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Baylor looks to move beyond ‘fundamental failure,’ removes president and coach amid controversy

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Briles Starr

Baylor University regents made sweeping personnel changes Thursday, including the removal of Ken Starr (right) as university president and the ousting Art Briles (left) as head football coach. Starr has agreed to remain as chancellor on terms still being discussed, and former dean David Garland was named the interim president.

Sweeping personnel changes at Baylor University were made Thursday amid an ongoing sexual assault scandal, including the removal of Ken Starr as president and Art Briles as head football coach.

The public learned Thursday of a “fundamental failure” across campus to handle allegations of sexual assault and failures to report cases stemming from the athletics department, according to a scathing report from Pepper Hamilton LLP, the Philadelphia-based law firm tasked in September with investigating the issue. Baylor regents released a summary of the findings, but did not publicly release the report in its entirety.

Athletics Director Ian McCaw will remain in his position but has been sanctioned and placed on probation.

Starr has agreed to remain as chancellor on terms still being discussed. He also will remain a professor in the Baylor Law School. His role as chancellor will center on development and religious liberty, according to David Harper, a Baylor regent. Baylor spokespeople did not respond to questions regarding specifics of Starr’s role going forward.

Starr said in a statement that he “was not privy to any of the allegations regarding interpersonal violence until the Fall of 2015, 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.”

Baylor is moving on from Starr’s tenure with a man familiar with guiding the school out of controversial times.

Garland returns

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David Garland

David Garland, interim Baylor University president

David Garland, former dean and current professor at Baylor’s George W. Truett Seminary, was named interim president for the second time in the past decade. Garland was interim president from August 2008 to May 2010, stepping in after the resignation of John Lilley. The end of Lilley’s tenure was marked by controversy in what became known as the “faculty massacre” in April 2008, when he rejected tenure to 12 of 30 tenure candidates.

Garland, whose late wife, Diana Garland, is the namesake of Baylor’s school of social work, released the following statement: “This is an important time for our University, and I am humbled to be called upon for a second time to lead the University on this path to restoring trust in Baylor. The actions being taken in response to the findings of the Pepper Hamilton investigation, we hope, will help our community heal, communicate our concern for those impacted by interpersonal violence, and reaffirm that Baylor is resolutely committed to its foundational Christian mission.”

Starr was not available for interviews Thursday, but said in his statement, “As soon as we have navigated specific issues of the transition, I will be available to respond to questions. Indeed, I am eager to do so.”

He continued, “To be sure, this is an exceedingly difficult time for the University family, especially so for the victims of sexual violence and their loved ones. I join the Board of Regents and Senior Administration of the University in expressing heartfelt contrition for the tragedy and sadness that has unfolded. To those victims who were not treated with the care, concern, and support they deserve, I am profoundly sorry.”

Baylor held a 25-minute phone press conference Thursday afternoon. Board Chair Richard Willis, Chair-elect Ron Murff, board member David Harper and Pepper Hamilton attorney Gina M. Smith commented on the report and personnel changes but declined to elaborate on specifics such as how many employees are losing their jobs or why Starr will remain with Baylor as chancellor and law professor even though the board found sufficient cause to remove him from the presidency.

Safeguarding students

“We have made these decisions, because, above all, we must safeguard our students and our campus,” Willis said. “We must set a new course to ensure the leaders of the University place a premium on responding effectively and with sensitivity to those impacted by the tragedy of interpersonal violence.”

When asked by a reporter during the teleconference about why Starr remains with the university as chancellor, the regents at first refused to discuss Starr individually.

“We don’t talk about individual people. It’s just inappropriate to do that,” Willis said. “And again, we just have higher expectations for people in our leadership.”

Pressed further on the issue by another reporter, the board chairman again declined to get into specifics about why the board decided to keep Starr in the chancellor role.

“He’s always had the position of chancellor, and we felt the appropriate action was taken with the presidency and all his operating responsibilities,” Willis said. “So, he no longer has any operating responsibilities within the university.”

Harper then added that the chancellor’s is “an external-focused role.”

The mass dismissals — Baylor officials said other administrators and staffers in the athletics department beyond Starr and Briles also were fired, but would not name any others — were the culmination of months of controversy and media reports regarding how the school has handled alleged sexual assaults, including several reports involving football players.

Since 2014, two former Baylor football players have been convicted of sexual assault, and last month another was arrested on a sexual assault charge. Others were named in police reports alleging sexual assault and physical violence.

