Ken Starr loses job amid Baylor sex scandal

Higher Education | Rocked by claims administrators ignored claims of violence against women, the Baptist university removes its president and football coach
by Bonnie Pritchett
Posted 5/26/16, 08:25 pm

Citing a “fundamental failure” by Baylor University to comply with federal regulations regarding sexual violence against students and a football program that appeared to operate “above the rules,” the university today announced it had removed President Ken Starr from office and fired head football coach Art Briles and other unnamed members of the administration and athletics program.

In recent years, allegations of sexual assault by Baylor athletes have dogged the Waco, Texas, campus. Female students claiming they were sexually assaulted by Baylor football players charged administrators did not take their accusations seriously. Some said administrators discouraged or even intimidated them from making the reports. In an attempt to address the issue, Baylor last August hired law firm Pepper Hamilton to conduct an independent review of the university’s compliance with Title IX and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.

The Board of Regents began reviewing the law firm’s findings and recommendations May 13 and made them public today.

“Honestly, we are just horrified by the extent of the sexual violence on our campus” and the school’s mishandling of students’ reports of those incidents, said board chairman Richard Willis during a phone-in press conference. Regents Ronald Murff and David Harper joined Willis on the call, as did Pepper Hamilton representative Gina Smith.

Neither Baylor administrators nor the Pepper Hamilton review quantified the number of sexual assaults in question, but allegations of misconduct on and off campus have shaken the Baptist university. Two former football players were convicted of sexual assault in 2014 and rape in 2015.

“What we learned overall, we were shocked, it made us angry, sad,” Harper said. “We had an institutional lack of understanding about these issues.”

The investigation covered three academic years, beginning in 2012, and its findings reveal a Christian campus ill-equipped to respond to claims of sexual assault on and off campus. Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex and was interpreted in 2011 by the Obama administration to address sexual assault and its repercussions for students and life on campus after an assault.

In recent months, Baylor students have rallied on campus, demanding Starr personally address what they contend has been a systemic refusal to address the allegations of sexual assault perpetrated by members of the school’s highly successful Big 12 football team. The Pepper Hamilton report cited one instance in which administrators’ actions “constituted retaliation against a complainant for reporting sexual assault.”

According to the report, a rogue athletic department guided by its own tenets and unaccountable to the rest of the campus perpetuated the problem of sexual violence against co-eds and the silencing of any reports.

“In addition to broader university failings, Pepper found specific failings within both the football program and athletics department leadership, including a failure to identify and respond to a pattern of sexual violence by a football player, to take action in response to reports of a sexual assault by multiple football players, and to take action in response to a report of dating violence,” the report said.

Starr, a former judge and WORLD’s first Daniel of the Year, became a household name during his investigation of President Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct in the late 1990s. Although he’s losing his position as Baylor’s president, Starr will remain as chancellor and a tenured professor at Baylor’s law school. Reporters asked why the university had decided to retain him at all if it held its leaders to a “higher standard,” as Willis claimed. But the board chairman declined to discuss Starr’s situation.

“We don’t talk about individual people,” Willis said. “That’s just inappropriate to do that.”

While the board cited administrators’ failure to maintain federal Title IX standards, one Waco pastor said the school should aim higher.

“As a Christian university, Baylor should hold itself to a higher standard than U.S. law,” Chris Boggus, lead pastor of Grace Church in Waco, told me via email. “Micah 6:8 clearly calls Christians and Christian communities to pursue justice. That must not be a general hope for a just world, but tangible, measured, clear, and consistent pursuit of justice wherein Christians stand with the oppressed, marginalized, and, in this case, abused.”

Action should have come sooner, Boggus said, but firing Briles offers hope for the “spirituality of Baylor regents and administration.” The coach is credited with bringing a competent football team into the national limelight and among the top 10 NCAA football programs. The team’s success and new $250 million stadium represent a huge investment in Briles. As part of its response to the report’s findings, the board also sanctioned director of athletics Ian McCaw and placed him on probation.

But Boggus believes the regents’ decision to look beyond that is encouraging.

“It is a clear pivot toward higher priorities,” he said. “Schools cannot be drawn to Christ; only people can follow Jesus. Baylor leadership needs what all people need, to repent of sin and place their faith in Christ alone. There is no other hope in all the world—for an individual, or those leading an institution.”

In a letter to Baylor parents, administrators outlined the changes prompted by the Pepper Hamilton report, noting the “findings revealed clear opportunities for Baylor to improve.”

“The university leadership appreciates your prayers for healing for the victims of sexual assault, for wisdom as the university moves forward, and for each member of the Baylor community to treat one another with dignity and respect as beloved children of God,” the letter said.

