Jonathon S. Platt
Judge Ken Starr said he didn’t sleep much last night. In fact, he hasn’t slept much at all lately. What’s different about today though, Starr said Wednesday afternoon, is that he has found “a sense of inner peace.”
After consulting scripture, seeking counsel from trusted advisors and “spending a good deal of time” reading emails of both concern and support, Starr’s conviction to offer greater transparency led him to a decision. He chose to step down as chancellor of Baylor University.
“I have called — from day one — for transparency,” Starr said. “And I reached the stage, tentatively, last night and then came to the conclusion firmly early this morning that in conscience I had to resign — to my sorrow — so I could speak out freely and call for transparency.”
On May 26, Baylor’s Board of Regents dismissed Starr from his post as university president, but chose to keep him as chancellor and Louise L. Morrison Chair of Constitutional Law at Baylor Law School. This decision came after board members reviewed a completed report from the Law Firm of Pepper Hamilton, a Virginia based group that investigated Baylor’s handling of sexual assault cases. The board also placed Baylor’s head football coach Art Briles on a path to termination and suspended athletic director Ian McCaw. McCaw resigned his post Monday.
After his resignation, Starr chose to sit down with the Lariat to offer the transparency he felt was necessary.
Lariat: With many news stories coming out about the board’s recent decision to alter leadership at Baylor, do you think anything is being missed?
Starr: What I’ve been trying to say is that I hope Baylor Nation will get on the road to healing. We need to address this chapter of interpersonal violence — I think we have been addressing it — and then in grief for the victims and doing right for the victims and their families, whose lives have been so affected…we have to do the right thing. But in order to close this chapter and learn all the lessons, we need the facts.
The truth may be very unattractive, but we need to have the truth. We need it fully, not partially. And now I’m able to say that.
L: What is next for Baylor in solving how reports of sexual assault are handled?
S: I believe that we are right at the cusp of the gold standard and best practice with respect to counseling. We are moving aggressively with respect to prevention. We need to cut this off before it happens. We increasingly realized that for there to be prevention, we needed bystander intervention.
The point that I’m trying to make is: I believe that we have a very good and robust set of protections and procedures in place.
It comes down to character. And here’s the good news: Baylor’s student body is a wonderful and gracious and kind student body. It’s a caring and loving student body. Almost everyone came here because of its Christian mission. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. We will not be a perfect community, but we are a good and caring community and that’s one of the things I prized and treasured about Baylor.
I’m inspired. I’m not just encouraged. I’m inspired by our students.
L: If you were a student, how would you want to be reassured you are safe at Baylor?
S: I don’t need confirmation. I know it with every interaction I have, including even today.
L: With hindsight and this new ability to be more open and transparent, is there a point at which you wish you had done something differently?
S: When you look at the facts of what the Baylor administration did, I’m very proud of what the Baylor administration did.
Did we do everything right in the perfect or the best practices way? No.
L: Is there a specific example where you think Baylor fell short?
S: We fell short — especially in recent years — with respect to counseling capacity. It is true that students at Baylor University were turned away — not irrevocably. We simply do not have the capacity to attend to (all the students’) needs. And I think we were slow. And I accept responsibility for enhancing that counseling capacity.
I’m very pleased and I applaud the Board of Regents in recent months — really, at the February meeting — for guiding and directing the administration to substantially expand our counseling capabilities.
I believe we are on a good trajectory. I think our Title XI office, at present, reflects best practices. I think we are becoming — if we aren’t quite there yet — the gold standard.
I think we’re there. Let other express their opinion.
L: What is the message you want to leave the students you loved so much?
S: That I’m still here! I’m no longer president and now, as of today, I’m no longer the chancellor of the university, but I eagerly hope to be very engaged in student life.
L: We have watched you run the Baylor Line since 2010. Why did you do that?
S: It’s not for the exercise. It is to show symbolically my deep connection with the students. I become a student. I put on my line jersey and run with the freshmen. Slightly ahead, but, as each year goes by, less ahead than I was able to run in 2010.
L: How is Mrs. Starr doing?
S: She’s doing very well. She’s working with family and dear friends outside the Waco area. She’s very strong.
Like he said he hoped to be, Starr was open and transparent. In the comfort of his living room, he was warm and welcoming, but ended on an emotional note. When asked how he hoped Baylor students would remember their “Uncle Kenny,” he straightened up.
“He loved the students,” Starr replied. He was holding back tears.