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Baylor Alumni

A Special Report

Covering:

• Merger proposal from Baylor’s regents and interim administration

• A summary of the public debate over the merger proposal

• Regents and interim administration’s withdrawal of merger proposal

• Why self-governance is not an obstacle to alumni association-university partnerships

• Alumni respond with unprecedented financial support of BAA

• Most recent exchange between the BAA and Baylor’s regents and interim administration

On September 9, Baylor University Board of Regents chair Dary Stone and Baylor interim president David Garland submitted a proposal to the Board of Directors of the Baylor Alumni Association (BAA) that would prove to be one of the most widely discussed subjects within the Baylor family in recent years.

The written proposal, titled “A Proposal to Combine Resources and Enhance Alumni Relations,” called for the BAA to terminate its independent 501(c)(3) status and become a “new Baylor Alumni Association” within the university’s Division of University Development.

The delivery of the written proposal was followed by a presentation of the proposal’s merits to the BAA’s board during its regularly scheduled meeting on Saturday, September 19. A little more than a month later, Stone and Garland informed the BAA by written letter that they were withdrawing the university’s merger proposal.

Baylor’s proposal generated voluminous debate on the Baylor campus and among alumni nationwide, as well as media coverage in local, regional, and national outlets.

Terms of the Proposal

At its September 19 meeting, the BAA board approved the establishment of a study committee to fully assess the terms and merits of the merger proposal and to report its findings to the board. “The BAA is certainly interested in any proposal the university has to offer,” David Lacy, the BAA’s president for 2009, said in an e-mail message to BAA members on October 1. “We will study the proposal carefully, gather facts, and respond in a way that is best for Baylor. That is what we always attempt to do with any request from our school.”

Under the proposal’s terms, the BAA would dissolve its charter as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and agree to the nullification of all rights and responsibilities under prior contracts between Baylor and the BAA. In addition, the BAA would turn over all of its assets and operations to the university as well as editorial control of the BAA’s alumni publications, including the Baylor Line magazine, which would be consolidated with the university-produced Baylor Magazine into one publication.

In exchange, Baylor would absorb the BAA as a department of the university, and the BAA’s governing board would be reconstituted as a board of advisors that would “provide advice on how to best reach and involve Baylor alumni.” The university would continue to allow the BAA to be housed in the Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center, and BAA employees would “have the option of becoming employees of Baylor consistent with Baylor policy,” including the BAA’s executive vice president becoming the vice president for alumni affairs. In addition, in 2010 the regents would select a member of the current BAA board to serve as a Baylor regent.

“Although it is our fervent hope that the BAA will join with Baylor in creating this new Association, we recognize you may wish to maintain separate status and go a different direction. If so, we will continue to assist you in maintaining your independence which is virtually unique among private university alumni associations,” the proposal concluded.

Public Discussion

As the BAA’s officers and staff began the process of appointing the study committee, the proposal began receiving extensive coverage in the local media and exposure through the university administration’s efforts that encouraged alumni, students, faculty, and staff to support the proposal.

Following the presentation to the BAA board, a Baylor leader was quoted in a Waco-Tribune Herald story as saying that the BAA was “in decline, with financial contributions almost nonexistent.” In the same story, Baylor’s leadership alleged the existence of a “conflict of purposes” between Baylor and the BAA and accused the BAA of positioning itself in a “watchdog role”—stating that “we can’t have conflicting messages.”

The following day, Monday, September 21, Baylor sent several communications to its various constituents. First, the university administration e-mailed Baylor faculty and staff members advocating the proposal, which was provided via a Web link, and then forwarded that e-mail to all Baylor students with a note of support for “an exciting proposal.” That same day, the university-produced Baylor Proud blog was sent to Baylor alumni and other constituents, carrying a lead story in support of the merger proposal.

In response to the university’s efforts, on September 22 the BAA sent a Baylor Line News e-mail to its members notifying them of the university’s merger proposal and of the pending formation of a study committee. The message also questioned why the regents were making a turn away from their historic support of the BAA’s independence at this time and noted that the BAA’s uniqueness as a self-governing alumni association serving a private university matches the uniqueness of Baylor’s mission as a doctoral-level academic institution committed to the Christian faith.

The Larger Context

Over the next four weeks, a vigorous discussion about the proposal and the history of the BAA and its relationship with Baylor dominated conversations in alumni circles and around campus.

Several BAA board members and past presidents wrote columns and letters to the editor that ran in the Waco Tribune-Herald and the Baylor Lariat, some expressing approval of the merger proposal and others expressing opposition to it. The BAA invited all alumni to e-mail the organization with their comments about the proposal and began posting them online for all to see. The Baylor Lariat, the Baptist Standard, the Dallas Morning News, the San Antonio Express-News, and Inside Higher Education ran stories on the situation.

