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 reports on First Amendment freedoms for WORLD Digital.