More voices have joined the chorus calling for further transparency from Baylor University’s board of regents a day after former President and Chancellor Ken Starr said he hopes the public will get a clearer picture of how the university has handled sexual assault allegations.
The executive committee of The Baylor Line Foundation — formerly the Baylor Alumni Association — other Baylor alumni and some sexual assault survivors called for the release of the full findings from Pepper Hamilton LLP, the Philadelphia-based law firm that conducted “an independent and external review of Baylor University’s institutional response to Title IX and related compliance issues through the lens of specific cases.”
The board of regents released the above description of the investigation on May 26, the same day it removed Starr as president and Art Briles as head football coach. Ian McCaw resigned as athletics director four days later, amid a scandal in recent years in which two former football players were convicted of sexual assault, another arrested and numerous others named in police reports alleging sexual and physical violence.
The board said Pepper Hamilton’s findings reflect a “fundamental failure” by Baylor to implement federal laws regarding sexual violence. Starr told the Tribune-Herald on Wednesday he hopes the board fully releases the findings of Pepper Hamilton’s investigation.
“The Baylor Family deserves an unvarnished, complete accounting of the facts about how these events were handled,” said Tom Nesbitt, president of The Baylor Line Foundation. “The ‘Findings of Fact’ document that Baylor released last week is not a summary of specific facts. It is a list of conclusions reached by the Baylor Board of Regents.”
While commending the board for releasing what it has, Nesbitt said the release “falls far short of the level of transparency that the Baylor Family — and the people directly affected — deserve.”
Multiple calls to board Chairman Ron Murff’s office have not been returned during the last several days, and former regent Chair Richard Willis did not respond to a voicemail.
Pepper Hamilton spokesman Dan Pulka referred questions to the university. Baylor spokeswoman Tonya Lewis replied late Thursday night to a voicemail and emails seeking comment and referred to a statement by Pepper Hamilton attorney Gina M. Smith on May 26.
“The experiences of students impacted by this played a significant role in this investigation and to the university’s response. While those experiences of the students informed the findings, the details of individual cases are not going to be shared and will not be referenced in any document. But, the overview of the findings that have been released by the board gives the gravamen and the salient findings that we presented in the thorough, comprehensive briefing that the board received over the month of May,” Smith said.
Neither Smith nor Baylor regents or officials have referenced releasing the full report with names and other identifying information of victims and students redacted, as is common practice with police reports and other such documents in order to avoid identifying victims or violating the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act.
Baylor in recent months has frequently used FERPA as a shield to avoid answering questions which would not identify sexual assault victims. Such questions included when certain administrators and athletics department staff knew of allegations against former football players accused of sexual assault.
Those players include Sam Ukwuachu, Tevin Elliott — both of whom have been convicted of sexual assault since 2014 — all-time Baylor sacks leader Shawn Oakman, who graduated in December and was arrested on a sexual assault charge in April, and others.
The Baylor Line Foundation in April voted to approve a settlement agreement with the university after a years-long rocky relationship involving lawsuits and the demolition of the Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center by the university. Part of the agreement involved ceasing the use of the “Baylor Alumni Association” name.
Also as part of the agreement, three members of the alumni group were approved as voting members of the board last month, though they will not be active members until the board next meets in July.
The summary in the “Findings of Fact” released by the board states the document contains “salient findings, which are being shared publicly to reflect transparency and accountability.” Nesbitt acknowledged the “complex legal issues” involved in the issue and the importance of privacy laws and the protection of victims’ identities.
However, “releasing a detailed factual report is important to assure the Baylor Family that the right people have been held accountable and that those in power are not using misguided notions of confidentiality to shield their own actions,” Nesbitt said.
Karen Petree, a 2007 Baylor graduate who is helping organize a rally of current and former Baylor students who were sexually assaulted there, said the group of victims she speaks with is split over whether the board should release Pepper Hamilton’s full findings.
While some involved with the group are calling for the report to be released, Petree said, others feel “the full report being released would further traumatize some of these girls.”
An open letter addressed to the board of regents, students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of Baylor, simply signed by “The Survivors,” says: “While transparency is important, Baylor should be sensitive to the people that public releases will affect the most. Findings, firings, reports, and notices like the ones delivered over the past week exemplified that society struggles to understand trauma and PTSD.”
The rally for survivors organized by Petree is at 8 p.m. Friday outside Pat Neff Hall on Baylor’s campus.
“Transparency can assist in showing improvements,” the letter said. “Publishing the past, present, and future processes for reporting sexual assault on campus would provide greater assurance to those victimized in the past that Baylor is keeping their promise.”
While Briles did not directly demand the release of the report in his Thursday statement, he noted that because Baylor hired Pepper Hamilton, the investigation was not truly independent, as the university has claimed since hiring Pepper Hamilton. His statement contradicted the regents’ description of the review being “independent and external.”
“The report prepared by Pepper Hamilton, the law firm hired and paid for by Baylor’s Board of Regents, has not been shared with me directly, despite my full cooperation with the investigation,” Briles said. “I can only assume that the report, which is not independent, supports the conclusions that the Board has already drawn. I hope to share with you what I was aware of as soon as I can so Baylor Nation can begin the healing process.”
Chrissy Healey, who earned a master’s degree from Baylor in 2004, insists that Baylor publicly release the full report. Healey said she is frustrated because the university continues to ask for donations for scholarships to benefit student-athletes, but she is not sure if the problems named in the summary have been fixed.
“There are generalizations in the summary report, but it’s not enough detail where we can say, ‘OK, it’s clear that this person was responsible because they didn’t do x, y and z, and they should have,’ ” Healey said.
Healey’s husband earned undergraduate and law degrees from Baylor as well, and his mother taught at the school. The family bought season tickets for basketball and football games in the aftermath of the 2003 Baylor basketball scandal, when Carlton Dotson murdered teammate Patrick Dennehy, and coach Dave Bliss tried to paint Dennehy as a drug dealer while covering up other major NCAA violations. Healey said she thought Baylor handled that crisis better.
“At this point, guys, you have to provide some information to people who you’re asking for money specifically to give scholarships to athletes,” she said. “It’s directly correlated to what’s happening.”
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