In the course of their communications to BAA members and their comments to the press, alumni association president Lacy and Jeff Kilgore, the BAA’s executive vice president, attempted to correct some of what they and others saw as mischaracterizations of the BAA’s character and performance in supporting Baylor as well as to put the merger proposal in a broader context than what university communications had provided.

Kilgore wrote a guest column that appeared in the Baylor Lariat and the Waco Tribune-Herald in which he pointed out that Baylor’s primary argument for the merger proposal “is that the BAA’s independence is unique among all other alumni organizations serving private universities and should thus be eliminated in order to conform.”

Kilgore noted that the BAA was established as a legally independent organization more than thirty years ago at the encouragement of Baylor’s administration and regents to help protect and preserve Baylor’s unique qualities and mission. And two years ago, the BAA and the Baylor Board of Regents mutually agreed upon and expressed their commitment to the independence of the BAA.

The BAA later reported to its members that the BAA’s independent status is not unique. Research into the matter revealed that Georgetown University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of Southern California (USC), Tulane University, and Duke University are also served by alumni associations that are legally incorporated as independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.

“The BAA’s purpose is to support Baylor and serve alumni, period. There is no conflict of purposes,” BAA president Lacy said in his October 1 message to members. “Our 19,000 members love Baylor. Hopefully, no one will attempt to paint our BAA board and staff as persons who do not love Baylor.”

Lacy went on to observe that the BAA’s membership base has never been stronger and ranks among the typical membership percentages of its Big 12 counterparts. “As a financially self-sufficient group that runs a balanced budget, the BAA provides $1.8 million in programs and services that engage alumni and encourage them to support the university,” Lacy said. “This past fiscal year, the BAA engaged more than 24,000 participants in its programs and had nearly 1.5 million communication contacts with alumni and friends. Members of the BAA constitute more than half of all alumni donors to the university, directly contributing $14.2 million to Baylor during a recent fiscal year. Membership dollars to the BAA are up, at an all-time high actually, as are contributions over and above membership dues.”

In addition to issuing statements from Lacy and Kilgore, the BAA asked for all alumni and friends to provide their perspectives on the proposal—and immediately the alumni association’s inbox was flooded with e-mails. From October 1 to October 27, the BAA published these responses, including names and class years, in a special section of its website dedicated to the merger proposal, and the voice of the Baylor family was heard, with 88 percent of the responses supporting the BAA’s independence, 7 percent supporting Baylor’s proposal, and 5 percent being mixed.

Proposal Withdrawn

On October 27, the week after Homecoming, regent chair Stone and interim president Garland sent the BAA a letter in which they announced that Baylor was withdrawing the proposal.

In their letter, Garland and Stone cited not having received a formal response from the BAA about the proposal. “Instead, we have seen opinion editorials from your president and executive vice president criticizing our proposal, the University, and its governing bodies,” they wrote. “We have not seen a single instance in which you have publicly discussed the merits of the proposal directly and the impact it could have enhancing national alumni relations at Baylor. Last week, at its annual meeting, the BAA launched a five year plan upon which BAA independence and separation from the University was the major building block. All of these activities present a clear message that our proposal, though made in good faith, is effectively and de facto declined by the BAA.”

The proposal’s withdrawal was unexpected by the BAA’s leadership. “From the moment the BAA received the merger proposal, it was our intent to give it the due diligence needed before a response was given,” BAA president Lacy told the Waco Tribune-Herald. “We have worked nonstop since September 19, gathering feedback and opinion from the members we represent. While surprised, we still stand ready, as a willing partner, to work with Baylor to move the Baylor family forward.”

In the same news article, regent chair Stone stated that “Baylor is the only university in the world with an independent alumni association.” He added, “They did not respond directly, formally, for almost two months. . . . It was time to bring an end to the public rhetorical debate that was not producing any progress whatsoever.”

In a fashion similar to its promotion of the merger proposal, Baylor broadcast news of the proposal’s withdrawal to a wide audience. On October 27, Baylor’s leadership sent an e-mail to Baylor’s faculty and staff lamenting the “failure of the BAA to respond to us directly” and “the public comments of the BAA leadership about the proposal.”

Two days later, an e-mail to Baylor alumni was sent by the university announcing the withdrawal of the proposal and linking to the lead editorial in that day’s edition of the Waco Tribune-Herald. Titled “Scuttling Peace,” the paper’s editorial claimed that Baylor’s proposal “granted provisions allowing association alumni to retain much of their independence but also offered them a clear voice inside Baylor, rather than continually barking from the outside” and declared that “the hope for this change has been dashed on jagged rocks of defiance.”

