Tumultuous summer unfolds for administration, lawsuits filed against Baylor

Students leave an event at Waco Hall in April 2016. Photo credit: Lariat File Photo

Baylor saw a lot of changes this summer. In response to the Pepper Hamilton investigation finding sexual assault mishandlings within Baylor, Judge Ken Starr was removed as president and stepped down as chancellor, Baylor fired head football coach Art Briles and Athletic Director Ian McCaw resigned. Starr resigned from the university completely on Friday morning.

“We have made these decisions, because, above all, we must safeguard our students and our campus,” said Richard Willis, chair of the Baylor Board of Regents, in a statement released in May. “We must set a new course to ensure the leaders of the University place a premium on responding effectively and with sensitivity to those impacted by the tragedy of interpersonal violence.”

The university’s actions took place after Virginia law firm Pepper Hamilton completed their investigation into Baylor’s previous handling of sexual assault cases. They found that Baylor failed to implement Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA).

Pepper Hamilton provided Baylor with 105 recommendations, 76 of which have been completed or are ongoing said Tonya Lewis, assistant director of Baylor Media Communications.

In response to the Pepper Hamilton report, The Board of Regents created the full-time position of Chief Compliance Officer that will report directly to the Office of the President. In February, Baylor announced a $5 million expansion plan to the Baylor Title IX Office, the Counseling Center and the Department of Public safety.

“We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus. This investigation revealed the University’s mishandling of reports in what should have been a supportive, responsive and caring environment for students,” Willis said. “The depth to which these acts occurred shocked and outraged us. Our students and their families deserve more, and we have committed our full attention to improving our processes, establishing accountability and ensuring appropriate actions are taken to support former, current and future students.”

In March, former Baylor student Jasmin Hernandez filed a Title IX lawsuit against Baylor, former Head Football Coach Art Briles and former Athletic Director Ian McCaw. Hernandez was sexually assaulted by former Baylor football player Tevin Elliott twice in 2012. Elliott was convicted on two counts of sexual assault and sentenced to 20 years in prison in January 2014.

In July, Hernandez added an amendment to her lawsuit referencing a 2011 gang rape of another former student by former football players. The amendment also added findings from the Pepper Hamilton investigation.

On June 15, three former Baylor students filed another Title IX lawsuit citing that Baylor, “failed to take immediate, effective remedial steps to resolve the complaints of sexual harassment, and instead acted with deliberate indifference towards plaintiffs.” Three more plaintiffs joined the lawsuit on June 28. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit cite instances of sexual assault on and off Baylor’s campus from 2004-2015.

A third lawsuit against the university was filed by a former student on June 20, saying the university fostered a “hunting ground for sexual predators.”

In December 2015 Baylor settled in a similar lawsuit with the victim in a sexual assault trial of former Baylor football player Sam Ukwuachu. Ukwuachu was convicted in August of a 2013 sexual assault and was given the maxim sentence he could receive — 180 days in jail and 10 years probation.

Art Briles has contested his termination and maintained that he did nothing wrong.

On June 16, Briles’ lawyer, Ernest Cannon, included a letter in their court motion accusing Baylor of wrongful termination.

“The conclusion is inescapable that the motive of Baylor University and the Board of Regents was to use its Head Football Coach and the Baylor Athletic Department as a camouflage to disguise and distract from its own institutional failure to comply with Title IX and other federal civil rights laws,” Cannon wrote. “It is equally clear from the actions of Baylor University and the Board of Regents, both in the media and in its oral and written communications with Coach Briles since his wrongful termination, that they have ignored and repeatedly violated the clear duties that they owe under Texas law and by contract to Art Briles. Baylor University and the Board of Regents have refused to provide Coach Art Briles with any information or grounds which they used to support the termination of his employment.”

The Associated Press reported on June 17 that Baylor and Briles reached a settlement for the remaining $40 million on his contract which was supposed to last through 2023.