'Character and accountability' matter on, off Baylor field, interim president says

by Gregory Tomlin |

(Baylor University Athletics/Facebook)A Baylor football player in a scrimmage in Fall 2015.

WACO, Texas (Christian Examiner) – Baylor University is refocusing its efforts on ensuring student athletes demonstrate character on and off the field, Interim President David Garland told faculty, staff, students and alumni in an open letter June 29.

Garland discussed football and the addition of interim head coach Jim Grobe, but said the school's focus shouldn't be sports. It is, "first and foremost," an institution of higher education, he wrote.

Where Baylor is involved in NCAA sports, he said he expects the school will only field "teams of student athletes who positively represent the University."

We need not look to such laws to know the difference between right and wrong. Scripture sets a far higher standard for how we are to interact with our neighbors out of love.
- David Garland, Interim Baylor President

"As we begin a new chapter in Baylor football with acting head football coach Jim Grobe, we anticipate a program focused on success with an emphasis on character and accountability in life," Garland, a former seminary dean, wrote.

"Coach Grobe has already brought to the program the kind of integrity and ethical leadership that characterized his previous 19 years of experience as a head coach, most recently at Wake Forest University," he added. Grobe was longtime head of the NCAA's ethics committee.

Garland touted the school's past record of academic success on the part of student athletes who "demonstrated integrity and have made us proud by their actions on and off the field."

"In fact, Baylor leads the Big 12 in graduation rates, and our student-athletes set a school record GPA of 3.28 in the spring 2016 semester while achieving 600 or more Big 12 Commissioner's Honor Roll selections (669) for the fifth straight year. Athletics can be something that unifies the Baylor family. We are working hard to ensure this is the case," Garland wrote.

Garland took over the Baylor presidency after the ouster of President Kenneth Starr and head football coach Art Briles in the wake of the sexual assault coverup scandal at the school. Starr was demoted to an honorary role of chancellor and Briles was suspended.

Last week, Briles and the university issued a short joint statement that his employment with the school had been terminated by mutual agreement.

"Both parties acknowledge that there were serious shortcomings in the response to reports of sexual violence by some student-athletes, including deficiencies in University processes and the delegation of disciplinary responsibilities within the football program. Baylor is addressing these shortcomings and making ongoing improvements," the statement said.

Starr also resigned from his post as chancellor and will now only teach at Baylor's law school.

Exactly what improvements will be made in the football program has not been made clear yet, but Garland said the 105 recommendations provided by the law firm Pepper Hamilton, which investigated the sexual assault claims and the university's response, will be the guide by which Baylor operates.

Both parties acknowledge that there were serious shortcomings in the response to reports of sexual violence by some student-athletes, including deficiencies in University processes and the delegation of disciplinary responsibilities within the football program. Baylor is addressing these shortcomings and making ongoing improvements.
- Baylor/Art Briles Statement on Termination

"We are on a path of continuous improvement, ensuring that our processes and systems support all our students. Further, we have pledged to reignite our passion for the mission of this University, to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community," Garland wrote.

As for the university itself, Garland said he is providing "hands-on guidance" to ensure that Baylor complies with federal laws – such as Title IX – and the reporting requirements in the Clery Act and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act 0f 2013.

"However, we need not look to such laws to know the difference between right and wrong. Scripture sets a far higher standard for how we are to interact with our neighbors out of love," Garland wrote.

He then described some of the steps the university has taken toward ensuring students receive the protection and counseling they need.

Garland concluded the letter with a note about the incoming freshman class, which he said embodies "God's gifts of hope and promise."