The current alumni challenge to actions of the Baylor University Board of Regents provides a good example of how a well-organized constituent group can bring public pressure on nonprofit governing board decision-making without resorting to litigation or deferring to the state attorney general.

The current controversy arose from the highly publicized and tragic series of events involving allegations of sexual abuse by members of the Baylor football team, the response by Baylor administration, associated alleged Title IX violations, a related federal investigation, and the reaction of the Board of Regents to the circumstances. According to media reports, the alumni group was frustrated by what it perceived as an insufficient response by university governance—including a perceived lack of transparency with respect to Regents decision-making—and concerns as to how the controversy was impacting the reputation of the university.

The alumni group, “Bears for Leadership Reform,” includes a substantial number of major donors to the university. It has created a nonprofit corporation through which its efforts are being channeled, and is also communicating publicly through various social media sites. The primary concerns of the alumni group include the accountability of the Board of Regents with respect to Title IX compliance, greater transparency to the university community with respective to corrective actions taken, and broader issues with respect to the ultimate governance role of the Board of Regents. Shortly thereafter, the Baylor Board of Regents announced a new Governance Review Task Force, the purpose of which is to examine the board’s practices, procedures and selection processes.

“Bears for Leadership Reform” is an intriguing example of how powerful constituents of nonprofit corporation (such as a hospital or health system) can use means outside of litigation or political involvement to raise questions of governance accountability and transparency, and pressure the board to make related governance changes. If it can happen in the context of a large private university, it can certainly happen in the context of a large nonprofit health system.