Former Baylor University President Ken Starr recently sat down with the Tribune-Herald to discuss his time at Baylor, which he writes about in a new book, "Bear Country: The Baylor Story." Starr also discusses the school's ongoing sexual assault scandal, which saw him removed as president by the Baylor Board of Regents before he resigned from his other roles as chancellor and law professor.
Tribune-Herald higher education reporter Phillip Ericksen and opinion editor Bill Whitaker conducted the interview, which has been lightly edited.
Ericksen: How did the book get started?
Starr: My agent, who is a Baylor Bear, Sealy Yates, in Orange County, California, when I contacted him in September, the book was very far along, and I said, “I’m very eager for the book to be part of the unfolding conversation about, what is Baylor? What’s its future?” And he said, “Well whenever you finish it, then just mark your calendar one year from that date.” And I said, “Well, I know that’s the usual way but we need to do better than that. I want it out by Christmas.” He said, “It’s impossible.” I said, “Well, what can we do?” So, we explored different options and he said, “We’re going to have to self-publish.” But in this day, I mean, years ago what does that mean? It meant vanity press. But there’s an industry out there, so you can bring it on pretty quickly. It still wasn’t quite as quick as I expected, but yes.
E: Who do you consider your audience in this, and who are you writing to?
S: Baylor nation, and then more broadly, those who are interested in higher education generally and then Christian higher education more specifically.
Whitaker: Why that audience?
S: I wanted to reflect on Baylor and to tell the Baylor story. I fell in love with Baylor’s story, and then, as I explain in the book, when I was reflecting on the potential opportunity to come to Baylor, an opportunity that I did not seek, in reading about it, I was drawn into: It’s either Baylor or nowhere in terms of a comprehensive research university that’s unapologetically Christian in the non-Catholic tradition. And you’d have to say, well that sounds a lot like Notre Dame, and it does. So in the non-Catholic tradition, so let’s just say in the Protestant or Evangelical tradition, as wonderful as schools are such as Pepperdine, Biola, name your favorite Christian college, this is it. It’s the only, by the hard work of people really going back obviously to the founding, but I was very interested then in bringing it forward to, aha, we’re not just a medical science university, in Samuel Palmer Brooks in his contribution in the early 20th century, but we’re going to be a very serious academic research institution, and that’s Dr. Armstrong in 1951. So I just fell in love with the story. So if you go to Biola, you go to Westmont, you go to Abilene Christian University, Hardin-Simmons, name your university. Wheaton College, I tell a Wheaton College story there, that as great as Wheaton College is, it’s a sort of Amherst or Williams College in the Christian community, but it would not purport to be a research university.
W: I enjoyed the story about Sam Houston in the creek, poisoning the fish downstream as his sins were washed away.
S: (laughter) I am a sixth-generation Texan on my father’s side, so I’m endlessly fascinated, as most native Texans are, by our history. And I knew Baylor was an important part of that history, I just honestly had not appreciated it until I came into the Baylor family.
W: You donate a whole chapter to Baylor’s history.
S: To which people said, “I’ve been a Baylor Bear for my entire adult life. I didn’t know this.” Well, that suggests that these different elements of Baylor’s very rich history needed to be brought together in a very simple, short, I hope, sweet book.
W: It struck me as almost a scrapbook of mostly fond memories. You get the Big 12 disintegration in there. I think you titled that chapter, “Rookie.”
S: Appropriately so.
W: How do you describe this book?
S: A love story to and about Baylor.
E: What should the book teach leaders in Christian higher education who read this?
S: It should teach them, I hope, to not necessarily say, “Me too. We want to be a Harvard on the Rappahannock or a Yale on the Mississippi.” But we’re not Harvard and we’re not Yale. But we’re in the serious arena of very serious research and scholarship and so there should be a looking to Baylor for intellectual and academic leadership.
E: And is that a direction you see Baylor continuing in?
S: Yes. In fact, emphatically so. Because when I looked around, and Pepperdine (where Starr was previously law school dean) is almost in the arena, so to speak, but it can’t get there. There’s just too much, it can’t get there in the next half century. So when you look at when our Ph.Ds in chemistry and biology, our connections with the medical community, the founding of the Baylor College of Medicine, the founding of what is now Baylor Scott & White Health, the founding of the dental school and still happily the school of nursing, I doubt if any school if it were starting on that course could achieve it in the next half century.
W: You mention in the book at one point how Pepperdine always looks to Baylor for guidance about where it needs to go.
S: That is exactly right. When I would sit with my provost, I was brand new to full-time academic administration. So that was my first tour of duty, and I reported, as I indicate in the book, to the provost, who looked very openly to what was happening at Baylor University under Vision 2012, and he would talk about that. So I learned a fair amount about Baylor from reporting to the provost at Pepperdine.
