Baylor University demoted president Kenneth Starr and fired its popular football coach Art Briles following revelations Thursday that the sports program responded to sexual assault accusations against its players with alarming indifference or outright hostility toward alleged victims.
The Texas university’s Board of Regents apologized to the school community for the findings of an outside investigation it commissioned in the fall. A damning 13-page report, prepared by law firm Pepper Hamilton, revealed a football team allowed to run amok by university administrators and law enforcement officials who were grateful for the prestige and exposure that football success lent the Waco school.
“We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus,” Richard Willis, the chair of the Board of Regents, said in a news release. “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.”
Starr, best known for investigating President Bill Clinton’s affair with a White House intern, has led Baylor as president since June 2010. He will step down from that position Tuesday and retain the title of chancellor, which he was given in 2013 with the intent of promoting the university’s global and national influence.
Baylor took a rare stand in firing a successful coach at a major college football program. Under Briles’s innovative and prolific offense, Baylor went from a local afterthought in 2008 to a college football colossus with all the trappings: heralded recruiting classes, conference championships, the 2011 Heisman Trophy won by future Washington Redskins star Robert Griffin III, and the 2014 opening of a $266 million stadium on the banks of the Brazos River. The school said Thursday that Briles had been suspended “with intent to terminate.” It also placed Athletic Director Ian McCaw on probation.
The scandal unfolded while major efforts are under way at campuses across America to prevent sexual assault and encourage victims to step forward. The Obama administration warned colleges in 2011 that the anti-discrimination law known as Title IX required them to take immediate action when they learn about possible sexual violence on campus. The warning also spelled out numerous steps colleges should take to protect students who lodge complaints and resolve their cases.
In 2014, Obama created a White House task force to protect students from sexual assault and launched a public relations campaign called “It’s On Us,” enlisting politicians and celebrities to encourage men and women on campuses nationwide to help end the violence.
Thursday’s report concluded that the implementation of those guidelines and requirements on the Waco campus “were slow, ad hoc, diffuse, and uncoordinated.”
The investigation exposed a football program under Briles that was allowed to operate under its own rules, which led to intimidation of alleged victims, concealment of sexual assault charges and risk for future attacks. Among the law firm’s other findings:
●Football coaches and 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.”
●In some cases, including reports of a sexual assault by multiple football players, athletic department and football officials knowingly did not report sexual violence to an administrator outside the department. Football coaches or staff members “met directly with a complainant and/or a parent of a complainant and did not report the misconduct. As a result, no action was taken to support complainants, fairly and impartially evaluate the conduct under Title IX, address identified cultural concerns within the football program, or protect campus safety once aware of a potential pattern of sexual violence by multiple football players.”
●“In some instances, the football program dismissed players for unspecified team violations and assisted them in transferring to other schools.”
●“Football coaches and staff took affirmative steps to maintain internal control over discipline of players and to actively divert cases from the student conduct or criminal processes.” Coaches involved themselves in criminal and disciplinary matters that “reinforced an overall perception that football was above the rules, and that there was no culture of accountability for misconduct.”
●The football program employed a “separate system of internal discipline,” which reinforced the perception that “rules applicable to other students are not applicable to football players.” The separate system protected football players from standard consequences and placed students at the risk future misconduct.
●Baylor did not follow prescribed protocol for accepting transfer students, such as background checks, in adding players to the program. One of those players, defensive end Sam Ukwuachu, was sentenced this fall to 180 days in jail and 10 years’ probation he was convicted of sexually assaulting a former Baylor soccer player in 2013. Ukwuachu left Boise State after facing assault charges.
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.
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.
Starr, 69, had a long and at times controversial career in public service before moving into academia. Born in Vernon, Tex., 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 Monica 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.
In a statement released Thursday evening, Starr said, “To be sure, this has been an exceedingly difficult time for the University family, especially so for the victims of sexual violence and their loved ones. I join the Board of Regents and the Senior Administration of the University in expressing heartfelt contrition for the tragedy and sadness that has unfolded. To those victims who were not treated with the care, concern, and support they deserve, I am profoundly sorry.”
Briles, 60, could not be reached to comment. He sent a group text message to players, which later was widely shared on Twitter, informing them he had been fired and thanking them for their loyalty. His most recent public comments came April 19, when during a Big 12 conference coaches teleconference he was asked about the scandal.
“Yeah, I’m always concerned anytime that something of that nature transpires,” Briles said. “It’s been a process to where we’re really doing all we can do to make sure our guys are at the awareness level they need to be at by giving them all the proper training with professionals in those fields to help them to know how to handle themselves at all times. It’s a situation where it’s a concern. It’s something that we’re dealing with on a daily basis.”