Richard Willis, the former chairman of Baylor University’s board of regents, once credited the on-field success of the school’s football program to “n----- football players” and “the best blond-haired, blue-eyed p----” in Texas, two alleged witnesses to the conversation stated in affidavits filed Tuesday.
Greg Klepper and Alejandro Urdaneta, two businessmen who said they were present during the meeting in the summer of 2014 in Queretaro, Mexico, signed the affidavits last month containing the allegations. The documents were submitted into federal court by lawyers representing 10 alleged sexual assault victims suing Baylor under Title IX.
It comes a day after Baylor President Linda Livingstone said the school’s outside counsel is investigating whether Willis made racist, lewd and anti-Semitic comments during the meeting. Through his lawyer, Willis denied making the comments on Monday and said Klepper is trying to smear him because the two have a past rife with business disagreements.
Ramiro Peña, a Baylor regent from 2004 to 2014, said on Monday he attended the meeting as an interpreter and denied that Willis made such comments.
Willis served as Baylor’s board chairman from 2012 to 2016 and left the board last year. The comments point to the university’s top regent openly discriminating against female students, the women’s lawyers said. They also included a document indicating Title IX compliance was on a second “tier” of university priorities, below goals like improving the school’s reputation and remaining a member of the Big 12 Conference.
Klepper and Urdaneta both testified that Willis boasted about his power over the university and that he would fire Ken Starr as president. They said Willis repeatedly referred to Starr’s wife, Alice, as a “Jew b----.” Alice Starr was raised Jewish and converted to Christianity.
Klepper said Willis made statements “comparing the size of his genitalia to the size of his company, although he used more crass language than that. He also discussed other matters that objectified women.”
Klepper and Urdaneta testified Peña seemed supportive of Willis’ comments regarding Willis’ power over the university.
Baylor investigators have interviewed Urdaneta in France, where he lives. The university said it has subpoenaed Klepper’s and Urdaneta’s lawyers for a recording of the conversation.
“There are two people who said the alleged comments were made back in 2014, while two other parties to the conversation have denied the alleged comments,” a university statement said on Tuesday. “This is a classic case of ‘he said vs. he said’ and is why Baylor has issued a subpoena for the recording of the alleged conversation as part of the University’s fact-based investigation into the matter.”
On Monday, President Linda Livingstone said the alleged comments “are in direct opposition to everything Baylor stands for, and are so egregious that the University immediately launched an investigation when they first came to light through the litigation process a month ago.”
“Hate speech, offensive statements or racist comments in any form — by anyone — will never be tolerated at Baylor University,” she said in the statement.
Willis, a major donor to the university, is the namesake of the Willis Family Equestrian Center. The school is not yet in a position to speculate on potential consequences for him until the investigation is complete, Baylor spokesman Jason Cook said on Monday.
Don Riddle, the Houston-based attorney representing Klepper and Urdaneta, said the affidavits are consistent with the claims of his clients.
“The Baylor board of regents needs to improve its method of naming and vetting the oncoming members of that board to replace outgoing members,” he said. “There should be a much better process to vet and learn the truth about the individuals who are nominated.”
Waco attorney Jim Dunnam, who in total represents 15 women suing Baylor under Title IX, called Willis’ comments “reprehensible.”
“But the fact that this attitude permeated the university at a time when hundreds of young women were being raped should be everyone’s biggest concern,” he said.
Willis is the CEO of the Colorado-based wellness company, Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy. He has held roles of chairman, president or CEO of several businesses throughout his career. Peña is the pastor of Christ The King Baptist Church in Waco and an informal adviser to the Trump administration.
On Monday, Peña called Willis a “man of great character and deep Christian commitment.”
Their attorney, Steve McConnico of Austin, was unavailable for comment on Tuesday. On Monday, Willis said Klepper lost a dispute with the general contractor managing the construction of McLane Stadium. Cook said Klepper filed a lawsuit about the matter, and it was dismissed in July 2015.
Priority of Title IX
In his Tuesday motion, Dunnam included a document known as a “risk portfolio” divided into three tiers of risks, dated on Feb. 7, 2013. “Complying with Title IX” is the first item of the second tier.
Items in the first tier include “safeguarding and improving Baylor’s reputation,” “monitoring the status of the Big 12 Conference and Baylor’s continued membership” and complying with NCAA regulations and other federal laws. More than 100 items are included throughout the document.
Also in the third tier is a line stating, “preventing significant lawsuits and claims relating to professional liability, discrimination, or equal opportunity noncompliance.”
“With that document, we have written, official policy of the university that Title IX takes a back seat to their image and staying in the Big 12,” Dunnam said. “And more importantly, that is reflected in what happened in that hundreds of young women were raped and ignored at the expense of the university’s reputation.”
In the motion he filed Tuesday, Dunnam writes that Peña was deposed recently and said he was “rather indifferent” to Title IX and did not remember the board of regents receiving information surrounding the federal law banning discrimination.
The university on Tuesday characterized Dunnam’s filing as unnecessary.
“Once again, the plaintiff’s counsel have filed a press release with the court in the form of a ‘supplement’ to a motion that has already been fully briefed by both parties,” the university said in a statement. The university also dismissed Dunnam’s allegation that Baylor leadership put a low priority on Title IX compliance, saying the risk portfolio was a “monitoring report, not a policy.”
Bears For Leadership Reform, a group spearheaded by influential donors critical of Baylor regents’ handling of the sexual assault scandal, also weighed in on the affidavit filing Tuesday.
“There are no words that adequately state our collective alarm and sense of disgust after learning of reports linking racist and misogynist statements and language attributed to the former Board of Regents Chairman Richard Willis,” group President John Eddie Williams wrote in a statement. “If confirmed, we believe it will cast a cloud of suspicion and skepticism on every decision made by the university’s board during the entire period when Willis was chair.”