Two Baylor University regents said the board is evaluating whether to release more information from a nine-month review of the school’s handling of sexual assault allegations during the past several years. Regents also said Baylor is in “good shape” financially, which faculty and staff leaders repeated.
The comments came in Tribune-Herald interviews after a Thursday meeting between Baylor regents, administrators, faculty and staff regarding a sexual assault scandal that has lingered for more than a year.
It was the second time this week regents had met with faculty and staff, and two more meetings are scheduled this month for regents to answer questions from Baylor employees. Questions are submitted beforehand, and regents are asked follow-up questions during the meetings, according to Baylor’s website.
Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP presented its findings to the board without written materials, said Regent David Harper, a Dallas lawyer. Pepper Hamilton found “fundamental failure” in Baylor’s Title IX implementation and a football program operating “above the rules,” regents reported in May.
“In that presentation, we heard a lot of information, and when you heard that information we knew we needed to take action,” Harper said. “We couldn’t wait for some long, written document, which we understood would take six months or more to get. We needed to take action.”
Regents also released Pepper Hamilton’s 105 recommendations for improving Baylor’s institutional responses to sexual violence. The board accepted those as mandates.
This month, board Chairman Ron Murff said a full, written report of Pepper Hamilton’s findings is “under consideration.”
The protection of sexual assault victims’ identities is at the forefront of whether or not more relevant information could be released, Harper said Thursday.
“The presentation took an individual person and what happened to them,” Harper said. “Their assault, and then all the very difficult events and trauma in and around that, and then how they processed with Baylor. It’s so individualistic, if you produced a report that went along the lines of what they heard, you would black out almost the whole thing. So it wouldn’t really be helpful. What you heard from those individual vignettes — if you would, individual stories — then you’ve got lessons learned from those, and the lessons learned are really the 105 recommendations, so they’re there.”
Pepper Hamilton attorneys reviewed over 1 million documents, Baylor reported in May.
Harper also said there are legal reasons that regents are required not to discuss.
Regent Mark McCollum, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Halliburton, said the details of the cases were “horrible and disturbing” for regents to hear.
“You can redact certain information, but the reality is the cases are specific enough that they put the victims at substantial risk in the small community like we have,” McCollum said. “There’s nothing to be gained in our view, at least at this front, given the time and the cost — not just financial cost, but the cost to the victims — to put more information out than what we’ve done. What we’ve given you is everything else that was relevant to the review itself.”
Good financial shape
McCollum, who oversees Baylor’s finances, said the school is in “good shape” financially.
Faculty Senate Chairman Byron Newberry said the school’s finances was a concern for meeting attendees.
“That’s kind of a common talking point, ‘Boy, Baylor must be paying a lot of money over this,’ ” Newberry said. “According to (McCollum), Baylor’s in good financial health in the sense that we’re under budget for this year, and our future budgets look fine.”
McCollum told faculty and staff that Baylor has a reserve for situations involving financial settlements and lawsuits, Newberry said.
“There are contingencies in place for those sorts of things, and those contingencies have worked,” Newberry said.
Prominent Baylor donors formed Bears for Leadership Reform, a group that has publicly criticized regents’ handling of the crisis. Regent Emeritus Drayton McLane, major donor John Eddie Williams, former regent and former Baylor Alumni Association President Emily Tinsley and former Texas Gov. Mark White participate in the group.
Last month, Williams said donors were rebuffed by regents while asking for more information of Pepper Hamilton’s findings. He also said he knows of donors who have withheld their donations because of the scandal.
The board has since had conversations with Bears for Leadership Reform, Harper said Thursday, to listen to concerns and have dialogue.
“I think a lot of people trust us a lot, but people are always open to ask fair questions and we try to answer them,” Harper said. “I like the word ‘forthright’ maybe more than ‘transparency.’ There’s a lot here that just can’t be disclosed for a lot of reasons that folks have talked about before. We do want to be as forthright as we can and talk about things that have happened in the past, but also things as we go forward.”
Regents and faculty and staff leaders agreed the questions posed this week were not sugarcoated.
“The questions haven’t necessarily been softball questions,” McCollum said. “They’ve been tough questions, and some of them reflect sort of hard feelings, we think, and it’s not any intent through the discussion to de-legitimize those questions at all. Just to be straightforward and answer and give context to the decisions we had to make.”
David Garland, Baylor’s interim president, discussed stages of grief in Thursday’s meeting, said Will Telfer, chairman of the Baylor Staff Council. Members of Baylor’s community are in different stages of grief, Telfer said.
“I think these meetings are a step in the right direction, and I think the regents realize that, and that’s why they’re so willing to do them,” Telfer said. “But I think there’s been so much information out there and so many things to read, and some people read more than others. Some people choose to scan or scour the web for a Baylor fan site to get their information from, and it’s hard because it’s information overload in a sense. People that I’ve talked to are all kind of in different stages.”
In May, regents fired Ken Starr as president and Art Briles as head football coach. Athletic Director Ian McCaw was sanctioned and placed on probation but resigned days later. Liberty University hired McCaw to the same role this week.
Since 2014, two former Baylor football players — Tevin Elliott and Sam Ukwuachu — have been convicted on sexual assault charges. Former player Shawn Oakman was arrested in April on a sexual assault charge and has since been indicted.
Newberry said he has heard of Baylor professors upset when non-Baylor friends tell them the latest news, while the Baylor professors had not been made aware of that news.
“People don’t like the feeling of having to find out from someone else who’s not on campus about something that happened at Baylor,” he said.