As the fall semester drew to a close, Baylor Interim President David Garland joined with Board Chair Ron Murff and Regents David Harper (chair of the Board subcommittee assigned to assist Pepper Hamilton) and Cary Gray (chair of the Board's Governance and Compensation Committee) to participate in listening sessions with faculty and staff. All faculty and staff were invited to attend, and the sessions were organized and hosted by Baylor's Faculty Senate and Staff Council. Questions were solicited by faculty and staff leadership from attendees in advance, and other questions were submitted in writing as each session unfolded. A number of questions were asked repeatedly. These are questions readers of Baylor Magazine may have as well, and those questions and responses are shared here.
As laid out in Baylor's bylaws, the Board is a self-perpetuating entity that is continually renewing itself through the selection of new Regents who can serve up to three three-year terms, for a total of nine years. This is a service term that is shorter than many other private colleges and universities, where directors can serve for as long as 12 years. Candidates must be active Christians and members in good standing of their churches. Each needs a letter of recommendation from his or her pastor. Up to a quarter of the Regents are elected by the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Of the 37 sitting Regents, three are alumni-elected Regents, one is a faculty Regent, two are student Regents, one is selected by the Baylor Bear Foundation, and one is selected by Baylor B Association. Our most recent challenge is diversifying the board. Identifying and recommending qualified women and people of color is a priority for the Board's Governance Committee.
The most impactful change will be finding a new president, and that search is already underway. More than 700 people have provided individual input through an online form, and the presidential search committee has spent more than 140 hours in listening sessions. The information gathered there is going to be extremely important. The plan is for the search process to be wrapped up in the spring.
In addition, there have been structural changes. The President's Executive Council has been expanded, and the Chief of Staff has been named the Board Professional to facilitate consistent and clear communication between the Board and Administration. When it comes to Board matters, a review process will lead to a wide range of additional improvements. For example, the Board instituted a Regent Executive Committee to enhance coordination and announced a new Governance Task Force, composed of Regents and non-regents, to help study and implement best practices. The University has been posting information to a new website--baylor.edu/thefacts--to provide important information about what happened here for anyone who is interested to read and review. A new Baylor Regents website will be launched soon.
Any of the Regents would step down if he or she believed it was in the best interest of the University. While it might seem otherwise, none of the Regents take the position for the status or power or perks. And they certainly don't do it for the money, since they're all volunteers. A commitment to the Board means a great deal of time away from business clients, law firms, corporate duties, pastoral work and other livelihoods. Regents agree to serve because they firmly believe that Baylor can be a force for good and because they passionately believe in its Christian mission. To the point of the question, however, no Regent has as yet believed his or her resignation would help the healing process.
The Board has three major responsibilities--all centered on the mission of the University. The Board hires a president and oversees his or her performance; it ensures appropriate policies are in place so the University functions well; and it ensures there are adequate resources so that the University is able to fulfill its mission.
The Board is also the institutional proxy for outside regulators. Some of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation standards hold the Board accountable for doing things correctly. The National Collegiate Athletic Association holds the Board accountable for certain responsibilities related to athletics. The laws and statutes of the state of Texas hold boards accountable for fulfilling their fiduciary charges under state law. And then there are a host of federal agencies that hold universities and their boards accountable. These include the Department of Education, the Department of Justice, Department of Labor, the Internal Revenue Service, OSHA, and so forth. On the state side, there is oversight from the Attorney General. In discharging these obligations and fulfilling these mandates we hold each other accountable, of course. Students and their parents hold the Board accountable by deciding whether to apply to Baylor. And, finally--and most importantly--as Christians, the members of the Board believe they are ultimately accountable to the Lord.
The mandates of Title IX have evolved significantly since the U.S. Dept. of Education issued its first "Dear Colleague" letter in April 2011, outlining a dramatic regulatory shift regarding the reporting and handling of student sexual assault. Soon thereafter, the Board first began to receive reports that the University was being attentive to the implementation of Title IX.
In early 2014, reports of an incident off campus made the Board realize it needed to take a closer look at overall campus safety. The Regents commissioned a safety study and the findings led to significant changes in establishing the public safety office and police force we now have in place. When that study was presented to the Board in the summer of 2014, it also indicated Baylor needed to establish a full-time Title IX office. The Board moved immediately to establish that office and the first Title IX Coordinator was hired in November 2014.