W: You write about some of the things that erupt late in the book. Do you think Pepperdine and universities still find value in looking at Baylor, or do you think maybe it’s been knocked off the kilt because of all the publicity?
S: The short answer is no because the faculty endures. If you interview faculty members at Baylor University, you, to my knowledge, don’t see indications of, “Oh my word, we are off course.” I will name names. Recently, I was at the WISD cook-off with Pat Farmer, who is the chair of the chemistry department. He held a chair at a great research university, University of California at Irvine. He’s here, and he’s actively recruiting to strengthen an already strong department, and he’s enjoying success. There’s one illustration in the sciences. One of my favorites in the humanities is John Haldane, perhaps the leading English-speaking philosopher of our time, who holds a chair at St. Andrews and now is at Baylor University for half the year, who rides his bicycle around campus, in Mr. Chips-style. He loves Baylor, so that process of teaching and research. I met with students as recently as this morning at Common Grounds. The students are very happy. I also have research projects underway. I have two undergraduates who are paid assistants. So they give me an excuse to come back to campus.
E: In the chapter called, “Inclusion,” a sentence that stuck out to me is, “The Baylor Way is to seek to avoid conflict.” Tell me about the importance of that.
S: It’s part of the culture. It’s the atmosphere that we breathe, and I tie it to the Christian commitment that it’s better not to have conflict to begin with. And if you have to resolve it as quickly as possible, don’t let the sun go down on your wrath, go to your brother or sister and try to iron things out. And I sense that in my own relationships with the faculty, even if there was a reservation about a particular project that I had underway. There was politeness and respect, and it’s such a sharp contrast from what happens at so many faculty meetings around the country, which can just be very acrimonious, not that there hasn’t been acrimony in the past at Baylor in terms of the direction of Baylor. And I talk about that in Vision 2012 and the very lively conversation. But there is, I believe, overall, a Christian-informed culture of respecting the contrary voice, respecting the contrary view and listening.
W: You had plenty of contrary views on diversity, it seems like. It was pretty striking. Some people were afraid of what this might mean for them. Others were angry that more couldn’t be done quicker. There was a lot of conflict.
S: That’s a fair point, and that was out of character. So I was very intrigued by, why is this? As I say in that chapter, there was, I believe, an assumption that this was a “fait accompli,” (a French phrase meaning an accomplished deed) that there would be a “chief diversity officer” who would be armed with certain powers and the like, without there having been the conversation, the full open conversation. And the town hall meetings did not go particularly well, and I talked to faculty members who felt as if they weren’t entirely comfortable in expressing their views which might be running to the contrary of the majority view or the outspoken view. And so my judgment there was, let’s really have a serious conversation so that we essentially call a timeout. Let’s look at the structure instead of saying we’ll simply find a mechanism for establishing a particular office. We’re going to look more broadly, holistically, at the entire set of issues involving inclusion, and I wanted a leading person who had been chair of the faculty senate who had been on the board of regents, so she had the great respect of the faculty and she also was tied into the regents as well. She, I felt I don’t know whether she’s still in that project, or not because she’s now vice provost.
E: And that’s Lori Baker. Speaking of a faculty-board relationship, I’m curious of your thoughts on the board’s governance reforms that were passed.
S: I’m not going to comment on governance issues at this time.
W: How about the Bears for Leadership Reform?
S: I’m not going to comment on governance issues at this time. I do suggest in the book there needs to be a very healthy relationship among the different stakeholders but especially with the faculty.
W: It’s a fair question. At one point very early in the book you mentioned being surprised when you were interviewed because it was all regents interviewing you. As you say in legal terms, you’ve brought the question up, so I’m following.
S: It’s a very fair question. There’s just such a swirl of conversation right now, and there are litigations pending. There are investigations pending, including investigations that may examine governance issues. So, I think it’s imprudent right now. But yes, I did think that that was odd. It’s not a criticism, but it was odd for a search committee, and I serve as I indicate on two boards of trustees at American University and Shenandoah University, so I’ve been through search processes as a member of the fiduciary group, that there were no faculty members. But as I said, every institution has its own culture. There was an advisory committee, and I talk about that with (Baylor regent) Clifton (Robinson) and Ken Hall, who was the chair of the advisory committee.
E: Later on in the book you write about Title IX. I wanted to ask about your concerns with the preponderance of the evidence standard. Can you explain those concerns?
