However you feel about Baylor University’s handling of students who have been sexually assaulted, Monday’s late-night protest by some 200 students, faculty and alumni in front of Baylor President Ken Starr’s campus home, coming after damning news reports and widely read blogs alleging administrative indifference, makes it clear Baylor leadership — whether regents or Starr himself — seriously miscalculated.
Not only has Baylor botched at least some alleged sexual assaults involving students, it has bungled an opportunity to get out in front of this ugly narrative. Instead, it has sat on its hands and let others repeatedly redefine a university that should be working overtime to reassure not only students but their families, many of whom pay much and expect more. This is astonishing for a university that prides itself on its Christian principles.
Consider Baylor School of Social Work freshman Sydney Pechal, who Monday night said the whole matter makes her think twice about even attending Baylor: “To quote my dad, ‘They have the money to cover it up.’ And it’s sad. We’re a Christian university.”
In an email just hours after the Sunday posting of a letter signed by Baylor alumni, faculty and students demanding action, Starr reminded all that, after seeming indifference regarding the victim of former Baylor football player Sam Ukwuachu, regents initiated a comprehensive review of Baylor’s response to reports of sexual violence. Yet Pepper Hamilton, a law firm with expertise in institutional responses to sexual misconduct, was tapped almost six months ago to conduct this review. And the snail’s pace of work in a realm in which Pepper Hamilton supposedly excels is anything but encouraging.
“When Pepper Hamilton’s review is complete, we will determine how best to share the firm’s recommendations,” Starr said. “While operating within the constraints of federal law, namely the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, we commit to informing Baylor Nation of both short-term improvements and measures that may require longer-term implementation.”
Starr is right to cite this federal privacy act, which prevents universities from speaking publicly about certain incidents, including specific reports of sexual violence — even if the students themselves choose to talk about their experiences, as they have about Baylor through everything from ESPN to the Tribune-Herald.
No one in this community seeks graphic details regarding student assaults. But we expect a reasonable explanation of why Baylor repeatedly hesitated to act decisively on victim complaints. Those who regard Baylor as our community’s greatest asset have a vested interest in its not only holding true to its principles but demonstrating the expediency such matters now demand.