When one tallies up the victims in Baylor University’s scandal involving sexual assaults and the mishandling of both the accused and the accusers, the list will be longer than many of us first assumed. Some are obvious, such as the student victims of sexual assault who faced a demeaning culture of indifference and even hostility by certain officials.
Other victims are less obvious. Consider those Baylor football players who did not proceed down the sordid path chosen by Sam Ukwuachu and Tevin Elliott, both convicted of sexual assault. Even some seemingly admirable principles fell victim, including that championed by head football coach Art Briles of giving troubled youths second chances and building their character through the discipline that can come from athletics.
Because the scalding review by the Philadelphia law firm of Pepper Hamilton regarding Baylor protocol and practices involving sexual assaults has not been fully released, just how much responsibility Briles, athletic director Ian McCaw and Baylor President and Chancellor Ken Starr have in all this remains open to speculation (and, yes, there’s plenty). But depending on how you define the word, they also qualify as victims, even if by their own myopia, egos, preoccupation or just being left out of the loop if possible (and it is).
The demotion of Ken Starr, a former federal judge and U.S. solicitor general, to the positions of chancellor and law professor (which he held anyway) is particularly jolting. His leadership of the Whitewater investigation that dogged President Clinton and his circle left Starr a controversial figure when he came to Baylor in 2010. Even folks not enthralled by the Clintons found the inquiry excessive. Yet many were soon disarmed by the native Texan’s intellect, humor, enthusiasm and championing of Christian principles.
Starr’s legacy at Baylor is immense — helping save the twice-imperiled Big 12 athletic conference (many pundits predicted dissolution), spearheading a $100 million scholarship initiative (to battle concerns about tuition rates) and helping bury the hatchet in the long-running feud between Baylor and the Baylor Alumni Association. He also encouraged more involvement by Baylor in addressing challenges facing the people of Waco, including poverty and education. He helped lead the charge in getting President Obama to designate the Waco Mammoth National Monument. And he claimed that his favorite Baylor class was not his own in constitutional law (and few subjects are more cherished by him than the Constitution) but one in philanthropy, including the way it interacted with local nonprofits such as Restoration Haven, which benefits poor families in the Estella Maxey public housing complex in East Waco. One can’t help wondering how his changed profile will impact Baylor’s momentum and civic engagement. Whatever his failures, he helped make Baylor far more relevant in many Central Texans’ daily lives.
He also set a model for civil debate and political balance, to the surprise of many. I often quote his analogy in defending immigrant children who, through no fault of theirs, were brought illegally to the United States and raised as Americans. He once told of such a girl, Angela, and how, if a police officer stopped her father’s car for a traffic infraction, the officer would be right to ticket the motorist. “But under no circumstances,” he added, “would a reasonable person consider it morally right to hold Angela — the child in the backseat — accountable for her parent’s violation, no matter how flagrant. To do so would be unspeakably unjust.”
Given his Republican background and role in pursuing Clinton’s Democratic White House, I always marveled at how Starr, when pressed by Fox News for a comment on one of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, regularly insisted he or she, by pure training and experience, was absolutely qualified — promptly confounding all expectations.
After regents on Thursday released Pepper Hamilton’s damning outline, Starr insisted in a statement he was not privy to allegations regarding “interpersonal violence” till last fall “at which time I immediately launched an internal investigation before recommending to the board an independent external investigation, which the board then commissioned with Pepper Hamilton.”
Given Starr’s candidness on so many issues, his silence the past nine months as Pepper Hamilton conducted its investigation is stunning. His claimed eagerness to discuss the matter once “specific issues of the transition” are settled suggests some gaps in the saga that he wants to address. Meanwhile, he must count himself a victim of the very inquiry he reportedly pressed Baylor regents to pursue.