Q&A: Starr talks volunteering, Patty Crawford

Video by Jacquelyn Kellar | Broadcast Managing Editor and story by Rae Jefferson | News Editor

This week the Baylor Lariat sat down with former president and chancellor Ken Starr to hear what he’s been up to for the past few months. On Aug. 19, Starr and the university announced a mutual separation following a year-long scandal around the university’s mishandling of sexual assault cases.

“The mutually agreed separation comes with the greatest respect and love Judge Starr has for Baylor and with Baylor’s recognition and appreciation for Judge Starr’s many contributions to Baylor,” according to a university press release.

Starr entered office in June 2010. The Baylor Board of Regents removed him from presidency on May 26 this year after findings from independent firm Pepper Hamilton found major failings in the university’s response to campus sexual violence.

Starr was to remain a tenured professor at Baylor University’s Law School and Louise L. Morrison Chair of Constitutional Law at Baylor Law School. He separated from the university months after the demotion.

Lariat: We’re interested in catching up with you and finding out what you’re involved with these days. You’ve brought us to Waco High School, so what does your role look like here?

Starr: I’m a volunteer. I have long been involved in education, including public education, for many years in Washington D.C. – I was a volunteer at [Anacostia High School]. And so I go where the need is, as I’m directed.

So, at the present time, I am working as a volunteer with the wonderful Mock Trial program here at Waco High School, which is a legendary program that’s had tremendous success for many years. So I’m privileged to serve in the class as a volunteer under the leadership of a great man and a great teacher, Rick Lowe, who is actually a retired Wacoan high school teacher who was so good, so legendary, that he was asked to come back out of retirement. So he teaches two periods.

And if I’m not traveling and can otherwise be here, I pitch in and help as a volunteer.

How frequently do you come to the high school?

As frequently as I can. I try to be here every week as much as I can within the week. I think, this particular week, I’ll be here three days. I missed one day, the bookends, because of travel and other commitments.

How did you get connected with Waco High School?

I was connected through Dr. Bonnie Cane, who is a very dear friend and whom I very much admire. Dr. Cain is the superintendent of Waco Independent School District. And so, this summer, I sat down with Dr. Cain and said, “I believe in education, love being involved with education. I’ve been privileged to be a servant leader in education. It’s now time for me to be a servant and a volunteer, so how can I help?” And she immediately said, “You will go to Waco High School and help with this legendary Mock Trial Program.”

And when you’re not here, what else do you find yourself doing during your spare time?

Well, my two abiding passions are education and religious liberty. So, in terms of my professional activity, I’ve not returned at this stage to the practice of law, so I’m working very hard around the globe on issues of religious liberty for all persons. That was a high priority when I was privileged to serve at Baylor University. I remain in close touch with our friends and colleagues at Georgetown University. I am a member of the board of directors of Advocates International, which is a worldwide network of lawyers in over 120 countries who work to promote and defend religious liberty around the world.

And then I’ve been doing a book. I’ve basically completed the book on my Baylor journey. It’s in the hands of my literary agent in Southern California, and we hope to publish it very soon. And it’s my, as I describe it, it’s my love letter to Baylor. The title, by the way – if I may give you the working title – is “Bear Country: My Baylor Journey.” We’re probably going to tweak the subtitle, but I think the title will remain “Bear Country.”

And then, happily, we have children, grandchildren, who’ve just moved to the Waco area this summer, so that’s been a great blessing. I get to go to soccer games again. I didn’t get to do that for many years, and the children are getting a little bit older – the oldest is 12, the youngest – living here – is 5, just turning 6. So, that’s a great blessing to be able to spend time with the grandchildren.

How is Mrs. Starr doing?

She’s doing great. This morning, she was at a board meeting at Talitha Koum. Again, we’re very invested in and committed to education and all our hopes for the tenderest age. I’m so glad that so many wonderful Baylor students are involved with Talitha Koum as volunteers. The Philanthropy Lab seminar has been very generous to Talitha Koum. So, that has been a priority of hers.

She’s also serving on the airport board, she serves on the Waco Mammoth board and she does other volunteer nonprofit work. And she’s still very actively involved at the Baylor nursing school – the Louise Herrington School of Nursing in Dallas, which we love. And then, from time to time, we are at Baylor events including as recently as last evening at the Jackson Lecture in beautiful Armstrong Browning Library. We’re staying busy.

On the topic of Baylor, in light of your separation from the university, do you feel that your relationship to the university has changed any?

Oh, our love and passion for Baylor is undiminished. We love Baylor; we love the faculty, the students. I’m doing some mentoring of Baylor students. I do receive invitations to come to teach a particular class – not a course, but a class – and, if the schedule permits, I very much try to do that. We love Baylor theater, Baylor music; we love Baylor athletics. We continue, financially, to support many activities at Baylor. So, we love Baylor – we’re Baylor Bears.

People say hindsight is 20/20. Do you feel that there’s anything you wish you’d done differently during your time at Baylor?

It’s very difficult to deal with things which you do not know, so I wish there had been a more robust information gathering system, because it is clear, in retrospect, that there were certain functions, especially with respect to policing and what I call the first responders to incidents of sexual violence, that needed to be improved. But I’ve said publicly now on a number of occasions that I have a different perspective. I believe Baylor has done an enormous amount over the five and six years that I was privileged to serve to protect students’ safety and to be involved in students’ safety. But, that’s my perspective. Others have different opinions.

You’ve been away from campus as accusations of Baylor’s continued mishandlings of Title IX investigations have come from former Title IX coordinator Patty Crawford. What has been your perspective on this situation?

The honest answer is that I love Patty Crawford. I have great respect for her. I do have a different perspective with respect to the support that she enjoyed during my tenure. And my perspective is we tried to do everything we possibly could to support Patty professionally and personally, and to provide her with the tools that she needed to carry on her very important and sensitive job. But we shall see what she continues to say, but I wish her very well and obviously – again, I love Patty Crawford and have immense respect for her.

And I said publicly in New York City when I was first asked about Patty Crawford that I think anything that she has to say has to be taken seriously, but I might end up having a different perspective in terms of what happened prior to June the first, or at least prior to mid-May, when the Board of Regents began taking the actions that they took.

During your last interview with the Lariat, which occurred prior to your full resignation from the university, you talked about wanting to stay involved with Baylor students. Is that something you’d still like to do going forward?

Oh, yes. I mean, we chose to live in Waco. We have a house in Northern Virginia; we could easily just take up residence in Northern Virginia. I’ve had opportunities to pick up and move elsewhere, but we chose to buy a home in Waco. We love this community. We view this as now our home – I guess we have two homes, because Northern Virginia feels very much like home because we lived there for 30 years and raised our children there.

But this has become our home, and so we love this community, and Baylor is such a integral part of the community. So my hope and prayer is that Baylor will continue to invest itself institutionally in the life of Central Texas, and I have every confidence that it will. I was very pleased to see a column by interim president David Garland recommitting to Baylor’s love for and involvement in Waco and Central Texas, more generally.