Between those communications, the BAA sent a message from president Lacy to its members on October 28. “Contrary to the statements of others, we have not taken actions that indicate the BAA would reject the proposal. What we have done is go about our normal business at this busy time of year [Homecoming] while giving attention to this new and significant issue,” Lacy informed alumni. “The BAA’s ‘United for Baylor’ five-year plan, which has been pointed to as evidence of an inclination to reject the proposal, was actually formalized last spring and presented in the issue of the Baylor Line that came out the same weekend that the Baylor representative met with our board. . . . Giving this proposal its due attention has amounted to a great amount of work these past thirty-seven days, especially considering the measures that were required to address the public-relations efforts that the university initiated two days after presenting the merger proposal to our board. It was never our intent to address this matter in the court of public opinion before conducting our assessment and response, but due to the university’s public efforts to seek endorsements of the proposal and to disparage the performance of the BAA, we were compelled to respond in an effort to provide balance, context, and facts to our members for their consideration in this process.”

Lacy concluded his message by saying, “We will soon formulate a more official response to the university regarding the withdrawal of the proposal. We look forward to identifying new and unique ways that the BAA and Baylor can work together in the future as we serve Baylor alumni. Over many decades, the BAA-Baylor partnership has been strong and successful. We believe that it can continue to be so.”

On November 3, Lacy and BAA executive vice president Kilgore sent a response to Garland and Stone, which they copied to all other Baylor regents, concerning the university’s proposal and its subsequent withdrawal. On November 11, Baylor interim president Garland and regent chair Stone sent the BAA their reply to the BAA’s letter. (To view pdf versions of both, click on the above links.)

“For the sake of achieving peace and unity for all of the Baylor family, the BAA stands ready and willing to participate in a number of cooperative joint measures that—if genuinely and fully implemented—will result in better collaboration, coordination, and effectiveness in the university’s overall alumni relations program,” Lacy and Kilgore wrote. “These measures are common at many other universities all over the nation.”

Among the joint initiatives outlined as possibilities by the BAA were greater interaction between the BAA’s and Baylor’s governing boards, collaboration between the BAA and the Baylor Network in alumni outreach activities, increased contact between the two organizations’ chief staff persons, enhanced coordination and collaboration in alumni communications, and shared fundraising activities.

Assessing Independence

Jeff Kilgore, the BAA’s executive vice president, told the Line that despite this recent process over the past few months, the BAA’s mission and purpose have remained unchanged. And, he said, the BAA continues to be an operationally and financially healthy organization that is resolute in its support of Baylor and its service to alumni and the greater Baylor family.

“We have heard that the Baylor Alumni Association’s independence is something that remains of great value to Baylor and to many in the Baylor family,” Kilgore said. “Baylor alumni recognize this, and we have heard their strong voices of support. We will go on supporting Baylor as we always have, keeping the Baylor family fully informed, engaged, and connected, but we will certainly continue to look for ways to support Baylor and its students even more and hope for increased communications with university leadership.”

BAA officials continue to point out that the BAA’s independent status—fully in place for more than thirty years—has not been considered an obstacle to collaboration or a premise for functionally or programmatically separating the BAA from the university until recent years.

The independent alumni association is the predominant model in the Big 12 Conference, with nine of the twelve universities being supported by independently run organizations as their general alumni groups. Like the BAA, most of these alumni associations have had a long history on campus and have been viewed by their respective universities as the best means of fostering an informed and engaged alumni body.

And far from precluding support from university administrators, these organizations’ independence are often seen as a strength and utilized as an asset.

“Our independence is not viewed as creating an antagonistic relationship,” Jim Boon, executive director of the Texas Exes at the University of Texas at Austin, told the Line. “The Alcalde, our alumni magazine, is valued by our members because it delivers the news about the university in a straightforward, credible manner. The administration appreciates our magazine’s editorial independence. I constantly get that feedback from the president and the vice president for development.”

A study of alumni magazines that share the kind of editorial independence enjoyed by the Baylor Line revealed that, counter to the university leadership’s assertion in their November 11 response to Lacy and Kilgore, other universities find it thoroughly appropriate to financially support alumni magazines produced by an independent entity. Both Harvard Magazine and Yale Alumni Magazine, for example, are published by independent organizations and yet receive funding from their parent institutions.

In addition, Kilgore noted, being an independently governed and managed alumni association doesn’t mean the organization must be barred from participating in mutually beneficial partnerships with its university. Kilgore noted that the kind of functional separation that Baylor’s leadership has recently implemented upon the BAA—creating daylight between the two organizations where alumni had only seen a seamless unity of service before—runs counter to common practices in higher education and reflects a much stricter interpretation of what the Baylor Alumni Association’s independence means than previous administrations have held.