S: I’m deeply vexed by the entire structure that has been erected in American colleges and universities, fundamentally on the basis of our institutional incapacity to be effective adjudicators of these kinds of issues. It’s one thing to say in the pure Title IX situation that, “I am suffering from the lack of opportunity on grounds of sex or gender because there are no women’s sports here. There are no women’s intramurals.” Those are the kinds of issues, of equality of opportunity, that Title IX was designed to get at. And continuing until, effectively, the April 4, 2011 (“Dear Colleague Letter”) which was not law, but I believe has been followed as if it were law. And I honestly think that, with all respect, the Department of Education got badly off the track in terms of what Title IX was all about, and then causing universities to erect these adjudicatory structures that have essentially collapsed.
E: With new leadership settling in at the Department of Education, where would you foresee Title IX going?
S: To be honest, I’ve had no conversations in Washington, D.C., about the entire Department of Education, with the exception of one conversation with the head of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, on whose board I served. But we actually didn’t talk about Title IX. So it’s so early on.
W: What kind of recommendations would you have? You’re a federal judge, university president, legal scholar, constitutional scholar. Where do you think we ought to be going on Title IX?
S: Even though I don’t think it’s contemplated by Title IX, I believe it’s a matter of good policy, as opposed to compliance with federal law, for there to be very vigorous prevention education programs and response programs. But that’s simply part of our moral obligation to our students and to their parents and to their loved ones. My quarrel really comes with the adjudicatory process that includes a reduction of the standard of proof, even though these episodes are not atypically crimes. And the higher education community, I think, has struggled unsuccessfully to strike the right balance to achieve fundamental fairness to everyone concerned. And why is that? We’re not courts. We simply lack the expertise, and I think we lack the traditions of the law and the judicial system to ensure all persons, to the fullest extent possible, are fully protected.
W: You’re referring to things like due process, I assume.
S: That’s exactly what I’m referring to. So when I was asked to speak at Columbia Law School, I really looked into some considerable detail Columbia’s own experience. I was vaguely aware of the United States Court of Appeals decision that reinstated, there was no final adjudication, but reinstated a federal lawsuit brought by a young man. When I talked to his lawyer, I said, “I think he’s going to win, because just look at the story.” So when you look at Doe vs. Columbia University, a unanimous opinion authored by one of the leading appellate judges in our country who was seriously under consideration for elevation to the Supreme Court by President Obama. So when you take all of that together and read how thoughtful the opinion is, saying you’ve got to keep the balance true, and we just haven’t been able to do that. For example, during my watch, we brought in a retired justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and a retired justice on the Iowa Supreme Court to adjudicate specific cases. And one would step back and say, “Why are we doing this? Because our adjudicators were overwhelmed with complaints?” But also, I had Title IX adjudicatory training and I will say this, as a lawyer and as a former judge, the official Title IX training for adjudicators does not translate into courts being able to be fair tribunals of justice. One person’s opinion. We have had centuries of development of the criminal law and criminal procedure, and we find in our country, that criminal procedure is embedded in our constitutional order. It’s not just an interpretation of a statute, and so we departed from all of those traditions temporarily. So, I’m not going to make a predictive judgment, but I think this is an area that so many colleges and universities are crying out for thoughtful guidance.
E: Do you believe changes are needed to the criminal side of things, in order to help alleged victims? That’s a tough process. People talk about reliving the trauma of the event in a police report or having a defense attorney try to delegitimize the situation?
S: I agree. It is not an easy thing to simply say, “Well, the criminal justice system will handle it.” But my point remains: Can we improve the criminal justice system? Of course we can. Can we, for the first time in the history of American higher education, develop, essentially, a tribunal system for this kind of adjudication in a campus setting? The other thing that I think makes it very difficult is that, in my experience, every one, and you will have other information based on your reporting, every one of the episodes was an off-campus episode. And so query, do we have jurisdiction over that? Page four of the April 4, 2011 letter acknowledges that gap. We don’t send our academic advisers right out to Mexico City, unless we have a Mexico City campus. I use that as an odd analogy.
W: Which goes back to a frustration that it’s not just Baylor, it’s all universities that are being held responsible. … What does that mean we need to do in terms of Title IX and civil rights?
S: I really do think that it should be a matter of good and humane policy, especially at a Christian university that cares about its students, as opposed to, “Here are federal mandates. One size fits all.” If you receive, through Pell grants and otherwise, federal financial assistance, then this entire apparatus is triggered, and I think that cuts against our system of a federal republic, private universities versus public, the different responsibilities that we might have.
E: How would you characterize these same discussions you had with the executive council in the wake of the first “Dear Colleague Letter”?
