Baylor looks to rebuild after report on sex assaults

Author: Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Baylor University will be looking to rebuild its reputation and perhaps its football program after an outside review found administrators mishandled allegations of sexual assault and the team ran with an attitude that it was above the rules.

The largest Baptist school in the U.S. took the first steps Thursday when regents demoted high-profile President Ken Starr, a former prosecutor who investigated the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, and fired football coach Art Briles, who turned the football program from a laughing stock into a Big 12 powerhouse.

But that may not end the scrutiny.

More fallout could be coming if the report by Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton attracts the attention of the U.S. Department of Education, the NCAA or even criminal prosecutors.

Briles and the university are also still defendants in a federal civil lawsuit filed by a woman who says the school was casually indifferent to her pleas when she was assaulted in 2012. And the question remains whether Baylor will fire more coaches and staff in the coming days.

The report didn’t identify specific cases the school is accused of mishandling. But two football players have been convicted of sexual assault since 2014, and in the past year, there have been multiple reports of other assaults and women who said the school did nothing to help.

“We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus,” Baylor regents chairman Richard Willis said. “The depth to which these acts occurred shocked and outraged us. Our students and their families deserve better.”

The review found that under Starr, school administrators discouraged students from reporting or participating in student conduct reviews of sexual assault complaints and even contributed to or accommodated a “hostile” environment against the alleged victims.

In one case, the actions of administrators “constituted retaliation against a complainant for reporting sexual assault,” the report said.

University leadership was also slow to enact federally required student conduct processes, and administrators failed to identify and eliminate the hostile environment toward victims.

In a statement, the U.S. Department of Education, which enforces anti-gender discrimination regulations at universities, said Baylor had taken steps to satisfy federal requirements.

But the agency said it “will not hesitate to investigate if necessary and if we receive a complaint within our jurisdiction.”

As for potential NCAA violations, Willis said regents had contacted college sport’s governing body “to initially discuss potential infractions.” He did not elaborate.

While critical of Baylor administrators, the most egregious faults the report found were with Briles’ football program.

Coaches and athletics administrators ran their own improper investigations into rape claims, and in some cases chose not to report the allegations to an administrator outside of athletics, the report said.

By running their own “untrained” investigations and meeting directly with a complainant, football staff “improperly discredited” complainants’ claims and “denied them a right to a fair, impartial and informed investigation,” it said.

At times, football coaches and staff took steps to divert cases from student conduct or criminal procedures, acting in ways that “reinforced an overall perception that football was above the rules,” the report said.

Briles did not respond to requests for comment. His daughter, Staley Lebby, called Briles’ ouster a “media witch hunt” and said her father is a “man of incredible character” in a Facebook post.

For Starr, whose dogged investigation of Clinton’s relationship with White House intern Lewinsky eventually led to Clinton’s 1998 impeachment, it is a stunning fall.

He is out of the operational leadership of the university but gets to stay at Baylor with the title chancellor while teaching in the law school.

In a statement, Starr apologized to “those victims who were not treated with the care, concern, and support they deserve.”

He insisted he didn’t learn about the problems until fall 2015 and launched investigations as soon as he did. Starr initiated the Pepper Hamilton report that ultimately forced him out.

“Despite these dark days, I remain resolved to join hands with the Baylor family to continue to build the University as we carry out its distinct mission in Christian higher education. May God grant us grace, mercy, and peace,” Starr said.

Copyright ©2024 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.