It's hard to imagine a bigger sign of a Texas college booster's prominence than his name on his school's football stadium or field.
At Baylor University, the school's state-of-the-art new stadium bears the name of billionaire entrepreneur Drayton McLane. The field inside that stadium is named after powerful Houston lawyer John Eddie Williams.
But the power that comes with such naming rights only goes so far. In the wake of a sexual assault scandal that has shamed the private Baptist university, the two megadonors have found themselves locked in a power struggle with the school's board of regents, who have resisted the donors' push to shake up the board.
McLane, who previously owned of the Houston Astros, and Williams have teamed up with about a dozen other influential Baylor alumni — including former regents, past athletes and former Texas Gov. Mark White — to form a group called Bears for Leadership Reform.
Its 15 board members speak on the phone regularly to discuss rumors they have heard about what's happening at Baylor. The group has raised a half million dollars to launch a public relations campaign targeting the regents. It hired a financial firm to estimate how much the scandal has cost Baylor so far ($223 million, the firm said). It has taken out full-page newspaper ads calling for integrity to be restored at the university. A petition endorsing its efforts has been signed by alumni from at least 30 states.
The ongoing scandal has already claimed Baylor's president, athletic director and head football coach. But the booster group says the purge hasn't gone far enough and the regents haven't assigned much blame to themselves. The boosters argue that a small group of board insiders controls the university and occasionally meddles in day-to-day business.
Those insiders, many of whom make up the board’s executive committee, need to go, Williams said.
"We have got a board that has failed us," said Williams, who in the 1990s helped Texas win a settlement of more $17 billion in a lawsuit against tobacco companies. "There are core members of the board that need to be replaced."
Ultimately, the 40-member board of regents has the power to determine the future of the school. And they have firmly defended how they've handled the scandal, saying they're implementing the fixes needed to restore trust in Baylor. Meanwhile, enrollment is up, applications are at an all-time high and the academic reputation of the university has never been better, school officials say.
Last week, regent Dan Chapman said his colleagues on the board care about the university and have no need to resign.
They are working hard to correct the bad things that happened,” he said, adding that he has heard alumni's frustration "loud and clear."
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