If anything strongly bolsters the Bears for Leadership Reform case for an independent investigation of Baylor University regents’ handling of the sexual-assault scandal that has sadly come to define the Christian campus for some, it’s Liberty University’s Nov. 28 hiring of former Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw. National media immediately pounced, questioning the prudence of the nation’s largest evangelical university, given that pending litigation questioning McCaw’s department oversight remains to be resolved.
Such skepticism is understandable. Liberty’s main press statement highlights the best of McCaw’s 13-year Baylor tenure, including five national titles, 58 Big 12 championships and six consecutive bowl games, while seemingly ignoring serious allegations that he overlooked incidents of sexual violence on his watch. Baylor regents have told The Wall Street Journal that 17 Baylor women reported sexual or domestic assaults involving 19 football players between 2011 and 2015.
But Liberty leadership anticipated the backlash. On Nov. 29, it released answers from its noted president, Jerry Falwell Jr., regarding McCaw’s hiring: “We communicated with people he worked with at Baylor, including regents who heard everything the investigating law firm has to say about what happened at Baylor. We conducted a background investigation and checked with other sources, including former head coach and athletic director Grant Teaff, who is still well connected at Baylor and served as the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association in Waco.
“Of course, we spoke openly and directly with Ian McCaw about the situation at Baylor,” Falwell added. “And we reviewed what can be found in the public record. We are completely satisfied that Ian McCaw is a good man and a great athletic director.”
Regarding the damning allegation of a gang rape that reportedly occurred in 2012 and came to an individual coach’s attention in 2013, Falwell said Liberty’s inquiries concluded that “McCaw did not attempt to hide the sexual assault that was reported but, instead, had one of his coaches report it to Judicial Affairs at Baylor in 2013, in accordance with Baylor’s policies and procedures at the time. The victim did not want the incident reported to police, so Judicial Affairs was the only place the incident could have been reported at that time.”
The account mirrors a version that Baylor assistant coaches tweeted on Nov. 4 in defense of former head football coach Art Briles in their effort to refute a searing account given by Baylor regents. The regents contend that Baylor sports administrator Tom Hill, Briles and McCaw, upon being notified of the rape, did nothing to send this allegation to the university’s Judicial Affairs office, as stipulated by Title IX policy. (This was more than a year before Baylor had a formal Title IX office.) Yet Falwell says Baylor regents informed McCaw that “he was welcome to remain as Baylor’s athletic director” and that he instead chose to resign on his own, “a good man who found himself in a place where bad things were happening.”
Put all this together and I’m not sure what you have. But one can see why, during their Monday press conference after meeting with three Baylor regents, donors and alumni representing Bears for Leadership Reform were pushing for a third-party inquiry into these conflicting versions and other matters, including why Baylor dragged its feet (at least, according to critics such as former Texas Gov. Mark White, a Baylor alumnus) in setting up a stand-alone Title IX office to look into claims of sexual violence involving students.
When asked about Baylor regents making selective comments to the press and Liberty’s investigation largely clearing McCaw, Bears for Leadership Reform leader and BU donor John Eddie Williams didn’t hesitate: “Absolutely, it creates some doubt and that’s why we have conflicting information, even between the coaches and select board members. We have conflicting information between what Liberty University has found and what Baylor has found and that gives rise to another reason why we believe that a strong, independent investigator looking at everything would help put this to rest.”
The idea of yet another investigation looking into Baylor leadership’s management of all this — but this one expedited and open to inspection by Baylor alumni, faculty and students — might seem redundant, especially after the Pepper Hamilton law firm’s nine-month investigation that resulted in the May demotion of popular Baylor president Ken Starr (who later resigned), the firing of Briles and the sanctioning of McCaw (who soon resigned). And the estimated cost of a million bucks or more for this latest investigation gives one pause.
Unfortunately, many questions remain about the thoroughness of the Pepper Hamilton investigation (including its scrutiny of the athletics department), clashing rationale involving Baylor’s actions since the U.S. Department of Education issued its controversial “Dear Colleague” letter pressing implementation of Title IX policies in 2011 and, finally, inconsistencies in accounts and allegations involving Baylor administrators and the athletics staff, including McCaw. These only seem to justify alumni and donors pushing for a more comprehensive investigation.
“I can’t think of an athletic director in the country who is more sensitized to the importance of complying with the intricacies of Title IX than Ian McCaw,” Falwell said. “We have a dedicated Title IX coordinator at Liberty. I have no doubt that her working relationship with Ian will be fantastic and cooperative, and I know that one of Ian’s first tasks will be to connect with her and talk about how he and his department can work most effectively with her.
“Apparently, at the time period in question, Baylor did not have a dedicated Title IX office and such reports of sexual assaults went to the office that handled all violations of the student conduct code, Judicial Affairs,” Falwell added. “Liberty has specialized Title IX resources and investigators that work as a unit under the direction of the Title IX coordinator. There is a big stack of new regulations that the Department of Education has created for Title IX and, in the last several years, we have gone to great pains to make sure we have complied to the letter.”
Irony? About the time Falwell was hiring McCaw and touting Liberty’s Title IX vigor, he also revealed that President-elect Donald Trump — a man with his own history of sexual improprieties — had invited Falwell to head the Department of Education, which oversees Title IX compliance and is now overseeing its own investigation of Baylor. Further irony? The Department of Education is under attack by many Republicans for overreach in Title IX law and could be neutered in a Trump administration.
With McCaw finding sanctuary in Liberty’s fold, Briles still entertaining notions of coaching elsewhere and Starr pursuing causes such as religious liberty while quietly pressing his own vindication through interviews and writings, Bears for Leadership Reform leader John Eddie Williams has even more questions for Baylor regents, given the topic of contract settlements.
“If they fired them for cause, if they actually did something wrong, then how many millions of dollars did they pay as a result of that, because everyone knows if you’re fired for cause, you’re not owed any money,” said Williams, a prominent Houston attorney. “So one of the points of the investigation is: Did they really do something wrong? And if they really did something wrong, why would you pay them any money? We’re being blocked from discovering those important facts.”