Kenneth Starr will step down as Baylor University’s president but will remain as its chancellor after an investigation found numerous problems with how the school handles reports of sexual assault.
The university’s Board of Regents announced the leadership shakeup Thursday, also announcing that it had suspended head football coach Art Briles with the intention of firing him. The football program at the private Christian university in Waco, Texas, has been at the center of the controversy there as two former Baylor football players have been convicted in recent years of sexual assault charges.
Starr, best known for investigating President Bill Clinton’s affair with a White House intern, has led Baylor as president since June 2010. He was given the additional title of chancellor in 2013, a position meant to promote the university’s global and national influence. He will step down as president Tuesday and be replaced on an interim basis by David Garland, a former dean and professor at Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary, the board announced.
The board apologized to the Baylor community for lapses uncovered in the investigation by the Philadelphia-based law firm Pepper Hamilton.
Among the lapses were “wholly inadequate” processes to provide prompt and equitable responses to sexual violence reports, a duty mandated under the federal Title IX law, and a failure to consistently support students who lodge complaints. Actions by university administrators “directly discouraged” some students from reporting sexual violence or participating in related disciplinary processes, the investigation found, and in one instance there was retaliation against a complainant who reported sexual assault.
“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,” board chairman Richard Willis said in a statement. “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.”
Starr’s job status had come into question this week. On Tuesday the Horns Digest college sports news site, citing anonymous sources, reported that Baylor’s governing board had voted to fire him as the university was facing intense scrutiny over sexual assault.
That drew swift national attention because of Starr’s background as the Whitewater prosecutor who investigated Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, a probe that led to a historic House of Representatives vote in 1998 to impeach the president. The Senate later acquitted Clinton of charges that he committed perjury and obstruction of justice.
Starr will remain a law professor at Baylor and “has agreed in principle to serve as chancellor on terms that are still being discussed,” the university said.
In a statement published by the Waco Tribune-Herald, Starr acknowledged Thursday “this has been an exceedingly difficult time for the university family, especially so for the victims of sexual violence and their loved ones.” He said he joined other top university officials in expressing “heartfelt contrition” for what had happened. “To those victims who were not treated with the care, concern and support they deserve, I am profoundly sorry,” he said.
Baylor, with about 16,000 students, is the world’s largest Baptist university and a prominent research institution. It ranks 72nd this year on the U.S. News and World Report list of national universities. The sexual assault controversy has shaken a campus known for its strong Christian identity.
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 and help students who report they were victims of rape or other sexual violence. A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation project in 2015 found that 1 in 5 college women say they were violated while in school.
As of May 4, the Obama administration had active civil rights investigations underway at more than 180 colleges and universities in connection to their response to sexual violence. Baylor was not among them.
There were four reports of rape at Baylor in 2014, according to federal campus crime data. But rape reports exceeded that total on hundreds of college campuses elsewhere. Experts say that many rapes go unreported, and report totals often rise when schools ensure that survivors feel comfortable in stepping forward.
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.”
Still, critics questioned whether Starr had done enough.
The Dallas Morning News published a report on May 5, headlined “The silence of Ken Starr,” which asserted that he had “focused on football, fumbled on sex assaults.”
Starr, 69, had a long and at times controversial career in public service before moving into academia. Born in Vernon, Texas, near the Oklahoma border, he earned a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University in 1968, a master’s degree from Brown University in 1969 and a law degree from Duke University in 1973.
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. Critics of his role in the Lewinsky matter 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.
Starr, a native of Texas, was dean of Pepperdine University’s law school for six years before he became Baylor’s 14th president in 2010.
Here is a summary of the findings from the Pepper Hamilton investigation, released Thursday: