Details supporting the Pepper Hamilton law firm’s presentation to the Baylor University Board of Regents last May must be made public if Baylor is ever to move past the sexual assault scandal that has cost it millions of dollars and damaged its reputation, now fast approaching a point of no return.
Sadly, the once-steady drumbeat calling for release of Pepper Hamilton’s investigation has slowed considerably. Even the Bears for Leadership Reform, a group of donors and alumni pressing for more transparency among Baylor regents, failed to highlight the Pepper Hamilton report in its latest demand for change.
To date, Baylor regents have refused to release supporting documentation from Pepper Hamilton, citing privacy concerns. The board crafted its own 13-page “Findings of Fact” summation of the nine-month investigation and with it announced football coach Art Briles was to be fired, then-university president Ken Starr was to be removed as president (but kept as chancellor and law professor) and former athletic director Ian McCaw suspended and sanctioned. Since then, two athletics department personnel have been fired.
Is this enough to change a culture? Is no one else at Baylor to blame? Do three firings, one suspension and one demotion erase years of embedded silence, dismissal or outright ambivalence toward sexual assault?
We asked BLR leaders last fall what they wanted to see with regard to the so-called full Pepper Hamilton report. Leaders said they wanted to hear the same report the regents heard in May, to start with. However, the oral report given to Baylor regents may not be the same thing as the supporting documentation used to formulate it. That’s an important distinction.
Regent David Harper told the Trib’s Phillip Ericksen in December: “The presentation took an individual person and what happened to them. 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 [for campus-wide reform], so they’re there.”
That’s a reasonable assessment, but quite incomplete.
Pepper Hamilton said the following in its summation released as part of BU regents’ Findings of Fact: “Pepper reviewed emails, mobile device data and documents from current and former Baylor employees. Pepper’s review of documents included current and prior policies and procedures, Judicial Affairs and Title IX files related to specific reports and investigations, relevant trial transcripts, personnel files, student records, training and educational materials, prior internal and external audits, Title IX task force materials and other relevant and available information. In addition to an exhaustive review of data, Pepper interviewed more than 65 individuals, including current employees, former employees, current students and former students. The current and former students included individuals who identified as victims/survivors of sexual assault or dating violence.”
Sounds like more than “individual vignettes,” doesn’t it?
However Pepper Hamilton actually couched its oral presentation to regents, the underlying documentation outlined above remains as pertinent today as in May. That’s where answers lie to the lingering question: Who knew what, and when did they know it?
The Findings of Fact document is peppered with language suggesting multiple people contributed to a rape culture at Baylor. Words are used in plural form; departments are named as a whole; and administrators are never identified directly. Who are they? Do they still work at Baylor? What communication exists, if any, that would help identify not only the people who contributed to the culture, but how?
Please don’t ask the rest of us to believe Art Briles, Ken Starr, Ian McCaw and a couple of athletic staffers orchestrated this entire ordeal all on their own.
If there is a single soul left on campus who protected the university’s interests at the expense of any sexual-assault victim, Pepper Hamilton’s investigation isn’t worth the paper it has yet to be printed on.
Steve Boggs is editor of the Waco Trib. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.