WACO, Texas (AP) – Baylor University’s board of regents said Thursday that it will fire football coach Art Briles and re-assign university President Kenneth Starr amid questions over the school’s handling of sexual assault complaints against players.
The nation’s largest Baptist university said in a statement Thursday that it had suspended Briles “with intent to terminate.” Starr will leave the position of president on May 31, but the school says he will serve as chancellor.
The university also placed athletic director Ian McCaw on probation.
Baylor asked a law firm last year to conduct a review of its handling of sexual assault cases following allegations that the football program mishandled several cases of players attacking women.
The university’s statement said the review revealed “a fundamental failure.”
Baylor has faced increasing criticism in recent months for its handling of reports of rape and other violent incidents involving football players and students. One victim has sued the university, saying it was deliberately indifferent to her allegations against a former player who was eventually convicted of sexually assaulting her.
Starr ordered an investigation last year but has been mostly silent amid mounting criticism over the school’s handling of the complaints, which erupted under his leadership. He took over as the university’s president in 2010, about a decade after the former prosecutor investigated former President Clinton’s sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewisnky.
The football team, whose players were at the center of the upheaval, enjoyed unprecedented success under Briles’ tenure, including two Big 12 championships in the last three years. That success brought a financial windfall, and in 2014, Baylor opened a new, $250-million on-campus football stadium. But Briles’ program has also been criticized for recruiting or accepting transfer players without regard to the harm they might cause fellow students.
Starr rode the waves of the program’s success, and often ran on the football field with Baylor students in pregame ceremonies. But as investigations began into the school’s handling of sexual assault allegations against players, Starr provided only brief comments, even as criticism of the school mounted.
In a February statement issued by university, Starr said “our hearts break for those whose lives are impacted by execrable acts of sexual violence.” And at a prayer breakfast last month, Starr told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “I am in favor of transparency. Stand up, take your medicine if you made a mistake.”
Baylor’s Board of Regents was recently briefed by a law firm hired to investigate how the school responded to assault incidents, and the school on Thursday released a summary of its findings. Starr initiated the review in 2015, after former football player Sam Ukwuachu was convicted of sexually assaulting a female soccer player.
Ukwuachu, who was convicted in 2015, transferred to Baylor after he was dismissed from Boise State. Ukwuachu’s former girlfriend testified during his rape trial in Texas that he had struck and choked her when he attended Boise State.
Ukwuachu’s former coach, Chris Peterson, now the coach at Washington, said he “thoroughly apprised” Briles about the circumstances of Ukuwachu’s dismissal. Briles disputed that account, saying he talked with Peterson and there was no mention of the incident.
The school is also facing a federal lawsuit from a former student claiming the school was “deliberately indifferent” to rape allegations levied at a former football player Tevin Elliott, who was convicted in 2014 of sexually assaulting the woman.
The uproar following Ukwuachu’s conviction caused Baylor to initiate the review by the Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton, and to announce a $5 million effort to improve efforts on how it responds to sexual assault, including adding another investigator and more staff.
But the Ukwuachu case was just the start of months of revelations of football players being involved in violent incidents with little or no repercussions. At least seven other woman have publicly come forward to say the school ignored their sexual assault allegations.