The Baylor University Board of Regents has remained silent about its role in the school’s failure to address sexual assaults and to offer legally required support to women who reported the assaults.
The board also has offered no update on its progress implementing changes specific to the board’s governance role and structure that Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP recommended after a nine-month investigation.
Daily calls to board Chairman Ron Murff’s office have not been returned for three weeks, and Baylor officials have not made him available for an interview.
The regents are doing the community a disservice by not speaking out on the issue, said Lisa J. Banks, a partner at Washington, D.C., law firm Katz, Marshall & Banks, LLP, who has experience handling Title IX cases.
“If there are individuals who were complicit in this, due to conflict of interest or ignorance, if I were a member of the Baylor community, a parent, a student or just in the community of Waco, Texas, I certainly wouldn’t want the same individuals at the helm that led to this disaster,” Banks said. “One effect of whitewashing the situation is to protect people that were guilty of wrongdoing here and allow them to continue for whatever reason.
“I think that Baylor should be pressured to release a full report from Pepper Hamilton. Now they did it verbally, but Pepper Hamilton obviously has things in writing, and if there was enough of an uproar, Pepper Hamilton could be tasked with creating a written report.”
She said it is her understanding regents did not take notes during oral presentations from Pepper Hamilton.
“That cannot be a coincidence of 30 people in a room, or however many there were, and nobody was taking notes,” Banks said. “That’s clearly a direction that nobody was going to take notes because they didn’t want any record of what was being said except for what would be in the 13-page summary that would be sent out.”
She said the Baylor community deserves more information on the investigation.
As regents remain silent on the investigation, their role and on recommended changes related to the board, interim President David Garland offered new details Wednesday on the school’s progress in implementing some of Pepper Hamilton’s 105 recommendations. He sent a letter reiterating his view of the recommendations as mandates for the university moving forward.
Members of the school’s sexual assault task force are working on the recommendations, including those specific to regents, said Reagan Ramsower, leader of the task force and Baylor’s chief operating officer.
“I think I would let the board chairman speak for the board,” Ramsower said. “So I guess I would just refer those comments to Ron.”
Murff sent a three-sentence statement through a university spokeswoman Thursday night in response to questions for this story.
“The presentation from Pepper Hamilton was very emotional. It will be difficult to ever forget what we heard,” Murff wrote. “We wanted to be sensitive to the privacy of the survivors and conscious of FERPA laws, while focusing on the roadmap we were given to correct the issues.”
Along with Murff’s quote, the university statement goes on to say Baylor believes its release of the summary of Pepper Hamilton’s findings starkly identifying the institution’s failures, along with Pepper Hamilton’s list of recommendations, “is virtually unprecedented.”
“Baylor’s intent was — and is — to be open and forthright with its community, to accept responsibility for its failings and to swiftly and publicly implement Pepper Hamilton’s recommendations,” the statement reads. “Baylor’s board of regents chose to publicly release severely critical findings of fact because it believes it is in the best interest of the Baylor community to do so, regardless of the impact on current or potential civil litigation or regulatory action.
“We remain committed to acting with integrity and will continue to provide updates to the community about the status of our efforts.”
When asked about the regents’ note-taking, Pepper Hamilton spokesman Dan Pulka deferred questions to Baylor, and a Baylor spokeswoman did not respond to the question.
Banks said the summary the board released May 26 creates more questions than answers. Along with the summary, the regents announced the removal of Ken Starr as president and Art Briles as head football coach. Ian McCaw resigned as athletics director days later after being sanctioned and placed on probation, and Starr later resigned as chancellor.
“It doesn’t tell you the number of incidents and how it was specifically dealt with,” Banks said. “It made general conclusions that they didn’t handle this the way it should have been handled. They basically saved themselves, in that way, a lot of embarrassment having to give explanations about, whether they were board members or administrators or whomever, why they did or didn’t do certain things.”
Garland has said Baylor is adopting Pepper Hamilton’s recommendations as mandates and reinforced that in his letter Wednesday addressed to the “Baylor Family.”
“We are resolved to create a culture of accountability and respect across the entire campus and are refining processes and systems to ensure we respond rapidly and sensitively when students report incidents of interpersonal violence and seek our help,” Garland said.
Title IX Coordinator Patty Crawford is working on a plan for continuous trauma-informed training, Garland wrote. The school will also hire a deputy Title IX coordinator.
Baylor Police Chief Brad Wigtil is working with the Title IX Office to develop consistent protocols, and officers are scheduled to receive training on response to sexual violence, he wrote.
The size of the counseling staff will almost double, according to the letter.
“The Baylor Counseling Center has been attentive to removing barriers to care by establishing protocols for immediate assessment and reducing waits for appointments during periods of high demand, limiting fees for additional services and eliminating limits to the number of sessions provided,” Garland said.
Ramsower said the new task forces formed to implement the recommendations are making steady progress.
“There are a lot of people in a lot of meetings very deliberately and actively engaged,” Ramsower said. “We’re moving at a pace that, I think, illustrates how important the mandates are for us and our opportunities to take important corrective and affirmative action for the university.”
He said a national search for a chief compliance officer is also underway. Pepper Hamilton recommended hiring a chief compliance officer “responsible for identifying risk, the likelihood of occurrence, the effectiveness of existing controls, the action needed to address gaps in compliance, and the consequences of failure to comply.”
The Board of Regents adopted all Pepper Hamilton recommendations May 13, 13 days before it released those recommendations and its summary, according to Baylor’s website.
The board also “(instructed) the University’s administration or, as appropriate, certain Board committees charged with such responsibility, to implement the recommendations as soon as practicable in a manner consistent with the University’s mission and institutional values.”
Baylor spokeswoman Tonya Lewis said in an email Thursday afternoon Garland, Ramsower, Executive Vice President and Provost L. Gregory Jones and regent Cary Gray compose the governance, leadership and compliance implementation team.
Pepper Hamilton recommended the committee provide training for the board and evaluate and make recommendations regarding the board’s size and composition.
The committees also are tasked with making recommendations for standards for selecting new board members, including consideration of conflicts of interest.
The board is not mentioned in the 13-page summary it released. Alumni, faculty and the Big 12 Conference have called for further transparency from the board regarding Pepper Hamilton’s findings.
“I think they hired Pepper Hamilton, and my guess is, I’m completely speculating here, given the fact that they came out with a summary and there was an oral report with no notes taken, there was a deliberate attempt, I think, here to minimize what people know,” Banks said. “There has not been full disclosure. So I don’t think we can know exactly what the board did or didn’t do or was accused of doing because the summary certainly didn’t address that.”
Starr also said he wants more information from the board, shortly after he resigned as chancellor.
“There is no secret report out there,” Garland told the Tribune-Herald last month. “This is the report, and making it public was incredibly courageous on their part. We knew we were going to take hits. As a Christian university, one of the things Christians believe in is sin and confession of sin, and we confessed we failed in those areas.”
Banks said the strongest chance of uncovering information will come from attorneys who have filed Title IX lawsuits against Baylor. The university is facing three Title IX lawsuits from women saying claims of sexual assault were mishandled.
“I would imagine the lawyers involved in those cases are going to be digging deeper, whether through documents or depositions or otherwise,” she said. “They’re going to be trying to find out exactly what Pepper Hamilton found out, but obviously, they will have less inclination to protect the university.”