Board affirms confidence in Pepper Hamilton recommendations

Photo credit: Liesje Powers

By Kalyn Story | Staff Writer

Following some skepticism regarding the thoroughness of the Pepper Hamilton investigation coming from a wide range of sources, specifically the Bears for Leadership Reform group, the Baylor Board of Regents met in early December and voted against hiring another firm to review the investigation, which was conducted in regards to the sexual assault scandal in May 2016.

In October, the regents appointed a special committee to review the methodology, scope of work and findings of the Pepper Hamilton investigation, according to a press release posted on Baylor’s “The Facts” page.

“Our review found no reasonable grounds to question Pepper Hamilton’s investigation or the board’s decisions that were made in reliance on their report to us. Our conclusion was that the law firm had been complete, fair and accurate,” said Jerry Clements, regent and member of the special committee, in a press release on “The Facts” page. “If anything, our second look at the law firm’s investigation only strengthened the Board’s conclusion that Pepper Hamilton did a thorough and professional job in fulfilling its agreed-upon scope of work.”

Bears for Leadership Reform is a nonprofit group made up of various members of the Baylor community who “seek transparency, accountability and reform from Baylor leaders to restore integrity and ensure a brighter future,” according to the “About” section of the group’s Facebook page.

“It is disappointing but not surprising that the regents have announced their full confidence in the Pepper Hamilton report without releasing the full report to the public,” said Bears for Leadership Reform spokeswoman Julie Hillrichs. “Bears for Leadership Reform will continue to call for additional transparency, accountability and reform from the Board of Regents. We do not believe they have reached that yet.”

After receiving the committee’s review and analysis, Baylor’s “The Facts” page reported that the board found no facts to support concerns raised and concluded that the Pepper Hamilton investigation was “comprehensive, unbiased and professional.” According to “the Facts” page, the Board voted unanimously against engaging another firm to review the investigation.

“We aspire to place Baylor at the pinnacle of Title IX programs in American higher education, making our policies and conduct in this key area a model for how to create a culture on campus that is characterized by dignity and respect for others,” Baylor interim President David Garland said in a statement released in October.

The Pepper Hamilton law firm conducted a nine-month investigation into Baylor’s previous handling of sexual assault cases and 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 to improve their handling of sexual assault cases.

“Significant progress continues on the implementation of all 105 recommendations,” said Lori Fogleman, vice president for Baylor media communications “ Seventy-five of the recommendations have been fully integrated into university operations. We are working diligently to complete the remaining 30 and to operationalize those improvements.”

Former Baylor head football coach Art Briles sued regents J. Cary Gray and David Harper, chairman Ronald Murff and Baylor Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Reagan Ramsower for libel and slander, accusing them of falsely stating he knew of reported assaults and alleged gang rapes by players and didn’t report them, the Associated Press reported in early December.

“I’d like to hear these regents and Mr. Ramsower tell their story under oath in broad daylight and open court,” the Associated Press quoted Briles’ attorney Ernest Cannon saying.

The Wall Street Journal quoted regents in October, disclosing that 17 women had reported domestic violence or sexual assaults that involved 19 football players since 2011, including four gang rapes.

In the lawsuit, Briles argues that releasing those figures was intended to falsely portray him as hiding knowledge of alleged attacks. Allegations that he knew about and failed to report the alleged attacks are “false” and created to “expose Coach Briles to public hatred, contempt, ridicule and cause him financial injury,” the lawsuit claims.

When the regents met in December, they also received an update on the ongoing investigation from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) into Baylor’s previous handling of sexual assault cases following a complaint filed in October by Baylor’s former Title IX Coordinator Patty Crawford. Crawford resigned in October and was replaced by Kristian Tucker.

Fogleman said the university is cooperating fully with the OCR investigation.

“We embrace and support OCR’s goal to maintain a campus free from sex- and gender-based harassment and violence,” Garland said in a statement released in October. “Our commitment to protect and support our students, faculty and staff is resolute.”