In a Q&A interview last week with the Tribune-Herald, I shared my thoughts, in as forthright a manner as possible, regarding a number of subjects. My goal, during my short tenure as president, has been to be as candid as possible with members of the Baylor University community about information gathered in the Pepper Hamilton review of sexual assaults involving students and our work to implement Pepper Hamilton’s 105 recommendations for improvement.
In May, the Baylor Board of Regents’ unanimous decision to publicly release a summary of Pepper Hamilton’s findings and recommendations — and corresponding personnel actions at the highest levels of the university — signified a first step in openly sharing our commitment to improvement with the Baylor community. Some have criticized the university for releasing the results of the investigation in this manner. The “Findings of Fact” document clearly reflects the underlying facts, rigor, attention to detail and comprehensive nature of the investigation. We implore everyone to read the Findings of Fact for themselves. Put simply, releasing these findings and recommendations was what we believed was the right first step in our commitment to support those we had failed and to hold ourselves accountable to every member of the Baylor community.
I wish to elaborate on my comments during the Q&A regarding the U.S. Department of Education and its Office for Civil Rights. Given the conversational nature of the interview, I was not as clear in my remarks as I would have liked and I take this opportunity to provide clarification to the Baylor family and Waco community. I referenced the OCR and its responsibility to investigate claims of Title IX violations and the potential for the OCR to open an investigation should it feel compelled.
No action a university takes can or should prevent the OCR from investigating claims of a Title IX violation. Baylor hired Pepper Hamilton to conduct an external investigation to assess the processes, policies and actions related to Baylor’s response to incidents of sexual assault. To be clear, hiring the Pepper Hamilton law firm does not guarantee any form of protection from an OCR investigation. Gina Smith of Pepper Hamilton never provided me any assurance whether the OCR would or would not open an investigation of Baylor.
Should an OCR investigation be initiated, my hope is that, by rigorously following Pepper Hamilton’s recommendations and moving toward a path of improvement, Baylor will not only be in compliance with federal Title IX obligations but will be implementing promising and effective practices to serve and care for our students. In keeping with our commitment to be as forthright as possible, the full list of 105 recommendations was shared publicly — and we have committed to providing updates about their implementation.
Our work to improve prevention, response and care for students is well underway and we endeavor to demonstrate a system that is supportive, responsive, fair and thorough in upholding students’ access to an education. We are committed to doing the right things for the well-being of our students.
I also referenced a letter from the DOE to the University of Virginia during the Q&A. Baylor continues to be bound by our legal and moral responsibilities to all students involved in a report of sexual assault. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act provides very clear protection to students regarding the privacy of information contained in education records. The guidance provided by the DOE to the University of Virginia is consistent with FERPA guidelines and we believe that letter, even though written in response to a specific Virginia inquiry, reinforces the legal responsibilities of all universities to safeguard these protections.
Above all, in choosing how we share information with our community, we must act in the best interests of our students and protect those who are recovering from and navigating the impacts of sexual violence. The decision to report an incident of sexual assault is a brave and personal choice, and we will not be dissuaded from our resolve to protect the privacy of all students involved.
I remain focused on our efforts to improve and am surrounded by leaders who join me — guided by our faith in and commitment to Baylor’s mission — in providing a safe and caring environment in which to prepare men and women for worldwide leadership and service.
David Garland, who serves as interim president of Baylor University, is professor of Christian Scriptures at Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary.