A Firm Foundation

August 31, 2009

In many ways, Baylor University is like a small city. Every day, the campus buzzes with energy as almost 17,000 students, faculty and staff move back and forth across its 735 acres. The nearly 5,000 undergraduates living on campus are cared for 24 hours a day, and the entire community is protected by Baylor's own full-time police force. University dining halls serve 8,200 meals daily, and mass transit runs from morning to night transporting university citizens from one end of the campus to the other.

To keep everything running smoothly requires qualified and dedicated leadership. Since its founding in 1845, Baylor has been governed by a board of regents or trustees who maintain legal authority for the well-being of the University. The men and women who serve Baylor as regents develop and support the effective expression of Baylor's mission. They are also an active policy-making body charged with broad oversight of the University's budget and fiscal viability. The first group of trustees included University founders Judge R.E.B. Baylor, James Huckins and William Tryon; over time, Baylor's board has counted among its members such familiar names as Earl C. Hankamer, Marrs McLean, George Harvey Penland and George W. Truett, and more recently prominent Baylor alumni such as Drayton McLane (owner of the Houston Astros) and Jim Turner (former president/CEO of Dr Pepper/Seven Up Bottling Group, Inc.).

Baylor's Board of Regents is today comprised of 20 members who reflect the diversity of the University's many constituencies. The board includes business and civic leaders, pastors and professionals, alumni and parents of Baylor students. Though they bring to their service to Baylor a variety of backgrounds, interests and areas of expertise, Regents share in common a single goal: the continued advancement of an academically strong and faith-based Baylor University.

Choosing to serve Baylor

Serving on the board of a major university requires a significant investment of time; Board Chairman Dary Stone, JD '77, estimates he has averaged 20 hours a week on Baylor issues since he first joined the board in 2005, even before being named chair this past May.

"The alumni of educational institutions expect the boards to know what is going on with their institution, and to be accountable for it," Stone says. "That means board members have to invest a great deal of time to understand the issues and know the facts, to position themselves to make good decisions."

Even so, a variety of leaders have determined that serving Baylor is worthy of that sort of personal investment.

"We have a history of distinguished leadership, but this year we've gotten even stronger with the addition of Bob Beauchamp, CEO of the eighth largest software company in the world; Ron Murff, BBA '75, former CFO of a publically traded financial institution; Kathy Wills Wright, BSEd '85, MSEd '88, a world-class expert in public relations and marketing who has served in the White House; David Harper, BBA '88, a Harvard JD and partner at a top-100 law firm; and Linda Brian, a career educator," Stone says.

As a faith-based university, another distinguishing characteristic of Baylor's board is the inclusion of a number of pastors, to "make sure we don't lose our spiritual compass," as Stone puts it. These pastors represent Baptist churches of varying sizes all across Texas, from Lubbock to Houston.

What leads such busy men and women to make time in their schedule to serve on Baylor's board?

"When Bear Bryant returned to coach the Crimson Tide at Alabama, his alma mater, his one-sentence explanation said it all: 'When Mama calls, you come home,'" says Stan Allcorn, BA '76, senior pastor at Pioneer Drive Baptist Church in Abilene, Texas, and a Baylor regent since 2002. "I viewed the Board's invitation as an opportunity to give back to Baylor, in some small measure, as a thank you for all she has given to me."

"My experience at Baylor shaped my life dramatically," explains Harper, partner/attorney and chair of Litigation North Section, Haynes and Boone LLP, who just joined the Board this summer. "The opportunity to help Baylor continue to replicate that experience over and over again was tremendously exciting to me. "

Most of the regents are Baylor alumni, and many are the parents of current Baylor students. "Those sorts of ties lead all of us to be willing to invest the time necessary to arrive at the right decisions," Stone says. 

Guiding the University

How, then, does this diverse group of leaders guide the University?

"There are five big priorities: helping establish broad policy and strategic planning, hiring the president to execute a shared vision, ensuring sound fiscal management of the University's assets, risk management, and actively attracting philanthropy for the University," Stone says.

Committees within the Board handle much of the work, actively engaging the University administration in ongoing dialog and background research to understand Baylor's long-term needs and emerging opportunities and then making recommendations to the full Board during its quarterly meetings. Each Regent serves on at least two of the standing committees: academic and student affairs; athletics; audit; board and administrative affairs; development, marketing and communications; or finance and facilities. Much of the work of the committees occurs between board meetings; then at most two-day meetings, the committees meet on Thursday and the full board meets on Friday morning when votes are taken.

The highest current priority for the Board is hiring a permanent university president, Stone says. With the alumni, students, faculty, staff and community listening sessions complete, Regents have now finalized the job description, received numerous nominations and begun to recruit candidates whom the Board will consider to fill the position.

"These listening sessions have accomplished exactly what we had intended. Hundreds of dedicated members of the Baylor family, representing every constituency and area of university life, came forward and spoke out of their deep love for Baylor and their desire to see her prosper," says Joe Armes, BBA '83, MBA '84, chair of the Presidential Search Committee and a regent since 2001. "All that we heard helped to inform the creation of the position description that we are now using for the presidential search."

Other priorities for the Board this year, according to Stone, are "raising money, maintaining sound fiscal management during this turbulent economy, and maintaining focus on risk management.

"We saw our endowment increase substantially over the last 10 years and weather a very difficult '08-'09 market, but if we want to deliver the great product to the families of students whom we want to come to Baylor, we have to increase that endowment and keep tuition competitive," Stone says. "Increasing the endowment means increasing available scholarships, and we need to make that a focus because we want to make sure that Baylor works for not only kids on campus today, but also kids on campus 100 years from now. A larger endowment also will permit us to continue to hire and resource appropriately outstanding faculty who are at the top of their academic disciplines and who value the opportunity to inspire students in the classroom--and conduct groundbreaking research, in the context of a Christian environment."