S: Well, I try to chronicle the evolution, as it were, of our focusing on student safety as a whole. And so Title IX and the guidance that we received was simply part of the overall set of concerns about, are our students safe? And we actually had issues about the jurisdiction of campus police with respect to an off-campus event and so forth. And that’s why, as I chronicle, we brought in Margolis Healy, a leading consulting firm, to take a look at us. Here we are, open and transparent, what do we need to improve? It was really out of that, that the Title IX full-time coordinator came. And I think you’re so familiar with this, you both are, that you know that we were ahead of the guidance being then given about six months later by the Office for Civil Rights that you needed a Title IX coordinator. In fact, if I could do a footnote, I think there is a general misperception that we failed to establish a Title IX office. We established a Title IX coordinator consistent with OCR guidance and the April 4, 2011, letter, by its terms contemplates that that officer, whoever she is, is going to have other responsibilities. So there was an evolution in OCR’s thinking during the Obama years as to what is really appropriate and necessary and the like.
W: We know there was an evolution in terms of what Baylor is doing. We heard it when Gov. White was here. He feels like a lot of people do, that they didn’t do enough. Are you basically saying the Department of Education was still trying to figure this out, too?
W: Their thinking was still evolving in an incremental stage, or am I misreading this?
S: You are reading it exactly correctly. Again, there is a sense, “Well you didn’t establish a full-time Title IX mechanism consistent with the April 4, 2011 letter,” and that’s factually untrue. We always had, to my knowledge, we certainly intended to, and I believe did, always were in compliance with OCR guidance or seeking to put ourselves in full compliance. But I remember dealing with our Title IX coordinators including when Karla Leeper, who had been chief of staff, then becomes vice president for risk management. She became the Title IX coordinator because our head of human resources, John Whelan, who is extraordinarily capable, and with whom I met, he didn’t report to me, but I met with him regularly, he was our Title IX coordinator. So the Title IX coordinator or officer at Baylor University was always a very high-ranking member of senior leadership. That is to say, not someone, as it were, figuratively speaking, down in the basement where the light does not shine. But also dealing directly with the president, dealing directly with the board of regents. And as you know, I gave high marks and continue to give high marks to the board of regents in terms of its stewardship on the entire Title IX effort, through especially the audit and compliance committee. But the entire board, during my tenure, was very mindful of the need for student safety generally, and so I would continue and have publicly continued to defend not simply the administration but the board of regents in terms of our seeking to do our best. Now, that’s a perspective, and you’re reporting on different perspectives.
E: Based on that characterization, it would sound like you disagree with some of what was in the “Findings of Fact” document.
S: I have a different perspective.
E: When Pepper Hamilton started, were you expecting to give a rebuttal to what those findings were?
S: No, but I was expecting, and I don’t mean this as a criticism, I was expecting a report along the lines of Pepper Hamilton’s Occidental College report. And that was, in fact, held up by Pepper Hamilton in my own conversations with them as, I don’t want to say model, but as an example of, here’s what we do. And that’s very consistent with what I would expect. Bring in an outside entity, and you have, perhaps, an executive report. You have, perhaps, highly sensitive information. You obviously have FERPA (The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and other legal, as well as policy, requirements. But you do, in fact, provide a report. I had not anticipated filing a dissent to the report, but for one thing, the report was, of course, to the board. Under the structure, the Pepper Hamilton lawyers reported to the special committee of the board.
W: I’ve made this point a couple of times on the opinion page, that it may have been a strategic blunder by not having a report. Because this thing has dribbled out now for months, instead of having a report like Occidental. I have not actually read the report, but I know how they handled it.
S: You don’t even have to read it. Much of the issues were peculiar to that institution. But you see the structure and the format, which would be, what I would simply call, an orthodox format.
W: If there had been an Occidental-style report, would that have changed the dynamics of what we’ve seen since last May?
S: It certainly would have contributed to a reasoned discussion about going forward as well as looking behind. But beyond that, I don’t think I should comment.
E: You talked about the off-campus incidents and you wrote, “Baylor is not insulated from the winds of social change.” I was reminded of our interview with Dr. Garland last summer when he said implementing the recommendations and policies are very doable, and changing culture and the root causes of assaults is the tough part. What is the best way to take a hard look at this culture?
S: I think the hard look has been taken, and I believe there are limits to the efficacy of training. Training is very important, but as you know, one alleged incident not involving the sports program took place within two weeks after Title IX training. So there simply has to be, I believe, a culture, and we can contribute to that by training such as, “It’s On Us.” (Vice President for Student Life) Kevin (Jackson) uses the great example of, “Friends don’t let friends drive.” And I think that is a very apt analogy. “I see that trouble is about to happen and I need to be a friend.” And so the parable of the Good Samaritan is triggered here. There’s someone who is in trouble, and I need to step in, as opposed to, “Well, that’s the decision of those individuals involved,” that you really have the responsibility to care, and frankly, the responsibility to intervene. And then it becomes a question of the leadership of the organization, if it is an organization, and it frequently is, that is sponsoring the social event. With respect to alcohol abuse, I would ask questions around the round table with respect to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Is there any sign at college campuses in Texas of their activity? Because it’s a serious crime to be knowingly serving alcohol to someone who is not of age. And especially when you think about people arriving here, perhaps from loving homes and sheltered environments, then finding themselves in what might very well be, given youth and immaturity, a position of real vulnerability, what then is the responsibility of that community and circle of friends?
