Baylor University announced Thursday that it has suspended Art Briles, the school’s football coach, with the intent to fire him. Briles had been criticized along with school President Kenneth Starr for his handling of several sexual-assault allegations filed against a number of his players, and an investigation conducted by a law firm hired by the university found that the school and program administrators went to great lengths to either keep those allegations under wraps or make them disappear entirely.
In addition, Starr will step down as president next week but remains a professor at Baylor’s law school and has agreed in principle to continue to serve as university chancellor, the school announced.
“The University’s student conduct processes were wholly inadequate to consistently provide a prompt and equitable response under Title IX; Baylor failed to consistently support complainants through the provision of interim measures; and in some cases, the University failed to take action to identify and eliminate a potential hostile environment, prevent its recurrence or address its effects,” the school said in a news release.
Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett will be named interim coach, sources told Yahoo’s Pat Forde.
The Bears had suffered through 14 consecutive losing seasons and had won 10 games in a season just once in their history before Briles arrived in 2008. Since then, Baylor won 10 games four times along with two Big 12 championships. Briles finished with a 63-37 record at Baylor. In 2013, he and the school agreed to a 10-year contract extension that reportedly paid him more than $4 million per year.
But the school and the program have been the subject of numerous reports over their inadequate handling of sexual-assault allegations made against Bears football players. In one instance, ESPN reported, the school did not investigate a sexual-assault report filed against football players Tre’Von Armstead and Shamycheal Chatman for more than two years. In another instance, again via ESPN, former defensive end Tevin Elliott was suspected of four sexual assaults and one attempted assault from 2009 through 2012, eventually being found guilty in one of the attacks.
As a result of stories like these and others, the school hired the law firm Pepper Hamilton to conduct a nominally independent investigation of its handling of sexual-assault allegations against the players. The law firm found that Baylor’s coaches meddled with the legal and disciplinary proceedings taken against the players.
“In some cases, football coaches and staff had inappropriate involvement in disciplinary and criminal matters or engaged in improper conduct that reinforced an overall perception that football was above the rules, and that there was no culture of accountability for misconduct,” the report reads.
The report also found that unnamed Baylor administrators “directly discouraged complainants from reporting or participating in student conduct processes” and in one instance retaliated against a complainant for reporting a sexual assault. It further accused the Baylor football program of attempting to keep a lid on sexual-assault allegations made against its players.
“Football staff conducted their own untrained internal inquiries, outside of policy, which improperly discredited complainants and denied them the right to a fair, impartial and informed investigation, interim measures or processes promised under University policy,” the report reads. “In some cases, internal steps gave the illusion of responsiveness to complainants but failed to provide a meaningful institutional response under Title IX.
“Further, because reports were not shared outside of athletics, the University missed critical opportunities to impose appropriate disciplinary action that would have removed offenders from campus and possibly precluded future acts of sexual violence against Baylor students.”
Said Richard Willis, chair of Baylor’s Board of Regents, in the school’s release: “We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus. This investigation revealed the University’s mishandling of reports in what should have been a supportive, responsive and caring environment for students. The depth to which these acts occurred shocked and outraged us. Our students and their families deserve more, and we have committed our full attention to improving our processes, establishing accountability and ensuring appropriate actions are taken to support former, current and future students.”
A family member of one of the alleged sexual assault victims told Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports that he was relieved to hear that Baylor intended to fire Briles.
“We were starting to wonder, ‘is he [Briles] really gonna get away with this?!’ There’s no way this can continue,” the man told Feldman. “But after I heard the news, man, it’s a relief, an absolute relief. Of course, it doesn’t take everything back. But somebody who could’ve prevented this, is not getting away it.
“You want some sort of justice. This just had to happen. It needed to.”
Briles, 60, reportedly notified his players of the school’s intention to fire him via text message:
Linebacker Taylor Young expressed displeasure with the Briles move on Twitter.
On Thursday, Starr reportedly told faculty members that the school had insufficient evidence to fire him.
On Tuesday, reports from the Horns Digest college sports news site and the KCEN television station in central Texas — citing anonymous sources — circulated widely that Baylor’s governing board had fired Starr as the university faces intense scrutiny.
That drew swift national attention because of Starr’s background as the prosecutor in the 1990s who investigated President Bill Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Then Baylor issued a statement in which it neither confirmed nor denied the reports. “We will not respond to rumors, speculation or reports based on unnamed sources, but when official news is available, the university will provide it,” Baylor said Tuesday afternoon. “We expect an announcement by June 3.”
Baylor, with about 16,000 students, has been shaken by the prosecution of two former football players on sexual-assault charges and the recent emergence of accusations that the university failed to adequately support students who report sexual assault.
The school is not alone in facing scrutiny. A groundswell of activism across the country in the past few years has pushed colleges and universities to take stronger steps to prevent sexual assault on campus and help students who report that they were victims of sexual violence.
As of May 4, the Obama administration was investigating more than 180 colleges and universities in connection with their response to reports of sexual violence. Baylor was not among them.
On Feb. 7, Starr released a lengthy statement in which he pledged redoubled efforts to combat sexual violence.
“Our hearts break for those whose lives are impacted by execrable acts of sexual violence,” he wrote. “No one should have to endure the trauma of these terrible acts of wrongdoing. We must never lose sight of the long-term, deeply personal effects such contemptible conduct has on the lives of survivors. Let me be clear: Sexual violence emphatically has no place whatsoever at Baylor University.”
Starr said in the statement that federal privacy law prevented the university from commenting on specific cases. But he said Baylor was committed to education initiatives to prevent sexual assault, as well as support for those who report an incident and stern punishment for those found responsible of sexual misconduct. In addition, Starr said university officials were awaiting the outcome of the review by Pepper Hamilton. That review, launched in September, was presented to the Board of Regents this month.
Starr, 69, had a long and at times controversial career in public service before moving into academia.
In the mid-1970s, Starr clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger. In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan named Starr to be a judge on the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He left the bench in 1989 to become solicitor general during the first Bush administration.
During Clinton’s presidency, he was independent counsel overseeing the Whitewater investigation. His probe of Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky resulted in a long report that paved the way for the impeachment of the president. Critics accused Starr of leading a partisan vendetta that put the nation through a needless ordeal, while supporters praised him as a tenacious and fearless investigator.
A native of Texas, Starr was dean of Pepperdine University’s law school for six years before he became Baylor’s 14th president in 2010. Baylor’s board gave him the additional title of chancellor in 2013, with a mission of raising the university’s global and national influence.