Given the Aug. 5 death of former Texas Gov. Mark White, the many eulogies praising his rare leadership and his final fight for accountability and transparency on the part of leadership at his alma mater, one can’t help noting the irony of Friday’s ruling by a federal judge involving White’s beloved Baylor University. The court ordered Baylor to furnish local attorney Jim Dunnam with notes, recordings and other relevant information from the controversial Pepper Hamilton investigation that reportedly uncovered administrative indifference regarding sexual assaults involving Baylor students.
In one respect, the court ruling — delivered as Dunnam presses a Title IX lawsuit on behalf of 10 alleged sexual-assault victims — is groundbreaking. District Judge Robert Pitman of Waco made tatters of at least one Baylor argument for fighting efforts by White and others to get such information out to the broader Baylor constituency. Baylor had insisted the investigation fell neatly within attorney-client privilege. However, Pitman ruled, such privileges went out the window once Baylor itself revealed selected parts of the Pepper Hamilton investigation, going all the way back to Baylor regents’ decision in May 2016 to release their so-called “Findings of Fact.” Those findings served as regents’ justification for sending packing Baylor’s president, head football coach and athletic director — highly controversial moves that only stirred the pot, prompting an angry demand for more answers from alumni, parents, faculty and students.
Yet in another respect, those who hail this development as a sure step toward the very transparency White and other BU alumni demanded should temper their enthusiasm. We’ve been here before. Legal actions involving others, including popular former head football coach Art Briles, have been dismissed, dropped or quietly settled, even as supporters hoped these might yield answers about what supposedly went so wrong at Baylor in how administrators and athletics staffers handled certain sexual assaults. Dunnam’s clients appear interested in justice and transparency more than cash and payoffs, but if settlements are soon forthcoming, all that this court order will have done is raised the stakes for Baylor, which has vigorously defended keeping the Pepper Hamilton report under wraps.
Whatever happens, Judge Pitman’s ruling bolsters our argument that Baylor has more to gain in the long term through greater transparency in the nine-month Pepper Hamilton inquiry than through specially cherry-picked sections, such as the Feb. 2 legal response to a defamation suit by former assistant athletics director Colin Shillinglaw. Baylor’s preference for secrecy over disclosure only guarantees it and our city will continue to suffer from skepticism, suspicion and rumors. If the Pepper Hamilton report had been released in largely complete form months ago, the “Baylor family” might by now be focused on the enormous potential of Baylor’s considerable academic, athletic and charitable aims — something Mark White without question preferred over the continuing division, in-fighting and scandal.