President and Chancellor Ken Starr made it a point in his letter last Wednesday to the student body to point out the “comprehensive external and completely independent” review of Baylor’s handling of sexual assault cases by the law firm of Pepper Hamilton. In light of such review, according to Starr, and in “deference” to its “integrity…any observations about policies and practices would be premature.” Additionally, federal laws protecting student privacy prevents “Baylor from speaking publicly about particular incidents.”
In light of both of Starr’s comments regarding the independent review and federal law, I’d like to know what Baylor is able to reveal to Pepper Hamilton and what, if anything, Baylor is prevented from revealing. Does privacy law simply prevent public disclosure of information regarding Title IX but enable disclosure of information relating to particular sexual assault cases to outside parties who, I’d assume, are themselves bound by certain rules of confidentiality? Are there facts and evidence Baylor is prevented from disclosing, even if it wanted to, to outside parties? Are victims consulted when determining what information is disclosed to Pepper Hamilton? Should future victims be made aware that their cases could be disclosed to parties not affiliated with local law enforcement?
The protection of student privacy — and the privacy of victims of sexual assault especially — is of the utmost importance in creating a safe community for all; yet given reports and stories circulating about Baylor’s handling of sexual assault cases in the past, it does not seem unwarranted to inquire into the nature of such privacy protections and the ways in which Baylor might be able/required to withhold certain information from Pepper Hamilton because of these protections.