- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Waco Tribune-Herald. May 29, 2016.

Baylor regents’ actions, summary still brimming with relevant questions

After mostly silence and stonewalling for nine tumultuous months amid a crisis involving sexual assaults at Baylor University, many of us seeking some word, any word, from Baylor leadership could make the mistake of surrendering too quickly to Baylor regents’ decidedly aggressive course of action and overall version of campus calamity. And if the Baylor Nation or an inquiring press readily drops demands for a more comprehensive, detailed explanation of just what went wrong, nagging questions will continue to fester.

That’s not healthy or wise for Baylor, its regents and all who attend Baylor, teach or conduct research there, not to mention those of us in the Waco area who want to see Baylor emerge from this stronger and more resolute.

For one thing, the larger lessons in this saga could be instructive in a mightier, positively Christian context. Colleges and universities nationwide are grappling with the problem of sexual assaults that prey upon students not always mature or prudent in their extracurricular pursuits. Colleges and universities nationwide are grappling with the problem of groups such as football teams and fraternities whose insularity can sometimes breed attitudes of entitlement and beliefs that neither law nor societal standards apply to them.

And colleges and universities nationwide are grappling with the delicate yet volatile challenge of ensuring that campus bureaucracies efficiently and compassionately handle victims’ concerns, including sensitive counseling, fierce advocacy and, if desired, a decisive clearing of impediments that, left neglected, might make student victims’ continued education on campus more difficult. Obviously, the wrong sort of people in key positions, the wrong sort of protocols in place, can send everything awry, as obviously happened at Baylor in recent years.

One courageous thing Baylor leadership can do if it’s serious about setting the university on the straight and narrow course toward healing and reform while reassuring prospective parents and students as well as faculty and staff: Release the complete analysis and findings of Pepper Hamilton, the celebrated Philadelphia law firm tapped by regents to investigate, and let’s allow this tragic moment to be a learning, fortifying one.

While we understand redacting some names - those of student victims and suspects accused of assault where no findings of guilt have been legally established - other facts require more transparency, especially on behalf of those who might be innocent. For instance, any employee leaving Baylor over the next year (or even in recent months) might attract undue suspicion as somehow being involved in all this bureaucratic bungling.

It’s important to remember that most of what we know counts on the better judgment and discretion of regents, who may bear some responsibility themselves. The board is basically saying to us all: “We’re firing people. Trust us. We’re beefing up Title IX staffing and protocol. Trust us. We’re sorry this all happened. Trust us.”

Yet since announcing online administrative and athletic shake-ups and certain problems in general, the regents have again retreated to their bunkers. For instance, while three Baylor regents talked with the press in a 25-minute teleconference Thursday, most of it was spent with regents reading word for word statements they had already released to the media. Only a handful of questions were entertained. Most went unanswered.

The basic summary of Pepper Hamilton talking points is so damning, it might seem to cross the line as being enough. But the systemic failures described, ranging from indifference to outright retaliation involving sexual-assault victims, demand a far greater accounting of Baylor if we are all to ensure this never happens again.

___

Houston Chronicle. May 24, 2016.

Baylor’s fumble: A sex scandal at the largest Southern Baptist university in the world reflects loss of focus

“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things,” the old coach advised his Corinthian team a couple of eons ago. “They do it to receive a perishable wreath (modern translation: a national championship), but we an imperishable one.” (I Corinthians 9:25)

In its years-long crusade to become the Baptist Notre Dame on the playing field, the largest Southern Baptist university in the world seems to have forgotten the Pauline admonition. Yet again, Baylor University appears to have veered off course as it attempts to navigate between the madness of big-time college sports (paying a football coach almost $6 million annually, for example) and the more becoming mien of Christian moderation envisioned by its early Texan founders more than a century-and-a-half ago.

Thirteen years after a horrendous murder scandal that nearly destroyed the Bears’ basketball program, the university is accused of failing to respond to rapes or sexual assaults reported by at least six women students from 2009-2016. This time it’s the football program. At least eight former Baylor football players have been accused of violence against women since the arrival of Coach Art Briles from the University of Houston in 2008.

The most successful football coach in the school’s history has come under increasing criticism, but it’s President and Chancellor Ken Starr, not Briles who, according to social-media buzz, is about to walk the plank off the top tier of McLane Stadium and into the Brazos River down below. (In a press release Baylor complained about rumors and speculation and said an announcement would be forthcoming by June 3.)

Starr came to national prominence two decades ago as the special counsel investigating the sexual shenanigans of then-President Bill Clinton, an investigation that led to Clinton’s impeachment. Ironically, it’s a sex-related scandal that could cost him his job. He’s been at Baylor since June 2010, during which both Baylor and its Central Texas hometown have prospered mightily, in large part because of the Bears’ spectacular success under Briles.