E: So are you saying there should more training in college and high school regarding what to be ready for in college, in how to conduct yourself?
S: Let me speak first to the college. This was a process of learning and adapting and trying to always adhere to best practices. So as a part of orientation, as a part of line camp, these issues found their way in. It was an evolving, maturing system. I have not thought through the high school situation and what the high schools can and should be doing, and they may be doing a lot. It’s different on us because they’ve become emancipated to the extent, typically 99 percent are not living at home anymore. So they are living elsewhere, and I tell you, if I had my way, we would be a residential campus. I would love that. And we kept moving toward the 50 percent goal after we had kept declining with the idea that it was different age. Many students are veterans who return to college after a life experience or a gap year or what have you and they “want to live off campus.” I love and kept lifting up the Brooks College model and the RA (resident assistant) model. Seek to become an RA. The training will serve you. It’s a very worthy work, just staying in community life, as opposed to, “I’m eager to get off campus,” perhaps, for very Title IX neutral reasons. But nonetheless, those were the venues where, to my knowledge, every single incident occurred.
E: Brooks College hosts family dinners on Sunday nights at the Harry Potter style-tables.
S: That’s a great way to put it. There it was. That was a little microcosm of what the students have known because (Brooks College Residential Faculty Steward) Rishi (Sriram’s) family sits there. So here are the children at the table, and you are looking up as a rookie, as it were, as a freshman and you’re having family dinner, and the food is served family style by the students themselves. It’s so pure, and I just wish we had more Brooks Colleges. Not that that’s going to totally resolve the problem because people are going to go off campus, right. But I think the fact that so many, the vast majority of upper-class persons, live off campus, is conducive to a behavior that is less than ideal.
W: Do you feel like you’ve written this book too soon? Every day something explodes on this scene.
S: No, but it fits into the matrix, I believe. There’s nothing that suggests that you need to go rewrite a chapter, especially because this is the Baylor story. It’s not reporting on the day-to-day episodes, and now the Texas Rangers are coming to town. That was not the purpose of the book.
W: If your editor called up and said, “We’re going to hold the book one more month.” If there's one more thing you could fold into this book, what would it be if you had one more chapter?
S: It would be about the value of transparency, but I think I said that, that sunshine is the great disinfectant. You’ve heard me say that more than once. That was the perspective that I believed in then and believe in now.
W: Some forget that you were the one who recommended Pepper Hamilton to the board of regents and they took your choice. Did you ever have cause to regret the choice or perhaps how they did their job? How did you feel about the rest of the investigation?
S: I recommended them to the board, and the board retained them. To be honest, I don’t know. And the reason is, is that I deliberately kept at an arm’s length from what they were doing and how they were doing it. I did have liaison meetings with Chris Holmes, now the general counsel, just so we could continue to run the university. I’ll speak hypothetically. If we had found a murderer, I would want to know that, as opposed to, well, they need to just report that to the board. I use that as a hyperbolic example. So I honestly don’t know.
W: You hear a lot of things regarding Pepper Hamilton not interviewing enough folks. Some say they seemed to have a prejudicial notion of what to do. You hear all kinds of things.
S: I leave that to others who had their own perspectives and experiences. I must say I was very aware of the need to protect both the appearance and the reality of the independence of the investigation, so that it could not be said that the administration was directly or indirectly trying to influence or shape the course of the investigation or its conclusions.
W: In your final chapter you suggested that, perhaps, because of Baylor’s institutions in terms of Christian research and Christian faith, that, perhaps, it was held out to a higher standard than other universities. Do you want to elaborate on that?
S: I think overall that there was, and is, and continues to be a rush to judgment, and allegations are taken as, essentially, truth. Whereas, as a lawyer, I know allegations are allegations. So it’s only in the crucible of litigation, and as an alumnus of the Duke Law School I’m assiduously aware of the need not to rush to judgment. So, I would counsel the media not to assume guilt. That’s precisely what happened in the Duke case. There are other examples of that, and these are increasingly, as you know, being chronicled and are increasingly the stuff of litigation.
W: As a university president until this past May, how widespread of a problem is this? I was watching somebody on ESPN, after Kim Mulkey made her comments, and someone said, “This is not a widespread problem. This is a Baylor problem.” Refute that if you can.