One of those convicted, Sam Ukwuachu, and the former player charged last month, Shawn Oakman, were transfers brought in by Briles after they were kicked off the teams at their former schools, Boise State University and Penn State University, respectively.

A Baylor statement released Thursday said the school is focused on restoring “accountability” to its football program.

“(Ian) McCaw will work with University leadership and the Board of Regents to implement the (Pepper Hamilton) recommendations as they relate to the restoration of a tone of accountability within the football program, to effective oversight and controls of the Athletics department, and to critically needed changes that will re-align with the University mission,” the statement said.

Laura Seay, a Baylor alumna and associate professor at Colby College in Maine, said she understands why many were surprised by the report’s findings and resulting personnel changes.

“It’s always difficult to learn that people aren’t who you thought they were,” Seay said. “But it’s really important for the Baylor family to unify and support the regents moving forward and commit to a better future.”

Stefanie Mundhenk, who previously detailed to the Tribune-Herald how she says Baylor mishandled her rape case, expressed a sense of justice over the news, though certainly no joy.

“There is no celebration on my end. Just grieving and mourning. I never wanted to be right. At times, I lost faith that I was. I am thankful that the truth has finally come out. May justice continue to be served,” she said.

Also as a result of Pepper Hamilton’s recommendations, the board of regents has created the full-time position of chief compliance officer, who will report directly to the president’s office. The board also established an “executive-level task force on implementation.”

New task force

The task force will address Pepper Hamilton’s recommendations in the following areas: Remedial and Restorative Remedies, Title IX, Athletics, Engagement and Education, Centralized Reporting and Resolution, Public Safety, and Counseling and Advocacy, along with other areas. Reagan Ramsower, Baylor senior vice president and chief operating officer, will oversee the task force.

The task force will include Baylor faculty, staff and administrators.

“Within the coming weeks, the Task Force will identify areas where improvements are already underway, areas for immediate implementation and areas for more thorough consideration,” the Baylor statement said. “The Task Force and implementation groups will assess best practices across other universities, implement more complex recommendations by Pepper Hamilton and continue to move Baylor forward along a path of improvement.”

Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver, a Baylor alumnus, said he was saddened by the report and for the victims. But Deaver added that he thinks the school is making the necessary changes.

“I think Ken and Alice Starr have been so important to Waco and to building a relationship between Baylor University and Waco that it hurts me for them. And I know they are good people and I know Art Briles is a good man,” Deaver said. “I think what it shows is people can make mistakes and systems fail. It’s just really unfortunate that we are where we are. Baylor is a great university notwithstanding this situation, which is really regrettable, and I think Baylor will do everything they can to fix it and do everything they can to make it better going forward.”

Student reaction to the news on campus was mixed.

“Baylor had been good in sports, but as soon as Art came, we became national contenders,” senior Trevor Minear said. “I’ll miss him. I think he made some mistakes, but he was a nice guy.”

Senior Nick Patel said he thinks the drastic personnel changes were a long time coming.

“This whole thing shouldn’t have waited this long,” Patel said. “It should have been done right when the first issues started. I think Baylor probably waited too long on that, but I still think there is stuff we don’t know yet.

“Right now, I think Baylor had to show that they were going to take drastic action and in terminating Briles and with Ken Starr stepping down as president kind of gives us a clean slate, technically. There is now a good direction to move forward in and people can’t say that (Baylor) didn’t do anything.”

Transparency

Vincent Harris, a Baylor alumnus and guest faculty member in 2015, said the Baylor community should be glad the university provided transparency.

“I think that’s something President Starr had seemed to have been asking for and something that the Baylor community deserves,” said Harris, who earlier this week started an online petition to keep Starr as president.

“I would say over the past 36 hours what we’ve seen is the potential of the sins of the whole athletic department to be placed directly and squarely on President Starr’s head, where now we have more truth to the matter. I’m curious what would’ve happened if the Baylor community wouldn’t have risen up together and asked for more answers.”

Jon Singletary, who was recently named dean of the school of social work, said Garland is a “remarkable choice” to serve as interim president and believes the school is moving forward in capable hands.

“Given the struggles and anxieties we’re all facing, it is very reassuring to have someone with that perspective in the president’s office,” Singletary said.

He said Garland’s prior experience serving in the interim role is valuable to Baylor at this time.

“While David is caring and compassionate, he also brings a strong sense of leadership because of the respect he has on campus and the experience he has, and that experience will already bring an immediate sense of trust from many departments and leaders around campus who have seen what he’s able to do and how he cares for the university,” Singletary said.

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