Regents looking forward, chair says

Photo credit: Liesje Powers

By Kalyn Story | Staff Writer

The Baylor Board of Regents announced on Monday night that they will be releasing minutes for future meetings, but clarified that this will not include past meetings, causing some frustration among the Baylor community.

Ron Murff, Board of Regents chair, said that while they do have a record of past minutes in their business records, they do not at this time plan to release minutes from previous meetings.

“We just think it is reasonable as we go forward to release minutes,” Murff said in a phone interview with the Lariat. “We are trying to make sure we are looking forward with everything. We are trying to be the best that we can be, which as far as being transparent with everything going on, we think that being transparent is the best way to do that.”

Murff said this decision was the result of deliberation.

“We as a board have talked about a lot of different opportunities to be more transparent and open. We thought [releasing future minutes] was one of the things that would be reasonable to do,” said Murff.

The announcement came days after the Bears for Leadership Reform held its first meeting. At the meeting, the group requested transparency from the Board of Regents, asking for a seat at the table during the selection of Baylor’s next president. They also demanded implementation of Title IX and additional sexual assault prevention programs.

“While the board has taken several important steps in recent months to focus on adopting best practices in governance, we have a lot more to do,” Murff said in a statement on Baylor’s “The Facts” webpage. “As part of our continuous review of board governance, two leading experts joined regents during a daylong retreat at our July 2016 meeting. Dr. Cathy Trower and Ray Cotton challenged the regents to identify and adopt meaningful changes in governance that will better position the board to support the university in achieving its mission well into the future.”

Murff said he believes that the board has always been fairly transparent. He said he doesn’t think having public meetings like the University of Texas does, for example, is practical for a private institution like Baylor, but didn’t elaborate.

“We recognize that there are benefits to making sure the Baylor family understands the issues that we are talking about, and we are committed to finding ways to do that,” Murff said.

Trower is the president of Trower & Trower, a consulting firm based out of New Hampshire. She started working with the board a few years ago and was asked to work with them again in July at the retreat.

“I have found them to be very vigilant over the years about governance, making sure they are doing everything that they can to be a best practice type of board,” Trower said.

Trower said she is extremely impressed with the steps the board is taking toward transparency for the Baylor community.

“I think the degree of transparency this board, the Baylor board, is making is pretty much unprecedented in private institutions because they don’t have to be transparent or make things as public as this board is doing.”

Trower praised the retreat, but her favorite part of the day was when eight students came and shared their thoughts with the board and had an opportunity to ask questions.

“What is so impressive about this board, and I think what was conveyed to the student panel, was they love Baylor as much as the students do,” Trower said. “These board members are in this for the long haul and want to protect Baylor into the future. Every great board has to concern itself with current things going on, but they also have to think of the best interest of the university in perpetuity. Baylor’s Board of Regents does that.”

Murff also said the student discussion time was his favorite part of the retreat and what he thinks was the most beneficial. He said they discussed many issues with the students including student safety, student debt, how the graduate students are viewed and Greek life, as well as had communication with some male students about the concern that the board is fair and balanced with both victims and respondents as Title IX issues are being reviewed.

“Talking with the students was the best part of the day,” Murff said. “We had a morning session to hear their concerns, discuss what we can help them with, not just related to the Title IX things that had been going but just in general how we can be helpful to them and how to start a dialogue with the students. It was a good, open, very frank, extremely honest and very beneficial dialogue.”

Linda Carol Trotter, a 1981 Baylor graduate, attended the Bears for Leadership Reform meeting on Nov. 10 and said she believes the announcement from the board is in direct response to the Bears for Leadership Reform meeting and demands.

“The Bears for Leadership Reform made the regents pay attention,” Trotter said. “Releasing minutes is a start, but it is too little, too late.”

Trotter said she does not think the board of regents would have made any changes if it were not for large donors backing the Bears for Leadership Reform group.

“Pocketbooks do the talking, and there are big money people saying the board of regents need to change, and I am sure money is the only thing that will force them to change,” Trotter said.

In addition to the release of future minutes, Trotter said she thinks Senior Vice President for Operations and Chief Financial Officer Reagan Ramsower and Associate Dean for Student Conduct Administration Bethany McCraw need to be removed from their positions.

“The board of regents and judicial affairs offices need to clear house as much as possible,” Trotter said. “If they didn’t know about what was going on, they should have.”

Trotter is not happy with the way the Governance Review Task Force is set up. Trotter said she thinks it is a conflict of interest for the task force to have regents on it, and instead, it should be made up of students, alumni, faculty and staff.

Trotter said she would also like to see minutes from previous meetings.

“We have a right to see past minutes from the board of regents meetings,” Trotter said. “If they really want change and really want to do the right thing, they need to do more than tell us — they have to show us. We need to know what happened to make sure it never happens again.”