It’s hard to believe that neither Briles nor Starr were unaware of accusations of violent behavior by football players, hard to believe they weren’t aware that Briles’ program seemed to be tolerating criminal behavior on the part of students representing the university on scholarship. It appears they turned a blind eye.

“Baylor’s athletic department is being accused of establishing an atmosphere in which students believed football players could get away with attacking female students,” Chronicle columnist Jerome Solomon wrote last Sunday. “How sad and disgusting, particularly for a university that proudly waves a religious banner that is supposed to separate it from so many other heathen institutions.”

In his 2015 memoir, “Beating Goliath: My Story of Football and Faith,” Briles takes pride in giving young men who make mistakes a second chance. “I know other schools aren’t necessarily that way,” he writes. “I’ve read plenty of reports about how some colleges run kids off if they have problems. We’ve obviously had some tough choices to make as well. I just know that the first effort is to make sure to help people as much as possible.”

Patience and forbearance are, of course, admirable virtues, but there are limits, even for young men who run a 4.3 40-yard dash.

Whatever the university’s board of regents decides to do about Briles and Starr, Baylor has a duty to release in full the results of a forthcoming investigation into how the athletic department handled reports of rape and assault allegations. Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Baylor grad, issued what the Waco Tribune-Herald called a “muddled May 17 opinion” regarding what the university is required to release.

“Its findings,” Solomon noted in his recent column, “won’t be flattering to the Baylor athletic department.”

If members of the Baylor family examine the report un-blinkered, they might arrive at the unhappy conclusion that a values-focused university cannot compete for that perishable wreath without losing sight of the imperishable. They won’t give up their gridiron crusade, of course, but they’re likely to find big-time college football a perennial thorn in the flesh. St. Paul could identify.

___

The Dallas Morning News. May 26, 2016.

Baylor regents finally face facts, clean house

It should be no surprise that Baylor University regents removed Ken Starr as president over his administration’s handling of sexual assault complaints against scholarship football players. A law firm’s exhaustive investigation made clear that had to happen.

But the firing of football coach Art Briles was a bombshell - and an encouraging one, at that. Winning, for a change, wasn’t the only thing.

Regents appropriately apologized to those women who sought help from their university but received little in return. Board chair Richard Willis said regents were “horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus.”

Whether or not he had firsthand knowledge, Starr was ultimately responsible for all that happened at the world’s largest Baptist university under his watch. But Briles knew. Baylor wanted a big-time college football program, and Briles gave them one. When that happens, though, nothing moves without the all-powerful coach saying so.

In Waco, at Baylor, no single person was more all-powerful than Art Briles. Not even Ken Starr.

Briles was too good a coach, as his record at Baylor would attest, to have been unaware or unable to control so many athletes whose behavior could bring only shame, particularly to a university with Baylor’s laudable moral and ethical standards.

Five football players accused of eight or more instances of sexual assault since 2009 defines lack of institutional control. College programs - and their coaches - are punished for far less than a documented pattern of violence against women. Certainly, Baylor must have expected more from Briles for $6 million a year.

Tevin Elliott and Sam Ukwuachu were convicted of sexual assault, no thanks to minimal investigation by Baylor officials. A third football player, Shawn Oakman, has since been arrested on a similar charge. ESPN reports Baylor did not investigate allegations in 2013 against two other players who were not arrested.

Last fall, Baylor hired Pepper Hamilton, a Philadelphia law firm. Its findings of fact are damning.

They reflect “a fundamental failure” to implement Title IX or the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013. Student conduct processes were “wholly inadequate”; complainants were “directly discouraged” from reporting incidents; university administrators “contributed to or accommodated a hostile environment.”

A football program and athletic department increasingly insular and isolated from the university failed to identify or respond to patterns of sexual violence by athletes.

Briles could argue that he was hired to win football games and wasn’t responsible for Baylor’s Title IX compliance. And it’s true that he won - with six consecutive bowl teams, two Big 12 championships and 32 victories the last three years.

It would have been unforgivable if any of that had inoculated him from responsibility a football-first culture that put so many Baylor students at risk. It’s unfortunate that so many had to suffer before university regents found their way, but at least they faced up to it when they did.

___

Fort Worth Star-Telegram. May 26, 2016.

Baylor report: Slow. Thorough. Apologetic. Brutal

“Board of Regents apologizes to Baylor Nation.”

Finally.

On Thursday, the Baylor University board of regents released a news statement apologizing and setting forth new policy implementations in the wake of the school’s long-running sexual abuse scandal.

Baylor’s handling of reports of sexual abuse on campus brought media attention to the Waco university after a former football player was convicted of sexual assault in August.

That month, Baylor hired Pepper Hamilton, an independent law firm, to review “Baylor’s institutional response to Title IX and related compliance issues through the lens of specific cases.”

