Moving forward, task forces address Pepper Hamilton report

Baylor University's main building, Pat Neff Hall. Photo by: Liesje Powers | Lariat Photo Editor

By Karyn Simpson, | Copy Desk Chief

In the wake of the external investigation conducted by Pepper Hamilton LLP over Baylor University’s conduct regarding alleged sexual violence, the university created two task forces: the Sexual Assault Task Force and the Spiritual Life and Character Formation Task Force.

The task forces were formed to help implement 105 recommendations made by Pepper Hamilton and to aid in continuing to create a safe, Christian community at Baylor. They are comprised of faculty, staff and students from various departments across the university.

Sexual Assault Task Force

The Sexual Assault Task Force, headed by Reagan Ramsower, Ph.D., senior vice president and chief operating officer in Baylor’s department of finance and administration, was designed to implement the administrative and structural changes recommended by the Pepper Hamilton report. The task force is comprised of 79 individuals and is divided into 13 implementation teams. It meets weekly to discuss progress, goals and strategies.

Ramsower said the Sexual Assault Task Force teams are dynamic and were designed with efficiency in mind. The teams were created to complete the recommendations as quickly and accurately as possible. At this point, 74 of the 105 recommendations are ongoing or have been completed.

“The idea is that it’s not intended to last for a year or a long period of time,” Ramsower said, “It’s intended to address the recommendations, act as quickly and as effectively as you can on the recommendations, implement those recommendations and then move on.”

Ramsower said the teams were based around groups into which the recommendations were divided and some of the teams will remain in action longer than others. For example, before the report was released, a team in 2015 worked to establish and revise Title IX policy and will continue to work to improve it.

“The Title IX policy at this moment is being revised, and we’re hoping to get that complete by Aug. 22,” said Brandyn Hicks, Baylor’s director of special projects and initiatives and a former assistant district attorney who prosecuted several sexual assault cases. “Pepper Hamilton is assisting the university in revising the policy and making certain that it’s reflective of the current Department of Education guidance, Office of Civil Rights guidance, and ensuring that we’re doing the right thing.”

Ramsower said the team will gauge success not only by completion of Pepper Hamilton’s recommendations, but also by evaluating the culture and climate at Baylor through feedback from climate surveys.

The surveys will help identify if changes have been made and if the issues present in the Baylor community have been addressed. In addition, the surveys will determine how to address broader issues such as racism and sexism.

“Success is when a victim — a survivor — of sexual assault can come forward to the university, to anyone, and feel comfortable addressing it with that individual and feel confident that the university is going to take those allegations seriously and investigate in a manner that is consistent with federal law,” Hicks said.

Students are encouraged to submit anonymous observations, input and feedback through a form on the task force website. Ramsower said the team is collecting and reviewing the input weekly.

“I would challenge the student body to have courage to speak into this process and not to fear something might happen if they do,” Ramsower said “… because if we’re not courageous and participating, you’re not going to make a difference.”

See our comprehensive timeline on anything related to sexual assault at Baylor

Spiritual Life and Character Formation Task Force

While the Sexual Assault Task Force is focused on immediate change, its counterpart, the Spiritual Life and Character Formation Task Force, is focused on long-term, ongoing change and community-building.

The Spiritual Life and Character Formation Task Force, led by executive vice president and provost Greg Jones, Ph.D., aims to increase collaboration and community across campus and aid in creating a character-driven, Christ-centered culture within Baylor and the surrounding community.

“We want to look both at specific ways that we can take some action this fall to improve coordination, to build on things that are happening on campus that already work and to help spread that,” Jones said. “(We also want) to ask some bigger questions about things we might do over several years that might improve the ways we think about what it means to help students form healthy spiritual, mental and emotional lives.”

Jones said the task force’s first objective was to study how students across campus connect, as well as how the campus connects with outside churches and organizations across Waco. By doing this, the task force hopes to effectively build onto existing programs and discover places where new programs are needed.

“We hope that we’ll be able to build on some strengths, and then we’ll be able to better coordinate activities among people who are doing good things,” Jones said. “And then we’ll also be able to develop some new initiatives that will address gaps that we discover.”

The task force will gauge its success by surveying students to see if they perceive more campus-wide coordination, as well as using both qualitative and quantitative instruments to evaluate if the task force is effectively helping students with character and spiritual formation, Jones said.

While students may not join the task force, they are encouraged to give feedback and input either through the anonymous online form or by speaking with task force members such as university chaplain Burt Burleson, director of new student programs Elisa Dunman, vice president of student life Kevin Jackson, or assistant athletics director for student athlete personal development Tierra Barber. Students may also speak with faculty-in-residence at the Baylor residence halls.

“Baylor has taken seriously the ways in which we’ve fallen short,” Jones said. “At the same time, we also believe this is a really healthy culture and it’s going to be an even healthier culture as a result of the work of both task forces … as we work on this, we hope to have a much stronger culture this fall — one that will benefit students for years to come. It’s a great school, and we need to celebrate all the good, even as we take corrective action in the ways that we’ve fallen short.”