AUSTIN, Texas – Baylor University demoted school President Ken Starr and fired football coach Art Briles on Thursday, issuing a scathing report over the university’s handling of sexual assault complaints against players.
The board of regents at the nation’s largest Baptist university said in a statement that Starr, a former prosecutor who investigated the Monica Lewinsky scandal, will vacate the presidency on May 31 and stay on as school chancellor. It said it suspended Briles “with intent to terminate” and placed athletic director Ian McCaw on probation.
Laura Seay, an outspoken critic of the Baylor University’s response to the sexual assault claims says she’s spoken with women who criticized the Baptist school’s handling of such claims when they were students there in the 1970s.
Seay, a 2000 graduate of the Waco, Texas, school, said Thursday that the administration too often has opted to give offenders a second chance and not served as an advocate for victims.
She says she’s not surprised by a law firm’s highly critical report on the school’s handling of sexual assault claims but that she was “shocked” to read that officials retaliated against someone for reporting an assault.
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Now an assistant professor of government at Colby College in Maine, Seay helped draft a critical letter to Baylor regents this year that received more than 1,000 signatures.
Starr asked a law firm last year to review Baylor’s handling of sexual assault cases following allegations that the school mishandled several cases in which football players were accused of attacking women.
Among the firm’s findings was that football coaches and athletics administrators at the school in the central Texas city of Waco had run their own improper investigations into rape claims and that in some cases, they chose not to report such allegations to an administrator outside of athletics.
By running their own “untrained” investigations and meeting directly with a complainant, football staff “improperly discredited” complainants claims and “denied them a right to a fair, impartial and informed investigation.”
“The choices made by football staff and athletics leadership, in some instances, posed a risk to campus safety and the integrity of the University,” the report states.
The report’s “findings of facts” did not name specific coaches or athletics staff.
The university’s statement said the review revealed “a fundamental failure.”
The report also found that’s Baylor was too slow to enact federally-required student conduct processes, and that administrators failed to identify and eliminate a “potential hostile environment” for victims.
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Baylor has faced increasing criticism in recent months for its handling of reports of rape and other violent incidents involving football players and students. One victim has sued the university, saying it was deliberately indifferent to her allegations against a former player who was eventually convicted of sexually assaulting her.
Starr ordered an investigation last year but has been mostly silent amid the criticism. The former prosecutor took over as the university’s president in 2010, about a decade after he investigated former President Clinton’s sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewisnky.
The football team enjoyed unprecedented success under Briles’ tenure, including two Big 12 championships in the last three years. That success brought a financial windfall, and in 2014, Baylor opened a new, $250-million on-campus football stadium. But Briles’ program has also been criticized for recruiting or accepting transfer players without regard to the harm they might cause fellow students.
Starr rode the waves of the program’s success, and often ran on the football field with Baylor students in pregame ceremonies. But as investigations began into the school’s handling of sexual assault allegations against players, Starr provided only brief comments, even as criticism of the school mounted.
In a February statement issued by university, Starr said “our hearts break for those whose lives are impacted by execrable acts of sexual violence.” And at a prayer breakfast last month, Starr told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “I am in favour of transparency. Stand up, take your medicine if you made a mistake.”
Starr initiated the law firm’s review last year, after former football player Sam Ukwuachu was convicted of sexually assaulting a female soccer player.
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Ukwuachu, who was convicted last year, transferred to Baylor after he was dismissed from Boise State. His former girlfriend testified during his rape trial in Texas that he had struck and choked her when he attended Boise State.
Ukwuachu’s former coach, Chris Petersen, now the coach at Washington, said he “thoroughly apprised” Briles about the circumstances of Ukuwachu’s dismissal. Briles disputed that account, saying he talked with Petersen and there was no mention of the incident.
The school is also facing a federal lawsuit from a former student claiming the school was “deliberately indifferent” to rape allegations levied at a former football player Tevin Elliott, who was convicted in 2014 of sexually assaulting the woman.
The uproar following Ukwuachu’s conviction caused Baylor to initiate the review by the Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton, and to announce a $5 million effort to improve efforts on how it responds to sexual assault, including adding another investigator and more staff.
But the Ukwuachu case was just the start of months of revelations of football players being involved in violent incidents with little or no repercussions. At least seven other woman have publicly come forward to say the school ignored their sexual assault allegations.