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Top Officials At Baylor Fired And Demoted After ‘Fundamental Failure’ In Handling Athlete Rape Cases

Baylor head coach Art Briles stands in the tunnel before an NCAA college football game against Texas Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Waco, Texas. CREDIT: LM OTERO, AP
Baylor head coach Art Briles stands in the tunnel before an NCAA college football game against Texas Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Waco, Texas. CREDIT: LM OTERO, AP

Baylor University confirmed Thursday that head football coach Art Biles had been fired after a damning independent investigation found that the university had completely mishandled multiple rape allegations, most against football players.

“There are significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor’s football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of student athlete misconduct,” a press release summarizing the key findings of the investigation said. There was also a “fundamental failure by Baylor” to implement Title IX or the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA).

Ken Starr, the university’s president, will step down from his position on May 31, though he will remain at the school as chancellor and as a professor in the law school. According to Baylor officials, all of his operational duties have been taken away — his new role will be external fundraising and “religious liberty.”

The Baylor Board of Regents hired lawyer Pepper Hamilton to conduct the investigation last fall amid damaging reports, particularly by Jessica Luther and Dan Solomon at Texas Monthly, about the school’s investigation of football player Sam Ukwauchu, who transferred to Baylor after being released by Boise State due to his violent temperament. Baylor didn’t request any records from Boise State before the transfer, and just months after he arrived onto the campus in Waco, Texas, he raped a female Baylor student.

Ukwauchu was charged and then indicted by a Texas grand jury. While he never played a down at Baylor, sitting on the sidelines for two years, he never was punished further by the school or the football program. No information about the assault became known to the media for almost two years. The victim, meanwhile, suffered from PTSD, saw her athletic scholarship reduced, and was forced to rearrange her own class schedule to avoid Ukwauchu.

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“I like the way we’ve handled it as a university, an athletic department and a football program,” Briles told the media about Ukwauchu once reports became public.

Ukwauchu was convicted of one count of sexual assault last fall, and further reporting found that his case was not an outlier at Baylor. ESPN’s Outside the Lines uncovered nearly a dozen other cases with similar narratives.

The investigation by Pepper Hamilton concluded that the university’s student conduct processes were “wholly inadequate” under Title IX — there was no support for alleged victims, and no actions taken to protect them from a hostile environment. Actions by university administrators “directly discouraged” many students from reporting their allegations, and “in one instance constituted retaliation against a complainant for reporting sexual assault.”

The football program and athletics department leadership were singled out due to “a failure to identify and respond to a pattern of sexual violence by a football player and to a report of dating violence.”

Prior to Thursday’s report, most thought that Starr would be the only one at Baylor to lose his job and that Briles would remain, primarily due to his unprecedented success during his eight years as the head football coach, including two Big 12 championships.

“To fire a guy who has been as successful as Art Biles is absolutely unbelievable,” ESPN college football reporter Mark Schlabach said on Outside the Lines.

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But the Pepper Hamilton report really zeroed in on how the football program and the school’s worship of the team contributed to the systemic problems at Baylor.

“In some cases, football coaches and staff had inappropriate involvement in disciplinary and criminal matters or engaged in improper conduct that reinforced an overall perception that football was above the rules, and that there was no culture of accountability for misconduct,” the 13-page “Findings of Fact” document released by Baylor on Thursday said.

The findings also focused in on the football program’s inadequate vetting of transfers and the way they meddled in sexual assault allegations:

Football staff conducted their own untrained internal inquiries, outside of policy, which improperly discredited complainants and denied them the right to a fair, impartial and informed investigation, interim measures or processes promised under University policy. In some cases, internal steps gave the illusion of responsiveness to complainants but failed to provide a meaningful institutional response under Title IX. Further, because reports were not shared outside of athletics, the University missed critical opportunities to impose appropriate disciplinary action that would have removed offenders from campus and possibly precluded future acts of sexual violence against Baylor students. In some instances, the football program dismissed players for unspecified team violations and assisted them in transferring to other schools. As a result, some football coaches and staff abdicated responsibilities under Title IX and Clery; to student welfare; to the health and safety of complainants; and to Baylor’s institutional values.

Still, Baylor football players were distressed about the firing, and expressed their frustration on social media, one even saying they weren’t going to play until Briles was hired back.

Going forward, the Baylor Board of Regents says they are focused on reforming the school’s Title IX procedures and ensuring its policies are “consistent across all students and student-athletes alike with consistent protocols that eliminate any appearance of preferential treatment.”

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Additionally, the university says it will review all cases of interpersonal violence over the past three academic years, to offer help and investigate if needed. It will also reach out reach specifically out to all of the victims in the Pepper Hamilton report and offer “specific remedies.”

It’s crucial to remember that while the firing of Briles is significant, there were many victims harmed by the actions (or, rather, inactions) at Baylor, and there are likely similar failings happening on campuses and inside football programs all over the country. Even at Baylor, other coaches from Briles’ administration remain on the team, and Starr — who is best known for his independent investigation of Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky — remains on staff.

“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,” said Richard Willis, chair of the Baylor Board of Regents. “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.”