Garland testifies on new Texas Senate bill

Photo credit: Liesje Powers

By Kalyn Story | Staff Writer

Baylor interim President David Garland testified at a Texas Senate Higher Education Committee hearing Wednesday regarding a bill that would require Baylor to comply with state laws from which it is are currently exempt.

If passed, Senate Bill 1092 would require any school that receives more than $5 million in Tuition Equalization Grants from the state to comply with state open records and open meetings laws. Under current law, because Baylor is a private institution, it does not have to obey state open records and open meeting laws.

During the hearing, Garland told the senators that 2,943 Baylor students receive aid from the Tuition Equalization Grant, 1,597 of which are from minority populations and 962 are first-generation college students.

Garland said that if the bill were to pass as written it would only affect Baylor and the University of the Incarnate Word, with three other private universities coming close to the $5 million mark.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, who filed the bill, questioned Garland and said the bill is extremely important because it concerns the safety of young citizens.

“President Garland said absolutely nothing that obviates the need for the bill or for transparency on the part of independent colleges and universities,” Seliger said. “We need the bill because some circumstances require some openness and transparency. Generally, private colleges are not required to be open or transparent in any way shape or form, but in some cases they need to be.”

Seliger in light of the recent sexual assault scandal at Baylor is exactly the reason that this bill was filed.

Garland said the Governance Task Force considered but recommended against the Baylor Board of Regents conducting open meetings, concluding that “open meetings would risk unnecessarily disclosing competitive information.”

He said the Task Force recognized that very few other leading private universities have open meetings and that open meetings are not consistent with the American Bar Association’s guidance for nonprofit corporations.

“Private institutions of higher education are unique and do not benefit from the many legal and statutory protections that are afforded public universities in Texas,” Garland said to the Senate. “As such, we ask that the committee recognize Baylor’s recent efforts to become more transparent with the public and our key constituents and allow the university to govern itself in accordance with the best practices of other similar institutions across the country with the full protections therein.”

Silger was not satisfied with Garland’s statement or answers to questions he received. Silger said he thought it was interesting that when he asked Garland if Baylor Regents sign a confidentiality agreement Garland said they don’t, but Silger said he has heard from alumni that Regents do sign confidentiality agreements.

Seliger said the version of the bill that was seen Wednesday in committee was not final and the bill that will be seen before the full senate is likely to have several edits.

“Dr. Garland’s statement was there was no attempt to cover anything up at Baylor, but I just don’t believe that for a second,” Sliger said. “That was apparently the overarching goal of the university to cover up as much as they possibly could.”

Aside from the recent discussion on the bill, yesterday Baylor filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed in January claiming that Baylor football players committed at least 52 acts of rape, including five gang rapes, between 2011 and 2014.

Seliger said the version of the bill that was seen Wednesday in committee was not final and the bill that will be seen before the full Senate is likely to have several edits.

The woman who filed the suit under the name Elizabeth Doe reported being gang raped by former football players Tre’Von Armstead and Shamycheal Chatman, who were both arrested and indicted last week on sexual assault charges.

In the lawsuit, Doe, who was a Baylor Bruin, claims Baylor football had a “show ’em a good time” recruiting policy, which included making Baylor Bruins, a football hostess program, available for sex with recruits, taking recruits to strip clubs, recruiting based on implied promises of sex and using alcohol and drugs in the recruiting process.

“Baylor does not agree with or concede the accuracy of plaintiff’s 146-paragraph complaint and its immaterial and inflammatory assertions,” the motion states.

In another lawsuit against the university, lawyers for 10 plaintiffs named in the suit as Jane Doe 1-10, who allege sexual assaults at Baylor in cases between 2004-2016, filed Friday to subpoena materials from Pepper Hamilton.

Pepper Hamilton, an independent Philadelphia 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, 76 of which have been fully integrated into university operations, a university spokesperson told the Lariat in January.

Jim Dunnam, an attorney for the 10 women, said he does not believe Baylor has any real desire for transparency, but he hopes the courts will be able to force Baylor to be transparent about their mishandling of sexual assault cases.

“We hope materials from Pepper Hamilton will bring out the truth about everything that has happened at Baylor. We do not believe we have heard the truth yet,” Dunnam said.

The Lariat reached out to Pepper Hamilton for a comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication. The university also declined to comment on ongoing litigation, per university policy.