By Bridget Sjoberg | Staff Writer
Baylor is actively investigating an allegation that former Board of Regents Chair Richard Willis used “extremely offensive and hurtful language” in a private conversation in Mexico in 2014, according to an email sent by University President Dr. Linda Livingstone. Willis served as chair from 2012-16.
Willis sent a letter to the Board of Regents Monday night denying the allegations made against him by Waco businessman Greg Klepper, who was present in Mexico when Willis made the alleged comments. The letter was sent to The Lariat by Willis’ attorney, Steve McConnico.
“Let me be exceedingly clear: I never used any of the reprehensible words that Mr. Klepper claims I did,” Willis said in the letter. “The alleged comments are so reprehensible that it absolutely sickens me to think that anyone would go to such lengths to maliciously smear me or anyone else for having used them.”
Willis also provided reasons why he believes Klepper would “attack” his character. He said Klepper tried to get him to invest in his company and said Klepper used him to try to get business from the university, both of which he did not take part in.
“A small group of alumni has been trying to discredit the Board of Regents — in particular myself as a former chairman and some current and former board leaders — in any way they can. In fact, they are the ones behind Mr. Klepper speaking out,” Willis said in the letter. “These critics have sunk to a new low. This group believes it can rewrite history and erase the stories of sexual assault victims at a time when these women should be our greatest concern.”
Willis resigned from the Board in 2017 and was accused in July by former athletics director Ian McCaw of providing barriers towards the reporting of sexual assault on campus. McCaw also accused the Board of Regents of racism and fraudulent reporting of Baylor’s response to assaults. Baylor has denied the allegations.
Joel T. Allison, current chair of the Baylor Board of Regents, said in an emailed statement to the Lariat that these allegations, if true, are not reflective of what Baylor stands for and emphasizes that the Board doesn’t take such severe accusations lightly.
“The Board certainly takes these allegations seriously, and Baylor will continue to be diligent in determining the facts of what allegedly occurred,” Allison wrote. “Such comments — if they were made — do not reflect the Baylor that I know, nor my involvement as a member of the Board of Regents.”
Willis once stood at the forefront of Baylor’s involvement in the sexual violence scandal, even making statements regarding the university’s mishandling of assault allegations.
“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 in a May 2016 statement. “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.”
Livingstone sent an email to students, faculty and staff Monday night in response to the allegations made against Willis.
“The alleged comments are in direct opposition to everything Baylor stands for, and are so egregious that the University immediately launched an investigation when they first came to light through the litigation process a month ago,” Livingstone said.
Livingstone said in the email that the investigation will continue until the truth comes out regarding the alleged comments made by Willis, and that the university will act diligently once findings are released.
“Baylor has made great strides in recent years to enhance diversity and cultural competency on our campus. All of us at the University have worked hard to create an environment in which all students, faculty and staff are treated with respect and dignity,” Livingstone said. “Our prompt and thorough response to these allegations once again shows how seriously we take this commitment.”