reform, expressed a similar concern.

“First of all, we don’t need any coverup. We don’t need any more secrets,” White said.

Besides the transparency issues the Bears for Leadership Reform identifies among the regents, White said there are some people on the board that have simply been there too long. He said it is the voice of the Baylor community at meetings like this that will spark change.

“I think what we saw happen at Baylor is a result of this meeting,” White said of the email interim President David Garland sent to faculty and staff on Wednesday announcing a new Governance Review Task Force. “They said they’re going to do something … It’s important we put urgency to this … We want change and we want it now.”

Former regent Emily Tinsley said the three things the board of regents is legally responsible for is to hire and fire a president, set policy and oversee the wealth and health of the university.

“Even if only half of what they tell me is true, we should be frightened to the core for the future of our university,” Tinsley said. “Power struggles and secrecy can destroy any family. Even the Baylor family.”

Dr. Lynn Tatum is a lecturer in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core and past president of Texas conference of the American Association of University Professors, which focuses on academic freedom and shared governance at higher institutions.

“There hasn’t been an openness,” Tatum said. “As faculty, we would love to have open communication with the regents.”

Many in attendance, including former Baylor football coach Grant Teaff, have hope for the university’s future and what it stands for.

“This university is bigger, it is better, it is stronger than all the issues that come up. Human beings have been given the responsibility to solve those issues. This is still God’s university,” Teaff said. “We have to realize that all of us must be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem. Simple as that.”

The meeting consisted of conversations regarding the organization’s issues with the board of regents, as well as plans to hold the board accountable. Looking forward, Williams said they hope to hear a response from the board with a plan of action.

“We have to get our name back and get our integrity back and walk tall again,” Williams said.