Wednesday, June 08, 2016


My Take on the Baylor Debacle

One advantage to being one the Waco Tribune-Herald's "Board of Contributors" is that if I have some thoughts about my old hometown there is a great place to publish them.

Of course, right now everyone seems to have something to say about Baylor and Waco. In the past month the school has been turned upside down by a scandal rooted in the rape of undergraduate women, with the President, football coach, and athletic director either fired or resigning.

Over at Baylorfans, there are passionate opinions going in every direction. Some people think no one should have been fired, while others agree with the  governing board's actions.

For what it is worth, you can read my take on it over at the Trib.

I will read your column later this morning. In the meantime . . .

I believe that Baylor has a disfunctional board of regents. They have fired the last three presidents, taken an abusive and confrontational approach to the alumni association (including unnecessarily demolishing a rather nice building to have more lawn on the very green campus!), etc., etc. The problem, dear regents, is not those in your employ, now or before, but in your ability to govern as a board of regents instead of as a board of meddlers!

BTW, if there was a fault on the part of the people working at Baylor, I would think it was neither Starr, nor Briles, nor McCaw. Perhaps someone in the General Counsel office, and a football staff member or two. But the backers of UT got what they wanted -- Briles who they could not hire out at Baylor.
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Wow! A Waco Friend makes a series of eloquent and provocative assertions that merit discussion.

Mark, you also make very important points concerning the BOR, the lack of transparency, and the communications failure in the wake of the most serious and consequential actions ever undertaken by Baylor University. As for the rights and wrongs of this bizarre story, I continue to reserve judgement until facts are presented.
That's part of what I say in the piece, too, WF-- that I can't say whether or not the Board's actions were right or wrong without additional facts.
My apologies, Mark. Frankly, I am mortified to admit that I completely missed this brilliant line on my first (and second) reading:

"If I learned one thing as a federal prosecutor, it was this: Don’t decide a matter while key facts are obscured. Here, most key facts about who did what and when are still cloaked in darkness."

Amen. Well said. Hear, hear! I would love to see a whole column exploring this proposition.

You have a lot more insight than I do so I'll defer to your opinion, but here is my perspective from the outside looking in as someone with no inside information. They have simply made some bad hires and/or didn't know what their role was in setting that person up for success.

Sloan taught me New Testament back in 1988. I was surprised when he was the president of Baylor less than 10 years later. I know he got Truett going, but still. Baylor 2012 was an impressive vision, but poorly executed. When I used to lead workshops on strategic planning, one of the things I included was, when you are going to change some things don't forget to "sell" the change. Sloan and the BOR never did that. Baylor incurred a lot of debt, that freaked out an important group of alums, and they were never brought along. He changed tenure and hiring practices without bringing along the faculty. His support crumbled from a lack of leadership ability. Again, this is my outsider's view.

It seemed to me that Underwood was a great interim and probably should have gotten the job permanently, but I have no idea if I'm right. Maybe he just didn't stick around long enough to be fired.

I don't know much about Lilly except that, again, he seemed to have no ability to get the faculty to buy into his leadership and decisions. There were probably other issues with him, but I had moved from Waco at that point and was more removed from the situation.

In terms of Starr, before any of this came out I thought he was doing an exceptional job. His ignoring having an adequate Title IX department and apparent lack of administrative skills appear to have killed him. I think that someone like him needs to have an EXCELLENT chief of staff to make sure things run the right way, and I don't perceive that he had that.

From here, and supporting your point, I think Baylor's board needs to go through some serious training. I work for a small nonprofit and our board goes through a training every year. I am the executive director, but I move in a much smaller world than a world-class university. What's appropriate for our board would not necessarily be appropriate for Baylor. Baylor's BOR needs to literally learn from other universities and adopt its own best practices to ensure that the right person is hired and that that person has the resources (e.g. in Starr's case, the right executive support staff) to be successful.
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