After mostly silence and stonewalling for nine tumultuous months amidst a crisis involving sexual assaults at Baylor University, many of us seeking some word, any word, from Baylor leadership could make the mistake of surrendering too quickly to Baylor regents’ decidedly aggressive course of action and overall version of campus calamity. And if the Baylor Nation or an inquiring press readily drops demands for a more comprehensive, detailed explanation of just what went wrong, nagging questions will continue to fester.
That’s not healthy or wise for Baylor, its regents and all who attend Baylor, teach or conduct research there, not to mention those of us in the Waco area who want to see Baylor emerge from this stronger and more resolute.
For one thing, the larger lessons in this saga could be instructive in a mightier, positively Christian context. Colleges and universities nationwide are grappling with the problem of sexual assaults that prey upon students not always mature or prudent in their extracurricular pursuits. Colleges and universities nationwide are grappling with the problem of groups such as football teams and fraternities whose insularity can sometimes breed attitudes of entitlement and beliefs that neither law nor societal standards apply to them.
And colleges and universities nationwide are grappling with the delicate yet volatile challenge of ensuring that campus bureaucracies efficiently and compassionately handle victims’ concerns, including sensitive counseling, fierce advocacy and, if desired, a decisive clearing of impediments that, left neglected, might make student victims’ continued education on campus more difficult. Obviously, the wrong sort of people in key positions, the wrong sort of protocols in place, can send everything awry, as obviously happened at Baylor in recent years.
One courageous thing Baylor leadership can do if it’s serious about setting the university on the straight and narrow course toward healing and reform while reassuring prospective parents and students as well as faculty and staff: Release the complete analysis and findings of Pepper Hamilton, the celebrated Philadelphia law firm tapped by regents to investigate, and let’s allow this tragic moment to be a learning, fortifying one.
While we understand redacting some names — those of student victims and suspects accused of assault where no findings of guilt have been legally established — other facts require more transparency, especially on behalf of those who might be innocent. For instance, any employee leaving Baylor over the next year (or even in recent months) might attract undue suspicion as somehow being involved in all this bureaucratic bungling.
It’s important to remember that most of what we know counts on the better judgment and discretion of regents, who may bear some responsibility themselves. The board is basically saying to us all: “We’re firing people. Trust us. We’re beefing up Title IX staffing and protocol. Trust us. We’re sorry this all happened. Trust us.”
Yet since announcing online administrative and athletic shakeups and certain problems in general, the regents have again retreated to their bunkers. For instance, while three Baylor regents talked with the press in a 25-minute teleconference Thursday, most of it was spent with regents reading word for word statements they had already released to the media. Only a handful of questions were entertained. Most went unanswered.
The basic summary of Pepper Hamilton talking points is so damning, it might seem to cross the line as being enough. But the systemic failures described, ranging from indifference to outright retaliation involving sexual-assault victims, demand a far greater accounting of Baylor if we are all to ensure this never happens again.