The process turned into a slow, frustrating crawl as university President Ken Starr released letter after letter reassuring students, but never thoroughly addressing the problem.

An action plan was implemented in February, but it seemed like a place holder until Baylor received the results of the Pepper Hamilton review.

The report was released to the public on Thursday, nine months in the making.

The law firm found that the “institutional response” to abuse on campus was a “fundamental failure.”

The word failed appears 31 times in the 13-page document as the law firm explained its investigation in detail.

The Pepper Hamilton report made us angry. It would make anyone angry to read how much Baylor failed at adequately protecting students.

Apparently, regents read the report and became as angry as everyone else.

“We were horrified,” board Chairman Richard Willis said in the news release. “The depth to which these acts occurred shocked and outraged us. Our students and their families deserve more.”

Baylor failed, but the board succeeded in owning up to the failure and making sure Baylor will overhaul its system and mend the cracks.

“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,” Willis said.

The board removed Starr as president, though he will remain a law professor and perhaps chancellor.

Head football coach Art Briles was “indefinitely suspended with intent to terminate.”

These two have been at the heart of the scandal from the beginning.

Athletic Director Ian McCaw has been “sanctioned and placed on probation” and “additional members of the administration and athletics program have also been dismissed.”

Anyone who was a part of the problem seems to be taken out of the solution.

The board accepted all of Pepper Hamilton’s recommendations.

Although the board took a frustratingly long time in taking “extensive corrective action,” the results are exactly what we wanted from the university.

We wanted an apology.

They gave one.

We wanted wrongdoers out of the picture.

They removed the appropriate people.

We wanted a plan so this never happens again.

They implemented 10 pages of recommendations and created an executive-level task force to supervise implementation.

They will work with the NCAA on possible sanctions and will build a safety network for students.

Baylor is taking the right steps to rebuild trust.

Now comes the follow-through.

___

Corpus Christi Caller-Times. May 27, 2016.

Baylor takes responsibility; will others?

Enough can’t be said of Baylor University’s responsibility to live up to the lofty standard that its academic purpose and religious affiliation implies. It failed, miserably, by allowing sexual violence by athletes to go unexposed and largely unpunished and, worse, by discouraging victims from coming forward.

But Baylor, in firing football Coach Art Briles, reassigning president Kenneth Starr and - perhaps most importantly - asking the victims’ forgiveness, has set an example that could have positive repercussions far beyond Baylor and its alumni. It’s an example to be followed by other colleges and universities and the military, which have been grappling with sexual assault culture - with unsatisfying, unconvincing results.

The house-cleaning, which wasn’t confined to Briles and Starr, was an obvious first step but wasn’t as easy as it may appear. Briles isn’t just a football coach and he isn’t just a successful one. The turnaround he achieved at Baylor, a private Baptist school competing against large state universities, was magical. And Starr, in addition to being a respected lawyer and professor, is the famed special prosecutor of former President Bill Clinton.

Baylor the institution was supposed to be the victims’ protector and defender, not their betrayer. But Briles and his staff dissuaded victims - even to the point of retaliation against one victim, according to an investigation by an outside law firm. It amounted to a second attack on people who needed justice and help putting their lives back together. Starr’s sin was of omission. He ordered the investigation but not soon enough.

Taking responsibility for the harm Baylor did to the victims - deepening their victimization by valuing them less than the football team’s success - can’t be over-emphasized for its importance. Baylor’s statement came from the chairman-elect of its regents, Ron Murff. Having the incoming chairman do the talking signals that things really are going to change.

The most important change is that the firing of Briles is an overt statement that Baylor will value the safety and wellbeing of its students and the university’s integrity ahead of its success on the football field. Ridding itself of Briles is a step back to square one, football-wise. But how this will affect Baylor’s on-field performance sorely needs to be an irrelevant question. Baylor invited the NCAA to review for infractions - further affirmation that it has realigned its priorities.

Too often, highly regarded institutions say publicly that they care about the victims and want to do all they can to prevent sexual assault, then go about doing as Baylor did. So much already is stacked against the victims. Their emotional investment can make them sound less credible as witnesses than the manipulative practiced liars who attacked them. The brass at a university tends to think of the institution’s reputation first, so it can become easy for officials not to hear what they don’t want to hear. If Baylor means what it’s saying, it will have turned this corner and could lead the way for others to follow.

The goal of the athletic program should be to produce the likes of Robert Griffin III and to consider his Heisman trophy incidental to the person Baylor helped him become. Griffin was a stellar student who finished his bachelor’s degree early and conducted himself like a gentleman, for lack of a less archaic word.

Full disclosure: All members of the editorial board have at least one daughter and one member is a Baylor graduate.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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