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Regents, NoZe, faculty honor Underwood with reception

April 13, 2006

by KATY MATLOCK, staff writer

Faculty and staff lined up Wednesday in Barfield Drawing Room to thank former-interim President William D. Underwood at a reception sponsored by Baylor and the Board of Regents.

"It's a thank-you reception for the service that he rendered while he was interim president," said Mike Morrison, chief of staff to President John Lilley.

Board of regents chairman Will Davis said he was pleased at the large turnout of faculty and administrators. Lilley, his wife, Gerrie, and several regents attended the event.

"It was such a pleasure as a regent to be able to work with Bill," said board member Donell Teaff.

Even the Noble NoZe Brotherhood showed up and bestowed Underwood with an honorary membership. NoZe members, dressed in their usual regalia and black graduation gowns, called Underwood to the microphone by announcing that he needed to move his car. The brotherhood dubbed him Bro. ProboNoZe and gave him a "power tie."

Davis also presented Underwood with a gift -- a crystal bear. He pointed out the bear is the emblem for Baylor and Mercer.

"The entire Baylor family is greatly indebted to Bill Underwood," Davis said.

In 2004, Underwood was appointed master teacher, the highest honor for Baylor faculty. Davis said only 23 Baylor faculty hold the title. Underwood jokingly compared the honor of master teacher to his honorary NoZe membership.

Underwood thanked several administrators who stepped into interim positions when he became president.

"All of these people were instrumental in what we did in that seven-month period," he said.

He described Morris, who served as his chief of staff, as his right arm. Underwood also described his conversations with Lilley regarding Larry Brumley, interim vice president of University Relations as a tug-of-war. Underwood has appointed Brumley to serve as his chief of staff at Mercer.

"I look forward to watching the successes of this university," Underwood said of Baylor.

Brumley said Underwood deeply loves the university.

"Even though he's not a Baylor graduate he just fit in here at Baylor and became part of the Baylor family," he said.

Dr. Randall O'Brien, provost and vice president of academic affairs said Baylor will miss Underwood.

"I would say serving with Bill Underwood was one of the supreme honors of my professional life," O'Brien said.

Underwood first joined the law school faculty in 1990. Law Professor Patricia Wilson said as a professor, Underwood is demanding of students, but more demanding of himself.

"Bill is a very valued colleague," she said. "I've appreciated his insights and will miss him greatly."

In his time at Baylor, Underwood has served in many positions. As a professor, he held the Leon Jaworski Chair in Practice and Procedure and directed the Practice Court program. In 1997, Underwood served as General Counsel for the university for two years.

He also represented Baylor in proceedings before the National Collegiate Athletic Association committee on infractions and served on the committee that investigated basketball player Patrick Dennehy's death.

"He was a tremendous asset for the athletic program," said Ian McCaw, director of athletics.

Mike Rogers, law professor and faculty athletics representative to the NCAA and Big 12, said he worked with Underwood on several high-profile university projects. Rogers described Underwood as a creative, hard-working and outstanding lawyer.

"I can't say enough good things about him," Rogers said.

The Board of Regents elected Underwood interim president on April 29, 2005. He took office June 1. Faculty Senate Chairman Eric Robinson said after the board of regents' vote, Underwood immediately began meeting with the Faculty Senate executive committee. Robinson, associate professor of education psychology, said Underwood encouraged faculty to have a voice in governing the university.

"He was tireless in his efforts to try to bring faculty of differing opinions into the same room to talk," Robinson said.

Robinson said Underwood is organized, intelligent and professional, but also described his sense of humor.

In frustrating situations, people can either scream or laugh, and Underwood was the type of person who would laugh, he said.

"If you didn't think his decisions were the best, then he gave you the opportunity to tell him that without any sense of retribution," Robinson said. "So he modeled what he wanted all of us to do which was to ... disagree on the ideas but respect the person who has them."

Law School Dean Brad Toben said Underwood's presidency came at "a critical juncture in the history of our University."

"Bill provided a listening ear to the many constituencies of the university to promote a much-needed beginning of healing," Toben said. "He conducted his interim administration with a commitment to transparency and a dedication in seeking the best ends for Baylor."

"I think Bill had great vision and was unafraid to act on what he knows was right for Baylor. I admire his strength and his character and his self-sacrifice for the good of Baylor," said Jaylie Beckenhauer, family and consumer sciences lecturer.

Lilley said he's grateful to Underwood for his service to the university during its athletic problems and looks forward to Underwood's career at Mercer.