Baylor University

Waco Tribune-Herald: Jim H. Patton, guest columnist: Big 12 presidents ought to worry about the message they send

Sept. 20, 2011

Published with permission from the Waco Tribune-Herald.

Jim H. Patton
Guest columnist

Texas A&M University President R. Bowen Loftin's assertion that Baylor University is holding TAMU hostage and depriving his university of its freedom is laughable. TAMU is a party to a legally binding Big 12 contract as are other member universities.

In short, President Loftin wants to break the contractual agreement. In spite of his protestations to the contrary, no other party to the contract, certainly not Baylor, can stop him from taking that action if he so chooses.

However, just as President Loftin is charged with acting in the best interest of TAMU, so is President Ken Starr charged with acting in the best interest of Baylor University. Baylor, via its chief executive Judge Starr, is entirely free to preserve its options to seek remedy for any harm that might be caused by TAMU breaking their mutual contract.

I personally wonder what the timeline has been for President Loftin's consideration of fleeing to the SEC. The Big 12 television contracts were only recently signed, the ink barely dry really. Was President Loftin already intending to bolt for the SEC at the time of the signing?

If this were to be true, then recent comments attributed to Gov. Mark White have focused right onto the primary problem here: honor and trustworthiness. If Loftin and TAMU believe that they can negotiate with others who come to the table in good faith and then violate an agreement reached and solemnized, then there are indeed serious problems that deserve public discussion in Texas.

While the contract in dispute may involve athletics, the more general observation here is that this is an agreement among institutions of higher education in Texas and other states. University faculties and administrators have a responsibility to act ethically, and they expect their students to behave ethically as members of their academic communities.

Dr. Loftin is a physicist, a faculty member at TAMU who happens to currently serve as the academic leader of his university. A critically important question for all citizens of Texas is what kind of role models are our university faculties and administrators expected to provide for the youngsters of our great state? Have we now decided that it is acceptable or even appropriate or desirable to violate agreements and then blame others for the very predictable consequences of our own freely chosen behavior? Should this be acceptable behavior for university faculty members to model for future generations of Texas students?

There is clearly much more than athletics on the table in our present circumstance. Our universities are the places where we not only prepare our children for their life's work but for life itself. Our flagship universities provide the environments where we train future leaders in the professions and public service. Our universities are a primary mechanism for the transmission of our most significant cultural values. Our students learn not only in classrooms but from watching what we, faculty and administrators, do as we conduct the general business of academia.

If our state's finest educational institutions cannot provide the kind of atmosphere that fosters development of the virtues we expect them to model for our youngsters, then they are no longer worthy places to send the daughters and sons of Texas. Sadly, in spite of its long and storied tradition in Texas, the importance of college football pales in comparison to the larger issues of honor, trustworthiness and moral character that have arisen in the context of our present circumstance.

Make no mistake, our present and future students are watching and learning from what they observe. Our actions always speak much louder than our rhetoric.

Jim Patton is a professor of neuroscience, psychology and biomedical studies in Baylor University's department of psychology and neuroscience. He is also an alumnus (Ph.D. 1978). He is a member of the Baylor Faculty Senate, including its executive committee.

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