Providing support to ramp up the Title IX Office then became one of the Board's highest priorities and it asked the chairman of the Board's Audit Committee to keep in regular communication with the Title IX Office, to make sure there was a sufficient budget and enough personnel to do the job. The intent throughout has always been the same--to offer sexual assault victims a second avenue of redress through the student conduct system, instead of relying only on the criminal process through the courts and provide victims unencumbered access to education as mandated under Title IX.
When the Regents first learned of the gravity of the failures in Baylor's response, they decided to act immediately rather than wait for a written report from Pepper Hamilton. A written report would have taken a significant amount of time to complete, and the Regents knew they could not wait that long to do what was right for Baylor.
Furthermore, the Pepper Hamilton investigation looked at the University response to reports of sexual violence through the lens of specific cases. The confidentiality and safety of the victims named in the report had to be guarded. And not just their names. Federal law prohibits the University from disclosing any information that would even unintentionally lead to any student being identified--both claimant and respondent. All identifying information would have to be removed, and that was virtually impossible given the nature of the cases.
Instead, the Board felt that the Findings of Fact were a thorough and detailed picture of just how badly Baylor had failed to meet the expectations it set for itself regarding the care its students deserved. It is important to remember that when they were released, the Findings of Fact and accompanying Recommendations were recognized as among the most comprehensive and forthright information about sexual assault released by a university. The Regents still believe this document comprehensively outlines how University-wide failures and poor processes led to unacceptable consequences for students in Baylor's care. It has been helpful for many to re-read that 13-page document. There's a lot of important information in there that gets glossed over in press reports.
It's sad to say that almost every university across the country is working hard to improve and find the best model for themselves. Baylor provides staff numerous training opportunities and encourages participation in professional organizations where Title IX leaders share challenges and advances that help shape best practices. Baylor continues to study other programs across the nation to learn from their work in Title IX, in public safety and in support services. Baylor strives to be one of the true pioneers when it comes to religious institutions confronting their own performance under Title IX. We are hopeful others are learning from us.
University leadership--the Board and Administration--absolutely should have done more. It expected the Findings of Fact and identification and implementation of the resulting Recommendations to speak the loudest. In addition, a number of Regents and administrators met with the leadership of Faculty Senate and Staff Council, and with a range of other small groups, on May 26 and 27--when the Findings of Fact were released and the leadership changes announced. But in recent weeks, the Regents have recognized that the University should have been more forthright in its communication with staff and faculty. Communication should have been better and that's why senior leadership and Regents have been holding the listening sessions.
A frustration this summer and fall has been what appear to be insufficient responses from Baylor PR when our critics make claims against us. When there is a blank, our critics fill it in. Without violating privacy laws, how will Baylor do a better job unifying the messaging used across campus?
Again, the Board and Administration absolutely should have done more. And will. One example is the baylor.edu/thefacts webpage the University launched to act as a repository of information for the Baylor family, the media and the public. It includes Board statements, an important Oct. 4 Board memo, FAQs and responses to erroneous media reports. The University is adding to it all the time.
In addition, the Regents chose to engage with media to explain their actions. They have sat for sometimes hostile interviews with 60 Minutes, The Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News editorial board, the Waco Tribune-Herald, USA Today, ESPN--in an effort to fill that gap and include the Baylor perspective in stories. And they have been engaging in small-group discussions and holding informational sessions with faculty and staff.
The Board's job is to focus on the long-term goals of the University, and ensure that it is living up to its moral and academic principles. And only when that's not happening does the Board step in. As a result, a big part of how the Regents do that is to put the right people into the right leadership roles. The hiring of Dr. Garland as interim president, the hiring of Greg Jones as provost, the hiring of Mack Rhoades as athletic director, the launch of a presidential search, and the hiring of Jason Cook as vice president for marketing and communications--all of these illustrate a forward progress that will position the University for the future.
The Board has also committed resources to continued growth in faculty and support staff while also being attentive to the needs of Title IX, the student Counseling Center and the full breadth of public safety. The Board does not manage the operations of the University, but the Baylor family can be sure that through the Board’s various committees the Regents are supporting, resourcing and overseeing the mission of the University in every way they can.
