Baylor Cleaned House Because It Had To

Baylor has done the bare minimum it had to do after revelations of a campus culture that turned its back on, and often actively worked against, victims of sexual assaults committed by members of the school's football team.

Art Briles, the former Stephenville High School and University of Houston head coach who led Bears football to national prominence for the first time in decades, was fired Thursday. University President Ken Starr was reassigned. Athletic Director Ian McCaw has been placed on probation.

In an external investigation commissioned by Baylor after defensive end Sam Ukwuachu was convicted of sexually assaulting a Baylor soccer player last August, Philadelphia-based law firm Pepper Hamilton found that the university "failed to consistently support" students who reported sexual assault. Members of Baylor's football staff routinely failed to investigate allegations against players, the report says, and failed to do a thorough job when investigations did take place.

"The investigations were conducted in the context of a broader culture and belief by many administrators that sexual violence 'doesn’t happen here.' Administrators engaged in conduct that could be perceived as victim-blaming, focusing on the complainant’s choices and actions, rather than robustly investigating the allegations, including the actions of the respondent. In many instances, student conduct investigators conducted cursory investigations and failed to identify and interview readily apparent witnesses or gather relevant evidence. Student conduct investigators also applied the preponderance of the evidence standard of proof in an inconsistent manner, and in many instances, required a far greater level of proof than preponderance," the report says.

Administrators at Baylor routinely discouraged victims of alleged assaults by football players from filing formal reports or starting university proceedings against their attackers and, in at least one instance, actively retaliated against a woman who said she'd been attacked by a player, the reports says:

"Pepper also found examples of actions by University administrators that directly discouraged complainants from reporting or participating in student conduct processes, or that contributed to or accommodated a hostile environment. In one instance, those actions 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, to take action in response to reports of a sexual assault by multiple football players, and to take action in response to a report of dating violence. Pepper’s findings also reflect significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor’s football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of athlete misconduct."
During Ukwuachu's trial, evidence revealed that the player had been investigated by the university but not sanctioned — he continued to practice with the team throughout the legal process and Baylor coaches even went as far as to say that he would likely play for the team again during the 2015 season.

After the trial, multiple additional reports of sexual attacks by members of Briles' teams surfaced, going back to 2011. In multiple instances, Baylor officials and Waco police made special efforts, including pulling a police report from Waco PD's computer system and locking it in a room, to conceal ongoing investigations against Baylor players, including Tevin Elliot, who was convicted of rape and sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2014.

“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,” Richard Willis, chair of the Baylor Board of Regents, said Thursday. “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.”

Briles reportedly sent the following text to players Thursday morning, shortly before deleting his popular Twitter account:
According to Willis, the school is in contact with the NCAA about possible sanctions, which should among the least of the school's worries. A complete version of the Pepper Hamilton report, to include names and specifics, is expected to be released in September. In the interim, David Garland, dean of the George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor, has been named the university's temporary president. The school is still looking for a interim head football coach.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young