The most important lesson Baylor University must teach its students this year is how to respond like Jesus to shameful and embarrassing situations.
In recent years, two Baylor football players have been convicted of sexual crimes. But abuse of women is not uniquely an “athletics problem.” This month, two women publicly have told their stories of sexual abuse at Baylor. One insists she did not receive the help she needed—and was promised—by the university. Federal regulations limit the information Baylor can disclose, so we only get one side of such stories. But the allegations are serious and must be handled thoroughly and compassionately.
How the Baylor administration and campus community respond to sexual abuse and gender safety will set the moral tone of the university for years to come.
Read the Standard’s ongoing coverage:
Sign up for our weekly email newsletter.
Some Baylor supporters wish the issue would go away and prefer no media reports. Others strive to cover the problem with a patina of platitudes. Rationalization comes easy: Baylor is a Christian school; acknowledging any failure on the university’s part will harm not only the school but also “the cause of Christ.” Donor support could erode. Student recruitment could suffer. It might even hurt athletics.
Yielding to either temptation would be wrong for at least three reasons. First, it counters the teachings of Jesus to deal justly, live honestly, and protect the weak and vulnerable. Second, it violates the honor of previous victims and puts potential victims at greater risk. And third, it won’t work. Truth will surface, and if Baylor is found to be less than forthcoming, its reputation will be tarnished and redemption will require career sacrifices.
Sexual abuse study
In light of the sexual assault convictions of Baylor football defensive end Tevin Elliott and the rape conviction of defensive end Sam Ukwauchu, the university hired the Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton to investigate and review the university’s policies and practices regarding sexual assault. That study should encompass the entire school, not merely athletics.
But speaking of athletics, every aspect of every Baylor sports program must be clean and exemplary. That’s a strenuous challenge, particularly in high-profile men’s programs, such as football and basketball, where the will to win can tempt coaches to overlook character flaws that would disqualify a non-athlete from admission. Due process is vital, but all athletes must be aware of consequences—zero tolerance for sexual misbehavior.
And let’s be clear: No level of sports attainment—even a national championship—is worth a single rape.
It is idealistic to suppose almost 17,000 students—most between the ages of 18 and 22—would gather in a campus community and sexual abuse never would occur. But the culture of the community must be one that overwhelmingly honors and respects individuals, and in most cases we’re talking about women. Response to victims must be compassionate, thorough and redemptive. Due process must be fair, but punishment of perpetrators must be swift, consistent and appropriate to the nature of the deed.
Back to the “Baylor Family”
Here’s a campus-culture thought: Baylor should drop its recent “Baylor Nation” hype and get back to thinking about the welfare of the “Baylor Family.” Nations accept collateral damage as a reasonable cost of attaining huge goals. Healthy families care about all their members in all situations.
Once the Pepper Hamilton study is complete and the law firm issues its report, Baylor’s board of regents must quash its inclination toward secrecy. Except for specific information restricted by federal regulations, the entire report and recommendations should be made public and easily accessible.
That report should become the catalyst to propel Baylor’s Title IX program to become the standard by which all other schools are judged. Policy must be perfect. Implementation and execution must be flawless. Baylor’s administration and regents surely want this; they must resist temptations to compromise.
Now is the time
This is a trying moment for Baylor. It also is an opportunity for Baylor to rise to its Christian ideals. They will not be reflected in sermons or open letters. They will be proven in deeds. These include providing transparency to the fullest extent allowed by law, developing the strongest anti-sexual violence culture on any campus, extending both compassion and justice to all abuse victims, and ensuring both due process and justice for all accused perpetrators.
Baylor can be certain, to borrow a phrase from a competitor’s school song: The eyes of Texas—and beyond—are upon you.
Disclosure notice: Editor Marv Knox and Managing Editor Ken Camp, who wrote the news stories related to this issue, are not Baylor University graduates. However, one of Knox’s daughters and two of Camp’s sons graduated from Baylor, as did all three of their spouses. Knox is an alumnus by choice of Baylor’s Truett Seminary. Nine of 16 Baptist Standard Publishing board members have earned degrees from Baylor.