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[Off topic:] The Soap Opera That Is Baylor

Just when you thought the soap opera that is Baylor was in its last season, here they come up with some priceless new material. The following piece of investigative reporting appeared today on the front page of the Waco Trib. I’d like to nominate it for a Pulitzer Prize. Also, I’m awaiting further investigation to reveal that I’m the “rich and powerful” client who hired the private investigator in question:

PI’s questions puzzle, irk Underwood, Baylor officials
By Tommy Witherspoon and Mike Anderson Tribune-Herald staff writers

http://www.wacotrib.com/news/content/news/stories/2005/07/14/20050714wacbuinvestigator.html

Thursday, July 14, 2005

At least one Baylor University Law School professor says he has been contacted by a private investigator whose apparent objective is to uncover information discrediting interim Baylor President Bill Underwood.

While the man who identified himself as private investigator Tim D. Wilson, of Houston, declined to reveal who hired him, Wilson told Baylor law professor Ron L. Beal that his clients were “rich and powerful,” Beal told the Tribune-Herald.

Beal, who has taught at Baylor Law School for 22 years, said he was jogging last week when he came home to find a man talking to his wife in the front yard.

“I said, ‘How can I help you?’ and he said, ‘I want to talk to you about Bill Underwood.’ I said, ‘Why?’ and this was his phrase the whole time, that he represents ‘rich and powerful people,’” Beal said. “I said, ‘That doesn’t work. What are their names?’ And he said again, ‘I work for rich and powerful people.’”

News of the investigator’s visit – viewed by some Baylor officials and alumni as an effort to discredit Underwood – spread quickly across the Baptist campus, already accustomed to the divisiveness and acrimony that marked the final years of Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr., who became chancellor last month.

“It was so out of the blue, so strange,” Beal said of the curb-side inquiry regarding Underwood. “I realized it was clear it had something to do with him being the president. (The detective) even had a file with my name on it. I just thought the whole thing was strange and seemed so inappropriate that people were having private investigators investigate a president.”

A spokesperson in Wilson’s Houston office said Wilson was in court Wednesday. He did not return phone messages from the Tribune-Herald.

Beal said he reported the visit to Mike Morrison, Underwood’s chief of staff, who told Underwood.

“I think somebody is poking around in my background to see what kind of dirt they can use against me,” said Underwood, a longtime Baylor law professor who said he has not decided if he will seek the president’s job.

Underwood said he doesn’t know who hired Wilson, but said he is convinced it was no one from Baylor, the firm Baylor hired to assist with the presidential search or anyone on the presidential search committee.

“I have never heard of such a thing before,” Underwood said, adding that he would make no attempt to try to identify who hired Wilson.

Rumors about the incident and those who might have hired the detective were plentiful on a campus where Underwood has quickly shaken up the Sloan administration, replacing top administrators with his own picks. Underwood and Baylor’s board of regents are in a three-day meeting that ends Friday.

Regents chairman Will Davis did not respond to repeated calls for comment.

Baylor Law School Dean Brad Toben said anyone trying to find material with which to smear Underwood is wasting his time. The effort is not “befitting a presidential search at a great university” but something more akin to “a cheap detective novel,” he said.

“If this is something that is being done by someone who would prefer that Bill Underwood not be considered as the permanent president of Baylor, it is a cheap and tawdry tactic that is not befitting of the Christian faith that Baylor University represents,” Toben said.

“The effort, I am certain, will turn up completely empty-handed,” he said. “Bill Underwood is one of the finest, most upstanding persons and Christians whom I have ever had the privilege of knowing and he has utterly nothing to hide in either his professional or personal life.”

Beal said that Wilson – whose e-mail address includes fictional sleuth James Bond’s code name “007,” according to his firm’s Web site – mentioned some of his former clients, including Donald Trump.

“I wasn’t sure if that was supposed to impress or intimidate me,” Beal said. “If you want to know what I assume, if Bill is being considered for the presidency, somebody wanted to find out something about him and I can’t believe they were contacting me to find out how wonderful he is.”

Beal said he asked Wilson if he worked for Underwood. He said no. He also said he didn’t work for the Baylor board of regents, Beal said.

“My last question was, again, who do you work for? He said, ‘I have two conditions for my employment. One of them was I could not divulge the names of my clients, but they are rich and powerful.’ He must have said that four or five times. I just simply told him I don’t talk to people I don’t know, and I asked him to leave. First of all, I wasn’t in the mood to talk about Bill Underwood. I don’t think that’s appropriate. So I said, ‘Please leave’ and he left. I almost thought it was a joke, but he was very serious.”

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