Baylor fires coach Briles, demotes pres. Starr

by Diana Chandler, posted Thursday, May 26, 2016 (11 months ago)

WACO, Texas (BP) -- Baylor University stripped Ken Starr of his presidency and fired head football coach Art Briles today (May 26) after an independent investigation found "a fundamental failure" to protect students from sexual assault in a years-long scandal.

The Baylor Board of Regents announced the personnel changes in a press release posted on its website, based on the findings of an investigation by the law firm Pepper Hamilton, LLP.

"Key findings of the investigation reflect a fundamental failure by Baylor to implement Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA)," the board said.

The board of the largest Baptist university in the world also created a new full-time position of chief compliance officer to report directly to the president's office, sanctioned and placed on probation athletic director Ian McCaw, fired additional but unnamed members of the administration and athletics programs, clarified the roles of several departmental staff members and committed to institute "robust training" before the fall 2016 semester.

The Baylor sex scandal centered on the behavior of the university students, including football players and fraternity members, and university leaders' handling of reports of sexual abuse and assault, including rape.

Baylor Board of Regents chairman Richard Willis expressed horror at the investigation's revelations.

"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," Willis said in the press release. "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."

Effective May 31, Starr will no longer serve as president, but will retain his position as the Louise L. Morrison Chair of Constitutional Law in Baylor's Law School, and will serve in principle as chancellor on terms that are still being discussed, the board said.

The board appointed David Garland, former dean and professor at Baylor's George W. Truett Theological Seminary, as interim president. Briles was suspended indefinitely and will be terminated according to contractual procedures, the board said.

"We have made these decisions, because, above all, we must safeguard our students and our campus," Willis said in the press release. "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."

Among sexual assault cases under Starr's and Briles' watch, former Baylor defensive end Tevin Elliott was sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined $10,000 in 2014 for sexually assaulting a student at a party, and football player Sam Ukwuachu was convicted in 2015 of sexually assaulting a university soccer player. Ukwuachu was sentenced to 180 days in jail, 10 years of felony probation and 400 hours of community service.

As recently as February, more than 200 Baylor students, faculty, staff and alumni gathered outside Starr's home in protest of his handling of sexual assault allegations, the Waco Tribune reported.

Ron Murff, Board of Regents chair-elect, issued an apology on behalf of the board.

"We are deeply sorry for the harm that survivors have endured," Murff said in the press release. "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."

Key findings from the Pepper Hamilton, LLP investigation, as posted on Baylor's website, are:

-- 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.

-- 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.

-- In addition to broader University failings, Pepper found specific failings within both the football program and Athletics department leadership, including a failure to identify and respond to a pattern of sexual violence by a football player and to a report of dating violence.

-- There are significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor's football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of student athlete misconduct.

-- Over the course of their review, Pepper investigated the University's response to reports of a sexual assault involving multiple football players. The football program and Athletics department leadership failed to take appropriate action in response to these reports.

The full statement is available at baylor.edu/mediacommunications/news. Baylor is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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