WACO, Texas -- Baylor claims it is not trying to destroy a bill that would require the university to comply with open meetings laws, even though it admits staff paid by the university have been working to change that very same bill at the state Capitol in Austin.
Two lobbyists, registered with the Texas Ethics Commission, have been advocating on behalf of Baylor for sexual violence-related issues during the 2017 Texas Legislative Session.
Baylor University Spokesperson Lori Fogelman confirmed Baylor was working with staff to make "improvements" to Senate Bill 1092, an act that would mandate the Board of Regents make meetings and documents public. However, Fogelman repeatedly said Baylor was not trying to kill the bill nor had the lobbyists been hired for that purpose.
But, that's exactly what the lobbyists are doing say critics at Bears for Leadership Reform -- an organization that has grown to 15,000 members and includes Baylor alumni, students, faculty and donors. In a press release Thursday, the group slammed University leadership for "hiring high-priced Austin lobbyists to kill the bill."
Baylor was hesitant to call its lobbyists what they were. When initially asked if it had hired the two lobbyists, Fogelman referred to them as "advocates." When asked what the difference was, Fogelman responded "regardless, the assertion that Baylor is trying to kill the bill is untrue."
But, the confusion lies in Baylor's own statements. In a statement Thursday, University Spokesperson Tonya Lewis said "public meetings would preclude robust and frank discussion among the Regents about sensitive issues such as sexual assault" -- a statement that appeared to suggest Baylor opposed the bill it claimed it was not fighting.
Baylor Vice President for Marketing & Communications Jason Cook said the University's objective with SB 1092 was to preserve Texas Equalization Grants for nearly 3,000 students who attend Baylor. He neglected to add the University would only lose those grants if Baylor failed to comply with the open meetings and records rules spelled out in the bill, which was written by Republican State Senator Kel Seliger.
During Senate testimony last week, Interim Baylor President David Garland expressed concern the legislation would only impact Baylor and one other institution: The University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio. But, despite Lewis, Cook and Garland all appearing to signal at least some resistance to the bill, Baylor still maintained its lobbyists were not working against the bill.
"There is no hidden agenda here," Cook wrote in an email. "I respectfully request that you take what we are telling you into consideration."
Bears for Leadership Reform rejected Baylor's argument, adding it was appalled at the lack of transparency it believes the University has shown during the sexual assault scandal which has now plagued the school for 18 months.
"Recently, the university added six new lawyers whose sole purpose seems to be to suppress evidence and prevent the truth from coming out," Bears for Leadership reform wrote in a letter sent to the Board of Regents on Thursday.
The group has asked the University to support Sen. Seliger's bill and make meetings and certain records public.
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