‘Ken Starr has been purged. A tenured professor was forced out for action taken as an administrator.’

Rob Reed

Baylor’s Title IX quagmire

In the wake of the Baylor University firings over Title IX requirements, shouldn’t we clarify what Title IX actually is? Trib opinion editor Bill Whitaker’s Aug. 14 column on Doe v. Columbia and Baylor’s answer to a recent Title IX lawsuit shed more light on this subject than anything yet.

Baylor’s problems stem from extra-legal guidelines issued under former Assistant Secretary of Education Russlynn Ali. Any doubter should view three C-SPAN videos of hearings by the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. These videos are from May 2015, September 2015 and March 2016. In those hearings, Assistant Secretary Catherine Lhamon, Deputy Secretary Amy McIntosh and Secretary John King all admit Ali’s guidelines do not have the force of law. But King and Lhamon go on to explain that they still expect schools to follow them.

For years Sen. Lamar Alexander, who has been governor of Tennessee, president of the University of Tennessee and Secretary of Education, has been asking the Department of Education to cite its legal authority for Ali’s Title IX guidelines. Sen. Alexander is still waiting.

In letters to Secretary King in January and March of this year, Sen. James Lankford (a Texan by birth and a graduate of UT and Southwestern Seminary) has also requested citations for Lhamon’s authority to issue and enforce mandatory guidelines to schools. Lhamon’s February and May responses to Lankford offer little beyond unsupported arguments and unrelated case citations.

The Pepper Hamilton law firm has produced no factual evidence of misconduct by any Baylor employee. But Pepper Hamilton did find that Baylor failed to meet Russlynn Ali’s Title IX guidelines — the very guidelines that are not legally binding.

Two questions: Did Pepper Hamilton inform the Baylor regents that the guidelines Baylor failed to meet are not legally binding? Was Pepper Hamilton professionally obliged to tell Baylor those guidelines are not legally binding?

Charles Reed, Waco

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr. Reed is a former mayor of Waco.

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I was saddened but not surprised that Ken Starr resigned from his chair in the Baylor Law School. There is a great deal that remains unknown about why the Baylor regents terminated Starr as president of the university. It will be a while before the whole story emerges. But as a historian, I know the judgment of history is as inevitable as it is revealing.

When I was hired by Baylor in 1994, Herbert Reynolds was in the final year of his presidency. He had fought a battle to secure the academic freedom of Baylor from a possible threat from fundamentalists. That was his great fight and he fought it well. Ken Starr’s fight was different. He was hired to give guidance and direction to a university that was on the brink of a breakthrough from being a solid regional institution to a university with national aspirations.

Soon after arriving, he played a leading role in saving the Big 12 from disintegrating. He led an effort to raise $100 million in additional scholarship money so that Baylor’s traditional constituency of lower middle-class students would not be prevented from attending because of high tuition increases. He organized public dialogues in Waco Hall with eminent political and cultural leaders.

I add a personal observation to this: He often came to the 6 a.m. workouts at the Fitness Center in the Student Life Center. Given the early hour, this is a group of regulars — students, faculty and staff of all ages and diversity. Ken Starr made it a point of talking to everyone.

When he says he loves Baylor, I believe it. And although he’s gone, something remains. Ken Starr called Baylor to greatness. Will it heed his call?

D.E. Mungello, Professor of History, Baylor University

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Ken Starr has been pushed out as a professor at the direction of someone behind the closed doors of Baylor’s murky leadership. It’s hard to know who even runs Baylor these days. President David Garland apparently cannot speak to the public without his handler Ron Murff at his side and Garland himself seems little more than a mouthpiece for policy set by the board of regents.

In recent times, the regent board has refused to record the proceedings of its clandestine meetings, even going so far as to bind its members to secrecy.

Generally, the inability to hold the regent board accountable is fine for this simple reason: the board is not meant to carry out the day-to-day operations of the university itself but rather to oversee the administration’s performance. When an institution goes in an unacceptable direction, a board of trustees may change the leadership to set a new course. But it does not replace the previous administration with itself by ruling as a junta; it installs a new administration and allows it to operate. Yet the Baylor board clearly outgrew that role months ago and is now encroaching on an area where it does not belong: contracts of tenured faculty.

As with any junta, an alleged crisis justifies the takeover — and as with the ascendancy of any junta, there are purges. Starr has been purged. A tenured professor was forced out for action taken as an administrator. The only explanation regent chair Murff has given that could explain this purge is the long-discredited notion of failing to implement Title IX — a misleading reference to the guidance letter the U.S. Department of Education sent out in 2011. A guidance letter that everyone now knows is not legally binding — at least according to the sworn testimony of Secretary of Education John King before the U.S. Senate.

Rob Reed, Bryan

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Baylor’s board of regents desperately needs an infusion of new blood. I simply do not believe that, after an intense, nine-month investigation, the Pepper Hamilton law firm tapped to investigate administrative protocols addressing sexual assaults did not prepare a formal report for this cabal — that is, the board. Sooner than later, I believe, this nebulous report will be disclosed.

The resultant backlash will make the punitive sacrifice of Chancellor Ken Starr and coach Art Briles look like a picnic in the park. The board’s stonewalling the Baylor Nation on this matter will only delay inevitable closure of this sordid affair.

Dan Dayton, West

EDITOR’S NOTE: Former Baylor University President Ken Starr discusses Title IX challenges, his legacy at Baylor and his future in a lengthy Q&A in Sunday’s Tribune-Herald.