Baylor University demotes president and fires football coach

Baylor University regents have removed Ken Starr from his role as president effective May 31.

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WACO—Citing a “fundamental failure” to handle sexual violence complaints appropriately, Baylor University’s board of regents announced plans May 26 to remove Ken Starr from his role as president, fire Head Football Coach Art Briles and sanction Athletic Director Ian McCaw.

Starr will be removed as president effective May 31 but remain as the Louise L. Morrison Chair of Constitutional Law at Baylor Law School. He also “agreed in principle to serve as chancellor on terms that are still being discussed,” according to a statement from the university.

David Garland, professor and former dean of Baylor’s Truett Theological Seminary, will serve as interim president while the university conducts a search for its next president. Garland served previously as Baylor’s interim president from August 2008 to May 2010.

Art Briles 200Art Briles Regents announced Briles “has been suspended indefinitely with intent to terminate according to contractual procedures,” and McCaw was sanctioned and placed on probation. Other members of the administration and athletics department, whom Baylor did not identify, also were dismissed.

“We have made these decisions, because, above all, we must safeguard our students and our campus,” said Richard Willis, chair of the Baylor board of regents. “We must set a new course to ensure the leaders of the University place a premium on responding effectively and with sensitivity to those impacted by the tragedy of interpersonal violence.”

Regents announced the major personnel changes two weeks after they received a “comprehensive briefing” from Pepper Hamilton, the Philadelphia law firm regents retained last September to investigate Baylor’s response to reports of sexual violence.

‘Fundamental failure’ cited

The university’s governing board announced the investigation revealed a fundamental failure by Baylor to implement Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.

“We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus,” Willis said. “This investigation revealed the university’s mishandling of reports in what should have been a supportive, responsive and caring environment for students

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“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.”

Key findings include:

  • Baylor’s student conduct processes were “wholly inadequate to consistently provide a prompt and equitable response” under Title IX, the university “failed to consistently support complainants through the provision of interim measures,” and, in some cases, “failed to take action to identify and eliminate a potential hostile environment, prevent its recurrence or address its effects.”
  • Actions by university administrators “directly discouraged some complainants from reporting or participating in student conduct processes and, in one instance, constituted retaliation against a complainant for reporting sexual assault.”
  • Within the football program and athletics department leadership, the investigation pointed to “a failure to identify and respond to a pattern of sexual violence by a football player and to a report of dating violence.” The report also cited concerns about “the tone and culture within Baylor’s football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of student athlete misconduct.” 
  • Investigating the Baylor’s response to reports of a sexual assault involving multiple football players, Pepper Hamilton found the football program and athletics department leaders failed to take appropriate action in response to these reports.

“We were asked to provide a thorough and candid assessment. Baylor allowed us to follow the facts, without influence or interference, wherever they led, and Baylor’s board of regents openly received sobering findings of failure within football, the athletics department and the university as a whole,” said Gina Maisto Smith and Leslie M. Gomez, partners with Pepper Hamilton.

“We believe the choice to share these findings of fact publicly and acknowledge past failures is an important step for the university as it implements the recommendations derived from these findings.” 

Regents apologize

Baylor agreed to self-report to the NCAA, and regents created the full-time position of chief compliance officer, who will report directly to the president’s office.

“We, as the governing board of this university, offer our apologies to the many who sought help from the university. We are deeply sorry for the harm that survivors have endured,” said Ron Murff, chair-elect of the Baylor board of regents.

“Baylor’s mission to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community remains our primary imperative. The board has taken decisive action to ensure the university’s priorities are aligned with our unyielding commitment to that mission.”

A few days before the regents acted, Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Director David Hardage used social media to issue a call to prayer “for healing, restoration, redemption and harmony” in the wake of incidents of sexual violence at Baylor. He reiterated the need for prayer after the regents announced their decisions.

“In light of announcements made today by Baylor University regarding changes in its leadership and processes, I again ask for prayer for everyone affected,” Hardage said. “Texas Baptists are so proud of our long history with Baylor. Like all of our institutions, when trouble arises, we pledge to walk alongside and work towards a good and godly future.”

The regents hired the Pepper Hamilton law firm to conduct an independent external investigation soon after Sam Ukwuachu, a former Baylor Bears football player, was convicted and received a 180-day jail sentence and 10 years’ probation for sexual assault.

The assault, reported by a then-18-year-old soccer player, occurred in October 2013—about five months after Ukwuachu transferred to Baylor from Boise State, where he was dropped from the football team after an earlier act of violence involving a female student.

Two years ago, defensive end Tevin Elliot was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to the maximum of 20 years in prison. In February, ESPN televised an “Outside the Lines” report in which five women asserted Elliott sexually assaulted them between October 2009 and April 2012. The “Outside the Lines” report asserted Baylor officials failed to investigate adequately the allegations of sexual violence. 

In March, a former Baylor student who reported Elliott raped her filed a lawsuit asserting multiple Title IX violations and negligence. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, names Baylor’s board of regents, Briles and McCaw as defendants.

Editor’s Note: The response from BGCT Executive Director David Hardage was added after the article initially was posted.

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