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Baylor emails reveal fractious ties to alumni group

🕐 4 min read

DALLAS (AP) — A long-running spat between Baylor University and one of its alumni associations, over actions the world’s largest Baptist school claims is hurting its brand, has now unearthed emails full of insults and complaints — as well as calls by an exasperated university President Ken Starr to move on from the strife.

In one corner is Baylor, the oldest university in Texas, and in the other is the Baylor Alumni Association, an independent group with ties to the school that go back more than a century. They are scheduled for a January court showdown over lawsuits each has filed against the other.

“For a Christian organization, it’s been an unfortunate series of events,” said Drayton McLane Jr., the former Houston Astros owner, longtime university regent and namesake of the $266 million football stadium that opened last year.

Among the university’s assertions is that the BAA has misused trademark licenses and is harming the Baylor brand, while the alumni group argues Baylor is not meeting the terms of earlier agreements and wants to stamp out a group responsible for substantial financial contributions to the university.

As part of its countersuit, the alumni group obtained copies of emails by school administrators that refer to the alumni group as “a scourge” and complain of “nutty behavior” by regents. The exchanges, first reported by the Waco Tribune-Herald, date from 2007 to 2012, when the private university burnished its reputation as one of the nation’s top schools and added an array of new campus buildings.

While past university presidents worked with BAA, more recent ones blanched at its tendency to criticize school policy and challenge administrative decisions, McLane said. A competing alumni group aligned with the university, the Baylor Alumni Network, was even formed in 2002. The BAA didn’t help itself by including the emails in its lawsuit, McLane said.

Tom Nesbitt, president of the BAA board, said the dispute “stems from what I believe is the desire of a small group of regents to eliminate any voice other than their own from the dialogue about what’s best for Baylor.”

University officials declined to comment on the emails, citing the lawsuits. “It is clear that the association leadership is still fighting old battles that have been over for years,” spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said. “Staying mired in these tired old controversies does no one any good, most specifically, Baylor University.”

The emails illustrate the animosity. In a 2011 message, a university vice president criticized a licensing agreement with BAA and described the association as “the evil ones.” ”They are a scourge on Baylor and we will not be healthy until they’re gone,” she wrote.

A furor among alumni also erupted in 2011 when the university moved the BAA tent for the homecoming football game to a distant location. “We need to put the BAA tent at the farthest reaches of Siberia,” regent Chairman Neal “Buddy” Jones said in an email. “I want the fewest people to see them.”

Jones, who repeatedly criticized the group for diluting the Baylor brand by illegally using trademarked items, did not return messages seeking comment on the dispute and the emails.

In another email from 2011, a different Baylor vice president praises a colleague for maintaining her calm “amidst the nutty behavior of our regents.” He noted Starr’s frustration with some regents fixated on the BAA dispute.

Starr, the former independent counsel who investigated the Whitewater affair in the 1990s, told a subordinate in a 2010 email that, “We need to be building Baylor University, and not devoting so much energy to managing internal strife that leaves everyone in a state of unhappiness.”

Relations further deteriorated when the university razed the alumni building in July 2013, ostensibly to make way for construction of the football stadium. The BAA, which now has offices in downtown Waco, says the emails indicate the real reason was to remove the association from campus.

The two sides were actually moving toward a resolution at one point, with a deal that would have dissolved BAA’s independent charter, allowed Baylor to take over all of BAA’s alumni outreach programs and let the group continue printing its alumni magazine. But the association’s members could not muster the supermajority of votes needed to OK the pact in September 2013.

“That’s where everyone was really, really hopeful there would be a peaceful and long-lasting resolution to this,” McLane said, later adding, “It ultimately needs to be settled.”

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