Interim Baylor president: College entering 'new season' after sex assault scandal

by Gregory Tomlin |

(Baylor University)The Burleson Quadrangle at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

WACO, Texas (Christian Examiner) – David Garland, the interim president of Baylor University, is calling on the "Baylor Nation" – students, faculty, alumni and supporters – to "speak with one voice" on student safety and the university's values as it struggles to shake off the recent scandal over the mishandling of sexual assault allegations on campus.

Garland's open letter to the Baylor faithful came the day after Kenneth Starr, who was demoted by the school's board of regents to the ceremonial position of chancellor, announced that he was resigning the new post and returning only to the classroom as a law professor.

It also comes on the heels of the publication of a full-page advertisement in Sunday's Austin American-Statesman newspaper thanking Starr for his service to the university. The ad directly addresses Starr.

Baylor's priority is to make our campus, and beyond, safe for our more than 16,000 students. We acknowledge our failures in the past and take responsibility for them, and we have already taken steps to ensure that we are in compliance with Title IX, the Jeanne Clery Act, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 and other state and federal obligations. Our aim is to set the highest standards in this area.
- Baylor Interim President David Garland

"Thank you Judge Ken Starr, for your integrity, leadership, character and humble nature," the ad says. It also thanks him for his "exceptional care for students and their well-being."

The ad, which cost thousands of dollars, was paid for by seven prominent Baylor alumni couples in the Austin area. It avoids mention – and some say ignores – the sexual assault allegations a private investigative report claims Starr did little to address while still president.

Garland, who led the university's divinity school and served as the university's interim president from 2008-2010, wrote in his letter that all Baylor supporters and employees had been called "to come together in prayerful reflection and honest action."

"Baylor's priority is to make our campus, and beyond, safe for our more than 16,000 students. We acknowledge our failures in the past and take responsibility for them, and we have already taken steps to ensure that we are in compliance with Title IX, the Jeanne Clery Act, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 and other state and federal obligations. Our aim is to set the highest standards in this area," Garland wrote.

He added that the school's commitment was what led it to hire Pepper Hamilton, a Philadelphia-based law firm that addresses institutional policy deficiencies and conducts investigations into policy failures. It specializes in sexual assault investigations.

The law firm recently produced a summary of its findings and made them public, but without discussing the identities of multiple women sexually assaulted by Baylor football players. Baylor's processes, the firm said, were "wholly inadequate" in addressing claims of sexual assault, protecting female athletes and university students, and creating a safe environment.

Some students, the findings said, were discouraged from pursuing claims against other students (student athletes) and, in one case, there was retaliation against a complainant for reporting sexual assault.

Because the Pepper Hamilton report was called a summary, multiple voices have called for the release of the "full report." Garland said all information in the report has already been "delivered in the form of an oral presentation that fully and comprehensively presented the individual and aggregated findings and the evidence supporting the findings."

"The Findings of Fact and Recommendations, which were released publicly in a format that protected the privacy of individuals, fully reflect the facts and core failings identified in the investigation. The findings revealed clear opportunities for Baylor to improve," Garland added.

Garland wrote that the report on the sexual assault allegations was "impartial and objective, and they did not hold back in their assessment."

"We fully trust the validity of its investigation. They had access to all requested documents and any Baylor employee they requested to interview," Garland wrote.

Like Starr, Garland wrote that the university would not disclose personal information about the victims in the case, but he claimed they participated in the review. He said the university was committed to making amends with students harmed by the incidents and the school's poor response.

Garland concluded by addressing the steps Baylor and its administrators were taking to make improvements on the campus. He said the staff had already begun to implement changes recommended by Hamilton Pepper. He also asked for faithful prayer for 16,000-strong student body.

Following the report issued by Pepper Hamilton, regents also fired head football coach Art Briles. Athletic Director Ian McCaw later resigned after securing Jim Grobe, formerly the head coach of Wake Forest University, as interim head coach.