S: Read the daily newspapers about this allegation against this university football team or this Stanford swimmer and the like. I think there is a cultural problem. Now, to what extent are acts of sexual violence a problem? According to Stuart Taylor, the author of the recent book along with K.C. Johnson, the Bureau of Justice statistics take issue with that which is in the public domain that one out of five undergraduates, overwhelmingly women, experience an act of sexual violence. Now that’s very broadly defined, unwanted touchings and so forth. I have not gone back to look at this, but Stuart Taylor told me that that’s just wrong. He has been interviewed on ESPN Radio right here in Central Texas. I heard that. I don’t think (David) Smoak asked him that specific question, but Stuart Taylor told me, and he calls that a frenzy. That’s not my term. That’s the term of someone who graduated first in his class at the Harvard Law School and was The New York Times' Supreme Court reporter. So his bona fides are pretty powerful. He’s very experienced, and he is a truth seeker, just tell me the facts, tell me the facts.
W: When you would go to conferences, would you hear other university presidents talk about this as a common problem?
W: I’m surprised.
S: The Title IX set of issues were not the burning subject until very recently. I am going to go to a conference as a former president of a Southern University Conference. There are about 80 schools in the south that are members of the Southern University Conference. But that tends to be more personal. I must say, in talking with my dear friend David Warren, the president of National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, it’s really just wait and see. But there’s a sense that there will be significant examination of higher education, generally, by the administration. But that’s consistent with the concern during the Obama years by the bipartisan Senate that, put together under Lamar Alexander’s leadership, and he’s still the chair of the relevant committee, a task force on regulatory reform in higher education came forward with about 110 recommendations, sound familiar, with respect to here’s how we can reduce the regulatory burden on colleges and universities, which are a contributing factor, I’m not saying a driving factor, but certainly a contributing factor to higher tuition, rising tuition costs.
W: Pepper Hamilton’s 105 recommendations, are they good ideas? Do you have a few reservations, or are they missing something?
S: To be honest, I would need to go back and just reread the recommendations. Now, remember the recommendations are one sentence each and some of them are broadly worded and the like. But no, I’ve never criticized the recommendations, and I’m not going to today.
W: Is there something ever that you wish you’d done different? If there’s one thing you wish you’d done now that comes upon you with the fullness of time?
S: In light of her comments, I wish that I had had a clearer line of communication with Patty Crawford. I said in October that I would take anything that Patty Crawford says with seriousness, but I had an open door. I met with students regularly. I met with student leadership regularly. I went faithfully to Dr Pepper Hour. I was always communicating with the students, and this issue was never brought before us as a systemic cultural kind of issue, as opposed to, “Oh, look what happened in the X case or the Y case.”
W: It seems like things really melted down after your departure.
S: And once again I’m going to rally, not that it’s necessary, to the defense of the board of regents, because the audit and compliance committee has essentially devoted extra hours to the issues of risk. We were always on very solid financial footing, so it was not financial issues. It was the whole complex of, “What are the risks out there?” Well, Title IX was certainly one of them, increasingly. This is a year-plus before the Sam Ukwuachu case, and suddenly the media attention is brought. And Patty Crawford spent hours in the audit and compliance committee meeting. I was almost always there for the entirety of the meeting because other committees were getting ready for meetings the next day. The chair of audit and compliance committee is not the chair of the board. I had other duties. I had my own president's report and so forth. So, I am nonetheless confident, even though I wasn’t in for every minute for every one of those sessions, that never were these issues (raised by Crawford) brought to the attention of the board of regents during my tenure.
W: We’ve read that, under evolving Title IX standards, Title IX coordinators must be involved in areas of the university that may not be used to having increased oversight by Title IX. When Crawford was just getting underway, did you find that she had to be involved in a lot of things that, in the past, maybe weren’t part of the bailiwick?
S: No, I didn't. And maybe I was the only one who didn’t see that but I felt that she was rightly within her province, and we would ask her around the (executive council) table, as well as in private meetings, that she had direct reporting relationships as well, “Do you have the resources that you need?” There were times that we knew she was really tired and she said, “By the way, once we are very visible, we will have a higher number of reports coming to us of incidents.” And she said, “That is just going to happen.” So she prepared us for that. But I did not sense, on her part, a lack of support during my tenure.
E: Both Bears for Leadership Reform and Texas Rep. Roland Gutierrez (who first called for the Texas Rangers to investigate Baylor) have cited Crawford’s claims. What she said carried a lot of weight.
S: Absolutely. But it’s also been supplemented by the other person (former Title IX staffer Gabrielle Lyons), whom I, frankly, I did not know well. I'm sure I had some interaction with her. She essentially echoed Patty’s comments, and so I said, “Did we miss something? Were there reports coming in that we are not responding, and the like?” I continue to be befuddled. At the same time, I have great respect for Patty.
W: Kim Mulkey had an outburst. She was frustrated and said something about, “it’s time to move on.” What was your thinking about that?
