Baylor University Board Chairman Joel Allison (left) and President Linda Livingstone leave the press conference following a quarterly board of regents meeting on Friday.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte

Baylor University’s accrediting agency gave the school high marks for improvements regarding student safety and response to sexual violence, according to a report indicating Baylor’s warning status could be lifted in December.

A four-day October visit from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges showed Baylor “operated with integrity and has responded to all requests with clarity and truthfulness,” according to a special committee from the agency.

“I can’t speak on behalf of the Commission on Colleges, but we feel really good about the report we got from the visiting committee and the feedback they provided,” Baylor President Linda Livingstone said. “We trust that process and we look forward to the response of the commission in December.”

The agency’s report pointed to clear Title IX-related communications shared with students, a “competent and well-trained” Title IX staff and the verification of 105 improvements Baylor made in the wake of the sexual assault scandal, which enveloped the school for more than a year and a half beginning in August 2015 and still lingers through a host of lawsuits and investigations.

The improvements came courtesy of Pepper Hamilton LLP, the Philadelphia law firm hired by the university to investigate its response to sexual assault allegations and Title IX compliance. Pepper Hamilton’s investigation began in the fall of 2015 and concluded with an oral briefing to the school’s regents in May 2016, which led to the firings of Ken Starr as president, head football coach Art Briles, and ultimately the resignation of former Athletics Director Ian McCaw, who had been sanctioned following the investigation.

Baylor’s board of regents released a 13-page document following Pepper Hamilton’s inquiry, as well as the 105 recommendations for improvement. The board has not released the report in full, despite repeated calls for transparency from alumni, faculty, students and the media.

“We have been very self-reflective as an institution,” said Livingstone, who assumed Baylor’s presidency on June 1 following interim President David Garland’s yearlong term after Starr’s removal. “We have learned some very painful lessons as an institution, and so because of that, we are a much better and stronger institution than we were before.”

The agency reported more effective oversight of Baylor’s athletics department and more direct communication lines between senior administrators and compliance specialists.

“We’re continuing to engage with survivors and making sure we’re meeting those needs,” Board Chairman Joel Allison said. “We always have a concern for our people and for our students. As you saw, that’s one of the areas Dr. Livingstone and the board is really focused on, is being secure and demonstrating this is a safe place. While we still have lawsuits and investigations, we will continue to work cooperatively.

“Most importantly, we want to take care of our students and we want to work with survivors in any way that is possible, to work with them and reach out to them.”

Regents attended their second quarterly meeting under revised governance structures designed to increase board transparency and community trust in the board. Allison said engagement among regents has improved since the changes were made.

Livingstone continued her restructuring of senior administration. She has already announced several high-level changes, including the departures of longtime Baylor administrators Reagan Ramsower and Tommye Lou Davis.

The Division of Development and Constituent Engagement, which Davis oversaw, has been integrated into a new Office of Advancement. Baylor’s Division of Marketing and Communications created an Office of External Affairs to streamline communication between the university and local nonprofits, school districts and other community organizations.

The group of senior administrators, previously known as the Executive Council, has been restructured to include fewer administrators and is now called the President’s Council.

Livingstone also established a University Council to include the President’s Council with deans and vice provosts.

Ramsower’s former role, senior vice president and chief operating officer, will be restructured as a chief business officer, she said.

Allison said regents are optimistic about Livingstone’s academic strategic plan, which could be adopted in May. Livingstone has indicated her goals to make Baylor a tier-one research university, an aim which has also been central to the strategic plans adopted under other recent former Baylor presidents.

Other business

Regents approved the purchase of 103 acres behind the Willis Family Equestrian Center, south of La Salle Avenue on South University Parks Drive. About $1.2 million will fund relocation of IT and utility lines before the Interstate 35 widening project, according to the university. The money comes from the Texas Department of Transportation.

Phillip has covered higher education for the Tribune-Herald since November 2015.

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