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Baylor board chairman denies wrongdoing in communication between regents, athletics personnel

Baylor board chairman denies wrongdoing in communication between regents, athletics personnel

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Baylor University board of regents Chairman Ron Murff on Wednesday said there were no communication failures in recent years between athletics personnel and regents, but the board has recently created an executive committee and eliminated its athletics committee. Faculty senators questioned Murff and his predecessor this summer on relationships between the two groups, according to newly released faculty senate meeting minutes.

At a May 26 faculty senate meeting, the same day the board fired Ken Starr as president and Art Briles as head football coach, then-board Chairman Richard Willis said the board is taking responsibility in the school’s sexual assault scandal.

“Athletics as a department will be fully integrated into the university,” the minutes state, paraphrasing Willis. “The regents are considering eliminating the athletics committee of the board and folding it into other committees. The board recognizes that too-close relationships between athletic directors and board members can cause problems.”

Willis also said it is hard to be a fiduciary and not become a fan, and there are issues of closeness of the board to the athletics department, according to the minutes.

Lori Baker, a former faculty regent and former faculty senate chairwoman, was at a July board meeting where the issue was discussed openly.

“Coaches were contacting board members, and they got to be friends,” Baker said. “That’s one of the problems. You have to have some clear lines of demarcation of what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable.”

Baker said it appeared that the regents were collaborating with coaches regarding communication with administration.

Direct line to regents

A faculty senator claimed Briles had a direct line of communication to the regents, undermining the authority of administrators, according to minutes of the May 31 meeting. The unidentified senator said the mistake requires consequences for the regents, according to the minutes.

The board has to be careful of the perception it is micromanaging any department but said there have not been failures, Murff said Wednesday.

“I think what we’re trying to say is we as board members always have to be mindful that we’ve got the proper relationship with the administration, coaches included,” Murff said Wednesday. “Obviously, we have different people who have different relationships or depths of relationships with different individuals. We just have to be careful that we maintain our fiduciary responsibility and we’re not overly influencing what might be happening in any area of the university from an administration standpoint.”

The minutes of the faculty council’s June 16 meeting paraphrase Murff as saying the board had not acted inappropriately, but that the board must be careful of the tendency. He said the board is seeking guidance from board governance groups, the minutes state.

Pepper Hamilton LLP, the Philadelphia-based law firm that conducted a nine-month investigation into sexual assault response at Baylor, made a recommendation that board members should “remain within appropriate reporting protocols and lines of communication when addressing members of the administration and the athletics department, consistent with employment contracts.”

“We’re part of the different governance-related groups for higher education, so they’re always updating their best practices,” Murff said Wednesday. “We’ve got advisers we use. In fact, a couple came in this summer and helped us talk through a couple of issues of things we might think about from a best-practice standpoint. The result of what we did in the summer is, we have initiated an executive committee of the board. I’m not saying that’s a minor issue, but those are the kind of things we’re always looking at to see if we need to make adjustments.”

Murff said the board’s athletics committee is no more, at the advice of governance groups.

The purpose of the athletics committee was to work with the athletics director and “understand what was going on within athletics, how they might be able to help and be supportive from a compliance standpoint, from a buildings standpoint, from a facilities standpoint,” Murff said Wednesday.

He said the board regularly has training on best practices.

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