Bonnie Pritchett

Bonnie reports on First Amendment freedoms for WORLD Digital.

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  •  austinbeartux's picture
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:32 pm

    @DeanThank you for your very well thought out ideas, and for elaborating on your ideas.  I agree with most all of them completely.  Darwinism does impact society on numerous levels.  Thanks again.I don't have much time at the moment to write, but I think you're over-analyzing this a little bit as it relates to student athlete violence.  Please pardon my frankness, but with regards to the athlete violence, I think it's as simple as 1) 18-20 year old kids (poor decision making + general horniness on the part of the kids) + 2) alcohol + 3) a lack of respect for women in general.  This all contributes towards one-night-stands that become sexual and physical.

  •  austinbeartux's picture
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:32 pm

    @TopdriveWhile I am a Christian and believer in traditional creationism, I also have genuine brothers-in-Christ who believe in Intelligent Design, a non-literal interpretation of the 6 days (meaning one day is figurative and not literal), and still others who believe in evolution.  What they believe makes no sense to me, but I have enough grace and love for them to accept them for what they are--brothers in Christ.  There is room for interpretation in Genesis even though I believe in a literal 6 day creation.  As Augustine said, "In the essentials--unity.  In the non-essentials--liberty." 

  • TxAgEngr
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:32 pm

    @austinbeartux and Dean: From the Baylor Biology Dept website on evolution:   "Evolution, a foundational principle of modern biology, is supported by overwhelming scientific evidence and is accepted by the vast majority of scientists. Because it is fundamental to the understanding of modern biology, the faculty in the Biology Department at Baylor University, Waco, TX, teach evolution throughout the biology curriculum. We are in accordance with the American Association for Advancement of Science's statement on evolution. We are a science department, so we do not teach alternative hypotheses or philosophically deduced theories that cannot be tested rigorously."  Sounds like a bold rejection of Christianity to me, gentlemen.

  • Sawgunner's picture
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:33 pm

    I am --borrowing that wonderful line from CASABLANCA-- shocked shocked SHOCKED to learn that a big elite pricey powerhouse pro footballer factory down in Texas somehow has players who believe the females on campus are theirs as some type of entitlement. I'm shocked to know the responsible adults in charge were not fired earlier. Shame too on the WACO TRIBUNE for not earlier exposing this horrific crime and those who enabled/permitted it.

  • Hans's picture
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:33 pm

    Dean, I'm pretty sure that college frat boys and football students are not committing sexual assault because they sat down and came to a philosophical conclusion about the lack of distinction between humans and animals on the basis of Baylor's commitment to materialistic evolution. You might disagree with Baylor's decisions in that regard, but trying to draw a connection between these events is frankly ludicrous.

  •  austinbeartux's picture
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:33 pm

    Notice the logo to the left?  I went to Baylor, graduated in the 90's, and taught there as an Adjunct Professor in the Spring 2015.  Baylor is not perfect, but I can tell you first-hand that Baylor's culture is explicitly and genuinely Christian.  I'm not saying all people there are Christians, but speaking generally about the culture, the administration, and fellow faculty members.  Unlike the Ivy League schools, and even TCU, Rice, and SMU, Baylor remains boldly committed to Christianity. from Ohio--for you to try to connect what happened in 2000 by a handful of Baylor Science Professors and then fast-forward to 2015-2016 athletes committing sexual acts of violence is a completely unreasonable attempt at a connection.  No offense intended, but you seem to have an axe to grind against Baylor.I am not defending Baylor (Starr or Briles) for these recent incidents.  For the moment, I'll trust the independent law firm findings and trust the Board of Regents in their decision.  It's shameful and a dark, sad day for Baylor.  But one thing you cannot accuse Baylor of is under-reacting to this situation and attempting to sweep bad behavior under the carpet.  For that, I guess I'm grateful.  Definitely depressing for me because I know Ken Starr.  He is a great man, and so is Briles.  But it seems like, either through their actions or inactions, they were negligent and must pay the price.

  •  John Cogan's picture
    John Cogan
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:33 pm

    @Dean from Ohio: Your points are well taken. Moreover, the false god of winning in sports so widely worshipped on Saturday (and Sunday) afternoons had a hand in this. But I still rejoice that the board of Regents stepped in and set the school on a better track, at least in this instance. As for its support of the 'just so' story of Darwinism, it may take Baylor - and the whole country - a while longer to connect the dots.

  •  John Cogan's picture
    John Cogan
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:33 pm

    Bravo to Baylor for its willingness to take the problem of sexual assault seriously.