S: I love Kim Mulkey. I was a support person for her. In terms of meeting with families, I loved doing that. She asked me to do that more than (men’s head basketball coach) Scott (Drew) did. I'm not attributing her success to that, but she was just so focused on building that program and holding the students accountable and the like. But I don't like to see that language used. And certainly the sentiment, which was hyperbolic, it was rhetorical hyperbole, lended itself automatically to criticism. As soon as I heard it, I regretted that the frustration, which has to be enormous for all of our coaches, came bubbling to the surface.
W: At Texas Tribune Festival, you rallied to Coach Briles’ defense. He’s issued a statement recently. What do you make of his stance?
S: I continue to believe that Art Briles is an honorable man. There may have been ways, and he would have to speak to it, of improving accountability, but I do not believe Art Briles conducted himself in a dishonorable way. However, we don't have all the facts. We have these email and text messages, and I don't know how to assess them. I've always been of the view that you need to have all the facts and then you assess them. So it would be my hope that we have all the facts because we need to have transparency. We need to have truth out there so we can come to informed judgments.
E: Based on those messages, that may have been taken out of context, would you deem those a fireable offense?
S: Not from what I read, because I’d have to look at the context. If you take one email and you don't see the string of emails and so forth, what was the nature of the concern and the like, I don’t know how you could come to a reasoned judgment. At least, I didn't see anything. Now, I have not made a careful study of all those materials but I think there’s no dispute that the materials are not complete.
W: Rep. Gutierrez seemed to be suggesting doubts about the Baylor PD, even Waco PD it seemed at some point, and possible collusion. What was your response to the representative?
S: Once again, I don’t know facts that would suggest to me that there was dishonorable conduct. Let’s just get all the facts, and perhaps that’s one of the advantages, not that I welcome it as someone who has adopted Baylor and is fiercely pro-Baylor, but through some mechanism, we need to get all the facts out assess them and then we can move forward.
W: A part of this book talks about the Baylor Alumni Association and Judge (Ed) Kinkeade’s work and (Baylor regent) Cary Gray’s work, and the work done to patch that up. Do you feel like what we’ve seen since then is a resumption of that battle by some of the same forces, or is this something completely different?
S: It seems to be related. But it is different. That is, the bringing in from an institutional perspective, the alumni relations function into the university is an enormously important step forward for the reasons that I lay out. And I never wavered from that. The only issue is, “Well, what do we do in terms of our day-to-day relationships with the BAA and my announced policy, which was courtesy respect, and hospitality?” And we tried to follow that. Now, I think there are those who would say, “Starr did not follow that.” The tailgating episode, moving the tailgate and so forth, and I think several of our actions could fairly be criticized in terms of fidelity to courtesy, respect and hospitality. And the point is, renewed kudos to Judge Kinkeade and to the regent leadership and Cary Gray, who spent just extraordinary amounts of time in the very detailed negotiations. Bringing that to a conclusion was a great triumph for Baylor University. So, as I said, Judge Kinkeade deserves the Nobel, and obviously, Cary Gray and the other regent leaders deserve an enormous amount of credit for patience, because it was a very protracted negotiation but it was jump-started. The Camp David accords would not have happened without President Carter, and I don’t think this would have happened without Judge Kinkeade. So there’s a lot of credit to go around.
W: Is there too much emphasis placed on college athletics in higher education, when there are so many issues going on at Baylor and other universities?
S: It’s inevitable. It’s a rallying cry. You see this at McMullen-Connally (Faculty Center) every day. What is someone from the department of chemistry going to be talking about over the lunch table with someone from the classics department? So it’s the great source of interest and unity that other activities just cannot have, and so it has been from ancient times. We all rally around. When you read Scripture, the athlete and the laurel leaves and the Olympics and all that, not that the Olympics are specifically mentioned, but it’s just part of human endeavor, and if you tie that to the draw that athletics have for the entire student body. I've done any number of informal interviews thinking that there might be a gender gap. There’s no gender gap. The women students want to see a very successful football program, and my training came early from Red McCombs. Red, who is very generous, loves Baylor. And I haven't talked to him in the last few years, but he had a study done. And sure enough, when the University of Texas football team is doing well, giving to the university, including to the department of physics, goes up. So it’s just a rallying cry. So it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but especially here in the heartland, it is virtually everyone’s cup of tea, iced tea.
E: In that vein you mention the race relations situation at the University of Missouri. Was that a case of athletics going too forward?