Self-governing alumni associations and the universities they serve have a mutually beneficial interconnectedness that takes many forms, he said, ranging from direct funding to the sharing of communications systems and alumni data. It’s not uncommon, he added, to find regular interaction between both organizations’ chief staff persons. “This is something we hope improves,” Kilgore said.

Boon, the Texas Exes’ executive director, said that a strong relationship comes from both parties seeing the big picture. “We have not had any tension between us and the university,” he said. “That’s not to say that we won’t cover a subject in the Alcalde that I’m sure the administration would prefer for us not to cover. But at the end of the day, that gives us more credibility when we are out raising money from alumni for scholarships. You can’t isolate one story in the magazine. You have to assess the totality of the relationship.”

Boon went on to say, “Our ability to serve the university properly is not dependent on any organizational chart. It’s dependent upon relationships that exist between me and the university administration and our volunteers. That’s based on trust and the knowledge that we’re here ultimately to serve the university.”

The Road Ahead

The BAA’s leaders insist that, despite recent actions to sever operational ties with the BAA, the alumni association will continue to serve the greater good of Baylor University by fulfilling its mission and striving to remain a source of positive news and fact-based information about Baylor. Unfortunately, at times the facts are not all positive, but they are still just as important to share openly with alumni and donors, alumni association leaders say.

In the spirit of transparency, the BAA’s Lacy and Kilgore say it’s the BAA’s responsibility to share openly and honestly with Baylor alumni some of the events that have transpired in the last few months. Some recent actions taken by the university’s leadership that have raised questions and caused concern among alumni, faculty, and students include:

• Baylor’s leadership removed all links to the BAA on the university’s “Alumni & Friends” website in June 2009.

• Baylor’s leadership removed the BAA from the university’s toll-free number in August 2009.

• Baylor’s leadership declined to recognize or publicize the BAA’s Sesquicentennial anniversary.

• The BAA was denied a request in November 2009 for the mailing addresses of non-member alumni to be used for a membership solicitation and an encouragement for alumni to support Baylor.

• The BAA was informed in November 2009 that it would not be allowed to welcome new graduates, present BAA awards, or host its reception tent for new graduates and faculty as part of December commencement exercises.

• Later in November 2009, the BAA was informed that the university administration would no longer participate in the “Conversation with the President” column in the Baylor Line magazine.

“While these recent decisions are a bit dispiriting and make it harder for us to do our job, they do not change the heart and soul of a 150-year-old organization like the Baylor Alumni Association,” Kilgore said. “Our ‘United for Baylor’ five-year plan maps out an exciting future of support and alumni engagement in building a greater Baylor. We are particularly excited about increasing the BAA’s role in raising scholarship funds from dues and other gifts to help children of alumni attend Baylor.”

Kilgore noted that the BAA’s membership revenue has been on a record-setting pace for the first six months of the fiscal year, with November’s membership revenue of $149,179 being the largest total for a single month in the history of the BAA.

In addition, the BAA has announced two gifts to general operating funds that total $1.5 million. The Baugh Foundation, founded by John and Eula Mae Baugh, has provided a gift of $1 million to be paid over the next two years, and Christian Mission Concerns, founded by Paul and Katy Piper, has made a gift of $500,000 to be paid over the next five years. Both organizations have been significant donors to the BAA, Baylor, and other Baptist-related causes over the years, and they intend for their collective $1.5 million gift to be considered a “challenge grant” that they hope will be matched by other BAA members and donors.
 
“We take seriously our charge to be the official association of Baylor alumni—of whatever opinion and whatever background,” Kilgore said. “We are focused on remaining true to the principles and vision of the founders of Baylor and open and accountable to all of the Baylor family. We continue to invite Baylor’s regents to meet with us in talking groups to achieve a forward-looking, healing solution to matters troubling Baylor’s alumni relations. Baylor is a tremendous university, our alma mater, and we will continue to work hard every day to be the best alumni association possible to reflect Baylor’s greatness.”

Following the university’s withdrawal of the proposal, the BAA’s leadership has continued to communicate with Baylor regents and to request that a formal communication process be established between members of Baylor’s Board of Regents and members of the BAA’s Board of Directors.

“Our request for the meetings is being strongly considered,” BAA president Lacy commented. “We have asked for official meetings, with a set agenda.”

It was proposed that meetings be held, regularly and routinely, between three or four representatives from each respective board throughout 2010. It was also suggested that these proposed meetings will lead to a better understanding of issues and decisions made by the Board of Regents and will also add to increased dialogue between the organizations.

“Early indications are that the Board of Regents is strongly considering these meetings and may approve them for 2010,” Lacy added. “The discussions we have had with representatives of the Board of Regents in recent days have had a very positive tone, and we hope that continues. We remain hopeful that they will approve the series of proposed meetings and allow that to occur.”


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