Building a Board

Baylor's Board of Regents currently has 20 members, but that number is set to grow to 24 over the next few years. In accordance with the University's Certificate of Formation, three-quarters of the board members are elected by the current board, while the remaining one-fourth are selected by the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT).

For its own selections, the Board's Administrative Affairs Committee seeks recommendations for future board members from the entire Baylor family, including current board members, the administration, alumni and others. The committee then researches these candidates to evaluate character, quality and skill sets.

"The goal is to have a broad array of knowledge and skills on the Board," Stone says, noting that the current Board includes members with experience in such diverse fields as finance, real estate, education, marketing and law.

Once a short list is determined, the finalists are interviewed by at least two members of the current Board. The end result is a recommendation by the committee to the full Board on nominees to fill vacant positions.

For its part, the BGCT's Committee to Nominate Boards for Affiliated Ministries (CNBAM) works with Baylor's president, current Board and alumni to select its nominee(s) each year. They are then presented to and voted on by the messengers at the BGCT's annual meeting.

With 20 (eventually 24) members in total, Baylor's board is small compared to many other private schools, Stone says. Most of Baylor's peer institutions have 35- to 40-member boards that also operate with an executive committee structure. The full boards of other schools usually meet four to six times a year with the executive committee meeting additional times as necessary.

"We recently expanded the size of our board because of the increased responsibilities and workload," Stone says. "The standard of duty and conduct for boards of major institutions, corporations or charitable institutions has increased dramatically in the last five years. Increased pressure on boards requires more members to distribute the workload and responsibilities.

"Serving on Baylor's board is a very serious responsibility that requires a lot of hard work, and a lot of prayer," he continues. "The issues of a major university with a Christian calling are complex and sophisticated in their nature. Baylor's Regents, thankfully, believe so deeply in the potential of the University that they are willing to give generously of their time. They do so because they are convinced of the unique way that Baylor can make a difference in the lives of its students and in the expansion of God's kingdom."

Assessing the University today

Given the task of helping the University keep a steady rudder financially, members of the Board are appropriately proud of Baylor's financial prospects even in this shaky economy.

"We had extremely conservative management of investments, and our numbers comparatively are very good. Most importantly, it has not affected the operations of the school. During a time when many schools, from large state universities to the Ivy Leagues, are laying off faculty and imposing furloughs, we've been able to hire additional faculty and provide a healthy raise pool and program enhancements for existing faculty," Stone says.

The Board members speak highly of Baylor's staff and faculty--many of them having experienced that excellence not only first-hand as students a generation ago, but also today as the parents of current students.

"I've come to have a remarkable respect for Baylor," says Beauchamp, himself a University of Texas graduate but now the father of two sons currently enrolled at Baylor. "The faculty, the students, the alumni, they're just a special group of people who are just so high quality in terms of their character and their value systems. I nudged my oldest son to Baylor because of the quality of the whole student experience Baylor presents."

Stone--also the father of two current Baylor students--points to the variety of remarkable changes that have occurred on campus during the last decade.

"We are enjoying the fruits of the success of Baylor 2012 [the University's 10-year vision launched in 2002]. From the research productivity of our faculty and the growth of doctoral programs, to improved on-campus housing options for students and the expansion of our living and learning centers, to increased alumni engagement through the Baylor Network, to the winning athletic tradition we are developing, our progress is widespread and it is significant," Stone says.

"Of course, while all these things are important measurements of a healthy university, what is most critical and most distinctive to our university is that at Baylor, we've been able to advance the school academically, physically and financially while not losing sight of our most important distinction: our Christian mission and our Baptist identity."

Improving the University of tomorrow

That identity is important as the Board looks at long-term planning for Baylor's future.

"We as a board are going to be very thoughtful, very strategic and very formal in assessing the goals of Baylor 2012 as we develop a new long-term plan, with the key thoughts coming from our new president," Stone says. "We have to be judicious about organizing the hopes, aspirations and goals for the University in a fashion that is reasonably achievable. We also need to ask for help when we need it.

"For investment, real estate and finance matters, we have formed committees that have included Larry Heard, CEO of Transwestern Realty; Ken Carlile, co-chair of the Carlile Companies; Clifton Robinson, owner of the Waco Tribune-Herald; Bill Nesbitt, chairman of Central National Bank; Jim Hawkins, chairman of J-Hawk Funding Corporation; and many other outstanding members of the Baylor family who have an expertise that is additive to the Board of Regent skill sets."

In the end, the Board's role is simply to help Baylor fulfill its mission.

"The future of Baylor is extremely bright," says Ron Murff, Baylor class of 1975 and a member of the newest class of Regents. "As many universities have turned their backs on their traditional Christian heritage, I believe we have an opportunity to stand out even brighter as a top university that pursues academic excellence and embraces its Christian values and traditions. The quality of teachers, staff and students at Baylor will allow that potential to be a reality."

"Baylor really is making a difference in all aspects of our students' lives, including spiritually," Stone says. "Baylor is one of the few large universities in the country that seeks to deliver excellence academically and athletically within the context of Christian values and principles. Our Baptist heritage and faith has created, in my opinion, the most significant major Protestant university that is being successful in everything a major school wants to be successful in--and generally doing it the right way with our Christian values and principles intact. We have the research agenda, the richness of our academics and teaching, the prestige of Division I sports, along with the intentionality of our faith.

"It is not an overstatement to say that the world is a better place because of the tremendous ripple effect of Baylor turning out young men and young women who are not only remarkably competent in their chosen fields, but servant leaders in the cause for Christ. Baylor occupies a very unique and significant role in academia with a considerable generational impact, and we as Regents are proud to be able to play a small part in making that possible."