The Regents and Administration know people still have questions and many are confused by the complex and conflicting stories they read. But the University's leadership believes the best way it can change behavior is by increasing general awareness, instituting Title IX training of students, faculty and staff and making clear what's expected of each individual as part of Baylor's community of care. That's at the heart of Baylor’s messaging--and Baylor's moral core. So far, Baylor has seen the fruits of these efforts. There has been a sharp increase in sexual assault reports--and, perhaps counter-intuitively, that's a healthy thing. It means more people, both victims and bystanders, are willing to come forward because they are empowered and feel comfortable. But the University must remain committed to education and outreach and stay focused and consistent in both messaging and, most importantly, in the care of those impacted by sexual assault.
The Board has not pursued national news outlets to proactively share the Baylor story. What it did do at a recent Board meeting was to commit to being more transparent going forward. And what that meant, day in and day out, was responding to legitimate media inquiries when they came in.
And that's exactly what happened. President Garland released his open letter to the Baylor family--shared on the "thefacts" website--and the Board began responding to media requests. Regents could not control who would ask questions and when--or even publication dates, for that matter, which is why so many articles ran right before game days.
This is a really important question. It's so crucial to remember that the Pepper Hamilton investigation was never about establishing guilt or innocence in individual cases. It was specifically designed to look at Baylor's institutional response when reports were made--how it handled reports of sexual assault and where it fell short. Consider it a kind of "stress test," like what federal regulators do to banks.
With that being the case, Pepper Hamilton focused on a number of bellwether cases--including those in the news--and followed them through the system to understand the University's real-time responses, attitudes and policies. It was an examination of the University, not the victims or respondents, and the result was not only the identification of individual failings but a system-wide view. That's why Pepper Hamilton made 105 wide-ranging recommendations for improvement. And one of those recommendations is to go back and look at every report that came in between 2011 and 2015. The General Counsel’s office is overseeing this review and will work with an implementation team led by Baylor Provost Greg Jones to identify steps which the University should take as a result of that review.
It's important to note that Baylor’s financial state is very secure, thanks to many years of prudent financial management. While there has been a cost, of course, it is not of the kind that threatens the basic financial health of Baylor University. There are more students than ever applying to Baylor and they represent the most academically capable cohort in the University's history. Baylor's facilities are first-rate. Its faculty is superb. The institution's future--financial and otherwise--is bright.
Demand for a Baylor education remains strong. The University had one of the largest entering classes in 2016 and at last check, applications for the class due to arrive in the fall of 2017 were running about 300 ahead of this time last year. The academic indicators are also looking good. The first round of applicants has been admitted and the final application date is Feb. 1. Every indicator points to a very strong entering class.
Continue the excellent work you've been doing. People can talk about the Board of Regents all they want, but you--faculty and staff--are the reason that more and more parents are sending their students to Baylor. You are the reason why Baylor will certainly fulfill its mission to be a faith-based research university that can show in word and deed that Christians in a caring community do not flinch from doing the right thing, no matter how difficult it will be. There are no shortcuts to excellence and your example is a sermon every time you start class or you help one of our students with a need. The Regents have been very thankful for the professionalism that faculty and staff have continued to show as Baylor has gone through this difficult time.
The work of the University to improve awareness, prevention, training, education, policies, practices and support continues. Progress has been made on every front outlined in the 105 Recommendations that were adopted as mandates in June 2016. Baylor University's Title IX Office has increased in size and resources and has reviewed and improved its policies and procedures; our Counseling Center has grown and developed new expertise and protocols for working with students in need; a victim-advocate has been added to the counseling center staff. The Department of Public Safety has developed new partnerships and protocols in the community and with Title IX and received additional training in trauma-informed investigations. A chief compliance officer has been named; a full-time Clery coordinator has been hired and more than 600 employees have been identified and trained as Campus Security Authorities. The Athletics Department has new policies for transfer student-athletes, drug testing and student-athlete conduct. The Board has established a new Governance Review Task Force that will review and recommend improvements in the Board’s practices, procedures and selection process. This Task Force will work alongside the Board's Governance and Compensation committee that has already led the implementation of substantial changes.