In a Nov. 1 letter to the Baylor community, interim Baylor University President David Garland simultaneously promised more transparency about the campus rape crisis and continued down the misleading, PR-driven path of insisting that no Pepper Hamilton “report” actually exists to divulge.
Technically, he’s right. Pepper Hamilton apparently presented only an oral report to the Board of Regents. The disingenuous part about all this, though, is that a law firm would only avoid producing a written report if that’s what the client wanted. In other words, Pepper Hamilton was told by Baylor not to produce a report. It does not exist because Baylor did not want it to exist.
That can change. If Baylor were to pay Pepper Hamilton to produce a written report of its findings, it would happily do so. That’s what law firms do, after all. It might take time to compile, but even the announcement that such a report is forthcoming would be taken as a positive sign by even the harshest critics.
The course forward toward some kind of integrity is clear: Baylor should pay for, receive and make public a written report from the law firm it hired just over a year ago. Such a report could avoid identifying victims, while still naming the people within Baylor who fell down on the job. It is time to rip off the band-aid and let real healing begin.
Once such a report is produced, the primary audience must be the student body. While other constituencies — alumni, donors, faculty, staff and the Waco community — deserve the truth as well, it’s the students who were put at risk and who are enmeshed in a campus culture that at once is moralistic on sexual issues, yet has let allegations of the most heinous sexual abuses go without proper investigation. A university does not exist primarily to serve the alumni, or the donors, or the administration or faculty. It exists as a non-profit entity to serve the students who place their lives and trust in the hands of that school. Those students are owed an accounting.
Yet the administration and board hide behind the artificial construct that there is no written report and pay off those who may be able to tell the truth. Like the mob, Baylor seems obsessed with a code of Omerta (silence). Negotiations with disgruntled and departing Title IX coordinator Patty Crawford made clear they have probably already paid fistfuls of money — money that has come from either donors or tuition payments — to keep employees or former employees from speaking honestly about what happened. The extent of this is unknown but should be public and subject to accountability. When Baylor officials say, for example, that some Baylor police officers “no longer work for the university,” they neglect to say what the terms of that separation were and whether it included a payment to buy the silence of those officers.
I am not a member of the Baylor community. I don’t live in Texas or close to it. However, my perspective does let me see Baylor from the viewpoint of those outside the so-called “Baylor bubble” — and they are disgusted and repulsed both by the rapes themselves and the response of the university. Simply because I was formerly associated with the school, I received several emails attaching video of a recent interview of Baylor Vice President Reagan Ramsower. Each was accompanied by a message of revulsion. At this point, what people see is a university that is more committed to PR than to Christian values of accountability, honesty and confession.
David Garland and the regents should insist that a written report be produced by Pepper Hamilton, and Garland should distribute that report to the students he serves. To move forward, these leaders must shut out the braying voices of the lawyers, PR specialists and Baylor insiders and discern instead that still, small voice that tells us deeper truths. That could be the start of Baylor regaining its soul.
Former Baylor Law School professor Mark Osler is professor of law at the University of St. Thomas Law School.