Future of Baylor alumni group unclear

Baylor University and its alumni association reached an impasse when members rejected a proposal to surrender the group’s autonomy.

By Bob Allen

The future of Baylor University’s independent alumni association and The Baylor Line magazine remains unclear after a Sept. 7 vote to dissolve the Baylor Alumni Association into the university failed to muster a needed two-thirds super majority.

ken starrBaylor President Ken Starr gave the alumni association 90 days to stop using the university’s licensed marks after members voted down a transition agreement negotiated by the BAA executive committee in June aimed at unifying an alumni outreach program that has at times clashed with the administration.

Opposition within the association’s membership arose over a 1993 license agreement giving the Baylor Alumni Association perpetual rights to perform alumni functions unless the university believes the association has defaulted in its responsibility.

Also at issue was Baylor’s plan to demolish the Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center to clear way for a pedestrian bridge to a new $250 million football stadium being built across the Brazos River from the university’s main campus in Waco, Texas.

Baylor razed the building this summer without waiting on approval by the alumni association membership, which was granted exclusive license to occupy the center or a comparable building on campus in 1994.

Baylor President Rufus Burleson first announced creation of an alumni association in 1859, 14 years after the university’s founding. The association sponsored Baylor’s first homecoming in 1909 and in 1925 launched The Baylor Monthly with J.M. Dawson as editor.

That magazine folded during the Great Depression but came back as the Baylor Century launched in 1938. The magazine was renamed The Baylor Line in 1946, the same year the Baylor Ex-Students Association, started in 1942, named its first full-time executive director.

The Baylor Ex-Students Association reorganized as the Baylor University Alumni Association in 1976 and established a new dues-paying membership system. The group legally incorporated as a nonprofit organization and moved from the Student Union Building to the new Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center in 1978.

A rift among Baylor constituencies arose in the early 2000s over then-President Robert Sloan’s “Baylor 2012” 10-year plan to move the Texas Baptist school into the top tier of America’s colleges and universities. Sloan resigned in 2005 and the following year became president of Houston Baptist University.

Sloan’s successor, John Lilley, served just over two years, leading to the selection of former Whitewater special prosecutor Ken Starr as Baylor’s 14th president in 2010.

Baylor asked the alumni association to surrender its independence and come under control of the administration in 2009, but withdrew the offer based on negative reaction from association members.

Earlier the administration canceled the alumni association’s toll-free phone line and “Baylor.edu” e-mail addresses, saying the group could choose either independence or university support but could not have it both ways.

Baylor also operates its own Baylor Alumni Network, hosting alumni events that BAA members say compete for potential new members and young alumni.

Ten months ago, negotiations started to move beyond past differences and move forward with a unified alumni-engagement voice. A plan to dissolve the Baylor Alumni Association, while allowing The Baylor Line to maintain editorial independence, received unanimous support of the university’s board of regents and the alumni association’s executive board.

A majority of the association’s membership supported the plan, with 831 in favor compared to 668 against, falling short of the required two-thirds majority.

Supporters of the transition plan said the Baylor Alumni Association isn’t appealing to new members and recent graduates. Opponents called it a power grab by the administration and said alumni still need an independent voice.

Most public universities have independent alumni associations, but at private schools the relationships vary between dependent, interdependent and independent organization models.

Public universities are not permitted to lobby other public institutions, such as the state, for money and other resources. Private universities are not bound by the same reporting requirements and, for that reason, often host their alumni associations as a department of the university staff.

Some schools fully fund their alumni association, while other associations raise a majority of their own funds through member dues.