As current students and alumni call for transparency with the school mired in a sexual assault controversy, Baylor University’s governing body took a step deeper into the shadows Friday during its quarterly board of regents meeting.
Baylor regents received a “comprehensive briefing from Pepper Hamilton LLP,” the school said in a press release after the meeting. The briefing covered the Philadelphia-based law firm’s findings regarding Baylor’s response to reports of sexual and interpersonal violence. But Baylor officials declined to publicly release the long-awaited report. Pepper Hamilton was hired by the university in September to investigate the university’s responses to such situations.
Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said in an email that “the information in the release is all we have to share,” and the school did not make the board of regents chair available for an interview following the meeting. Baylor traditionally makes the board chairman available for an interview after regent meetings, though there have sometimes been exceptions because of travel.
“The Board will carefully consider the information provided in the briefing and determine how to decisively act upon Pepper Hamilton’s findings and recommendations,” according to the press release. “The members of the Board will be guided by their faith as they make significant decisions for the welfare of Baylor students, the direction of the institution and the good of Baylor Nation.”
The press release makes little other mention of the report and gives no information on the substance of the briefing.
The regents approved a $6.3 million investment on 14.5 new staff positions for Student Counseling, three new staff positions for the Title IX Office, and three new Baylor police officers, according to the press release.
During the meeting, Baylor officials barred two Tribune-Herald reporters from the building where the regents met — the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative, which received public funds for its renovation in recent years, including funds from McLennan County and the cities of Waco and Bellmead.
Several regents declined comment as they walked out of the building Friday, with some deferring questions to Fogleman, who declined to answer questions regarding the report during and after the meeting.
The lawyers hired by Baylor, Gina Smith and Leslie Gomez, have conducted reports on similar issues at other universities.
Another report for the University of North Carolina was released publicly, and a report to Amherst College, organized by Smith while she worked for a different law firm, also was released. The Amherst report also included findings from a university task force of faculty, staff and students.
Smith and a Pepper Hamilton spokesman did not return phone messages Friday.
University officials have said little publicly regarding university responses to sexual assault, often citing student privacy laws, even when asked when certain officials were made aware of certain incidents.
Meanwhile, the Baylor community has demanded transparency from Baylor on the issue.
“I think these people should come out and be completely transparent about when they knew about all these incidents,” Baylor alumni Dax Brannan told the Tribune-Herald last month. “What they did at the time, why they didn’t do certain things at the time, and I think we should think long and hard about whether we want people like that in leadership positions at our university.”
At an event in Fort Worth last month, President Ken Starr told Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Mac Engel that Pepper Hamilton lawyers told him that university officials should not talk publicly about the situation.
“Quite apart from FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act),” Starr said. “And you know the mutual litany, ‘We can’t talk about this and we can’t talk about that.’ That is the fundamental reason — we are waiting for the Pepper Hamilton report, which is to report to the board of regents — we are being very cautious about what we say.”
During the same event, Starr said he favors sharing information with the public and owning any mistakes that may have been made.
“I am in favor of transparency. Stand up, take your medicine if you made a mistake,” Starr said.
Stefanie Mundhenk, who previously told the Tribune-Herald how the university mishandled her rape allegation, questioned Starr’s calls for transparency.
“Actions speak louder than words, so his words iterate things like transparency and justice and reformation and all sorts of things like that,” Mundhenk said.
“But his actions consistently show he’s not willing to back that up. Even with something so simple as promising to release a report before he knows what’s in it. That is what we call transparency. Releasing the information based on what the information contains and whether or not it’s good or bad, that’s not the definition of transparency by a long shot.”
Laura Seay, a Baylor alumna and associate professor at Colby College in Maine, said she understands that Baylor may not want a negative focus on graduation weekend but said she and alumni, parents, students, friends and faculty she has spoken with want transparency through the report.
“I think that Baylor very often falls to the temptation of institutional reputation protection and falling back on PR,” Seay said. “That really is not going to be acceptable in this case. Baylor needs to come clean so we can move forward, rather than just trying to hide behind more secrecy and more problems.”
Baylor’s handling of sexual assault allegations has come under intense scrutiny in recent months, following the August 2015 sexual assault conviction of former Baylor football player Sam Ukwuachu. In 2014, former Baylor football player Tevin Elliott was convicted of twice raping a now-former Baylor student in April 2012.
Since Ukwuachu’s conviction, several other sexual assault allegations against Baylor athletes have come to light. Former football player Shawn Oakman was arrested in April for the alleged sexual assault of a woman at his off-campus apartment. Both Ukwuachu and Oakman transferred to Baylor after being kicked off the teams at their previous schools — Boise State University and Penn State University, respectively.
A former Baylor tennis player also is being investigated by Waco police for an alleged August 2015 sexual assault of a woman, and two other former football players were accused of sexually assaulting a woman after a party in 2013.