Regents address sexual assault mishandlings at Baylor

Baylor regents spoke publicly for the first time on the findings of Pepper Hamilton, the law firm that investigated the way the university deals with sexual assault. Their comments largely focused on the Baylor football team and a larger “cultural issue.” Photo credit: Liesje Powers

By Kalyn Story | Staff Writer

For the first time, members of Baylor’s Board of Regents spoke publicly about details pertaining to the Pepper Hamilton report the university received in May.

Findings from the report resulted in the firing of head football coach Art Briles and university president and chancellor Ken Starr.

“There was a cultural issue there that was putting winning football games above everything else, including our values,” Baylor board of regents member J. Cary Gray said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Friday. “We did not have a caring community when it came to these women who reported that they were assaulted. And that is not OK.”

The WSJ reported that, according to Baylor regents, Baylor’s sexual assault scandal involved 17 women who reported sexual or domestic assaults involving 19 players, including four alleged gang rapes, since 2011.

Briles said in an interview with ESPN in September that he “made some mistakes” while at Baylor but wants to return to coaching eventually.

Briles’s lawyer Ernest Cannon told the WSJ that Briles never discouraged any victims from filing claims against players.

“They are pulling their own house down to justify the mistakes they made,” Cannon said. “He’s the football coach. That’s not his job. That’s their job.”

Cannon told the WSJ that regents are trying to hold Briles responsible for the university’s broader failure to implement a rigorous Title IX program.

The WSJ reported that on May 24, two days before the board announced plans to fire Briles, the football coach addressed regents.

“He couldn’t speak he was so upset, and all of us were,” Gray said to the WSJ. “Art said, ‘I delegated down, and I know I shouldn’t have. And I had a system where I was the last to know, and I should have been the first to know.’ ”

Board members told the WSJ that their decision to fire Briles was not solely because of Baylor’s requirements under Title IX.

“The Wall Street Journal interviewed three Baylor regents who reflect the experiences of a majority of board members,” said Lori Fogleman, university spokesperson and assistant vice president for media communications. “Their statements stand on their own merit. The board also expresses its support for the coaches and players who are working to rebuild trust in the program.”

The Pepper Hamilton law firm completed its nine-month investigation into Baylor’s previous handling of sexual assault cases in May. It found Baylor failed to implement Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA).

Pepper Hamilton provided Baylor with 105 recommendations to improve its handling of sexual assault cases, 76 of which have been completed or are in the process of being completed.

The Baylor Line Foundation issued a statement Monday afternoon expressing its dissatisfaction with regents speaking to the media before members of the Baylor community.

“Some members of the Board of Regents have given media interviews that seem to be a part of a carefully orchestrated public relations campaign to validate their staffing decisions rather than explaining what happened directly to the Baylor family,” according to the statement.

The foundation called on the university to make public details provided by the Pepper Hamilton report.

“In the interest of transparency and credibility for Baylor University, especially in relation to the terminations of key leadership, details about the actions of our Board of Regents – actions that Pepper Hamilton clearly had issues with — must be made public,” the statement said. “The Baylor Line Foundation renews its call for Baylor to return to the timeless Christian values fundamental to the university since its founding in 1845.”

Fogleman responded to the Baylor Line Foundation’s statement.

“Certainly we would have preferred different timing, but these outlets were pursuing stories on their own timetables,” Fogleman said. “Over the coming days, the university will provide additional information.”

On Oct. 3rd, Baylor’s Title IX Coordinator Patty Crawford resigned with claims that Baylor set her up to fail from the beginning and did not support her in trying to mend what she called a campuswide problem.

“I continued to work hard, and the harder I worked, the more resistance I received from senior leadership,” Crawford said on “CBS This Morning” on Oct. 6. “That became clear that that was not something the university wanted, and in July, I made it clear and ready that I had concerns and that the university was violating Title IX, and my environment got worse.”

She also said she filed a federal complaint to the Office of Civil Rights and a complaint to human resources in October.

The WSJ reported that Football players were involved in 10.4 percent of Title IX-reported incidents in the four-year period ending in 2014-15.

“Football is just a fraction, but it is a bad fraction,” Gray said.

The U.S. Department of Education said last week it is investigating Crawford’s complaint.