S: Yes. There’s no question. It wasn’t so much they forced out a president. Presidents come and presidents go. That’s one thing I made clear. Presidents serve at the pleasure of, and that’s how it should be. But yes, I must say I don't know all the facts, but just reading what I did, I would draw into question why the head football coach would say, “Yes, I am supporting the team to go on strike.” I disapprove of that strong-arm tactic. It’s one of the reasons I say in the chapter on inclusion that we were concerned about the word “demands.” And our wonderful students of color leaders were very understanding about that. We’re a Christian community. I would say, in fact, that especially our African-American leaders were incredibly committed Christians. And so you could speak to them through that beautiful lens or filter of Christian thinking, in the way we treat one another and deal with one another. So these were “requests, suggestions, recommendations.” That to me was the Baylor way. As I keep saying the Baylor way. The Baylor way was, “Let’s have a conversation.” That’s one of the reasons, back to your earlier point about the chief diversity officer, I was just so sorry to see difficulty and rancor arise when we had been able to work our way through delicate issues as a community with the spirit of the round table.
W: It was reported that you are under consideration for a Department of State role. What is the situation?
S: I am informed that I am under serious consideration, but that’s literally all that I know.
W: Nobody has called you at all?
S: We shall see. The administration, as you see, is moving fairly slowly, I would assume deliberately. But there certainly are a number of positions at the State Department, including the deputy secretary of state, who is the chief operating officer of the State Department. So you've got to get some of those things sorted out. I’ve really been very encouraged, including by my dear (former U.S. Congressman) Frank Wolf, who you all have come to know, who just sent a follow-up note yesterday saying, “What else do I need to do?” And Frank is very respected, so I've been very gratified by people saying, “This is something that you should do.” I told Frank he should do it.
W: What is the post, and what is it all about?
S: It was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, and the entire concept was to have an ambassador without a specific country or region portfolio, but at-large, to focus both within the State Department and without on issues of religious freedom generally, but especially focusing on areas of religious persecution against everyone, not just Christians. The Roinga Muslim tribal community in Southeast Asia is someone that office has lifted up, as we’ve got to protect.
W: It seems like the State Department folks, which seem competent, constantly have to remind people what our values really are as opposed to some of the things that come out of the Oval Office. Would that be a tough job to undertake at a time when we have so many other things, including the refugee ban.
S: It’s very difficult, unless you're there and in the mix, to have a deep appreciation for it. But I see what it is you're driving at, and to me, it’s lifting up those fundamental human rights. And you can say, “Well, I disagree with American policy with respect to immigration or the travel ban and so forth, so how can you be talking to me about this?” And I say, we’re here, really, to talk about the values that are embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 18, that all of humanity, including much the Islamic world, subscribed to after World War II. And then it’s been embodied in international covenants. A declaration is a declaration. It’s aspirational. So, “I’m happy to listen to whatever you want to say, and I will report back. And now, I’d really like to talk about the pastor who is imprisoned or the treatment of this group of people on grounds of religion and why it is in the government of X country’s best interest to treat everyone with dignity and respect. You’re going to have a more stable society. You’ll have a happier society. You’ll have a much more productive society. And here’s some social science to show that those countries,” do you see my speech?
W: You’ve thought about this a little bit.
S: (laughter) Well, I’ve thought about this for about 30 years. I’ll be candid, that’s one of the reasons I told Frank. Frank has been to so many of these places that are really troubled, in terms of international freedom. So he’s so much more experienced than I am so I would have, were I chosen, an enormous learning curve. After all, I grew up in Texas, so the map of the world is 862 miles. (laughter)
W: Would you be moving?
S: We would stay here. We have a townhouse in McLean, (Virginia,) so that would be where I would hang my hat. That’s where we hang our hat when we’re in the D.C. area. Alice is still on a bank board. The (Mount Vernon) advisory board (which she used to sit on) is closing down because of the presidential library.
E: Would you ever re-enter the world of higher education?
S: I don’t think so, just given my age and a sense of, “What am I called to do now?” And when I left Baylor, I was in a prayerful reflecting mode so, “What is that I am feeling called to do?” And it was not to take up the great game of golf, nor to become serious about fishing. I like fishing, but it was to really dedicate myself as a volunteer to education and to religious liberty. And it was really the activity to the latter that just ripened into, “Oh my goodness. You’re sitting with the Senate foreign relations committee chair, Chairman (Bob) Corker, to talk about amendments to the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.” I worked really hard on that in the fall. So it was kind of a natural evolution. So as you know, I’m at Waco High (volunteering with the mock trial team). I love (McLennan Community College President) Johnette (McKown) and everything she’s doing in her presidential scholars program. I've lectured at MCC, so it’s really been a time of great joy. So yesterday I saw a wonderful (Baylor professor) Jeff Levin at McAlister’s, and he said, “Ken, how are you doing?” And I said, “Flourishing in freedom.” And that really is the way we captured it for our New Year’s letter. We’re really flourishing, and we’re much more connected to the grandchildren than we ever would have been.