Apologizing to “Baylor Nation” for the university’s handling of accusations of sexual assault on campus, the Baylor University Board of Regents on Thursday fired football coach Art Briles and removed Ken Starr from his post as president.
Starr will continue to serve as the university's chancellor and as a law professor. Briles is suspended with intent to terminate. And Athletic Director Ian McCaw has been sanctioned and placed on probation.
The interim president is David Garland, dean of the George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor, the university said in a release.
“We, as the governing board of this university, offer our apologies to the many who sought help from the university," Ron Murff, chair-elect of the Baylor Board of Regents, said in a statement."We are deeply sorry for the harm that survivors have endured."
Additional members of the school's administration and athletics program were also fired following the investigation, according to the University. Their names were not immediately released Thursday.
An investigative report commissioned by the university and released Thursday found that Baylor had "failed to consistently support" students who reported sexual assault and "failed to take action to identify and eliminate a potential hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, or address its effects for individual complainants or the broader campus community."
The investigation, conducted by law firm Pepper Hamilton, also found "examples of actions by two university administrators that directly discouraged complainants from reporting or participating in student conduct processes, or that contributed to or accommodated a hostile environment."
"In one instance," the report added, "those actions constituted retaliation against a complainant for reporting sexual assault."
The 23-page report does not mention Starr or Briles by name but makes references to actions by "senior leadership" and "football coaches" at the University.
Baylor hired Pepper Hamilton after football player Sam Ukwuachu was convicted in August of raping another student. Testimony during the trial revealed that Ukwuachu had been investigated by the university but not punished. He continued to practice with the team and coaches proclaimed after he was arrested that they expected him to play again.
Since then, numerous reports have emerged of Baylor students who were raped and felt like their cases weren't taken seriously. That included victims of Tevin Elliot, a football player who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for rape in 2014. ESPN has reported that five women told police that Elliot either raped them or assaulted them between 2009 and 2012.
The stories have prompted questions: Who at Baylor knew about the accusations of assault? And why didn't internal investigations lead to the expulsions of those students? Federal regulations require universities to thoroughly investigate allegations of sexual assault on campus and take action to protect students from assaulters. The burden of proof for punishment is low — the university only needs to determine that it's more likely than not an assault occurred.
Given that Elliott and Ukwuachu were convicted in criminal court, where the burden of proof was much higher, many have wondered whether the university did enough to investigate.
The release of the report and actions announced by Baylor were stunning to Stefanie Mudhenk, a former student who wrote a viral blog post last year expressing frustration about how the university treated her after she reported being raped by a fellow student. Mudhenk has since organized prayer vigils on campus and publicly called for the university to reform.
“No celebration here, just grieving and mourning,” she said in a text message. “I didn’t want to be right. At times, I didn’t even believe I was right.”
Until Thursday, Baylor's public response had been limited. As pressure mounted, the university released a series of statements and letters. Soon after the Ukwuachu conviction in August, Starr released a letter announcing that he had hired Pepper Hamilton to conduct an in-depth investigation that "will help us pinpoint where we are strong and where we may need to improve."
"Some have concluded that we could have done more," Starr wrote at the time. "Perhaps so. Our independent investigation will soon reveal if opportunities exist for improvements in the way we respond to allegations of sexual violence. But I retain full confidence in our Student Life professionals."
He also argued that universities are in some ways hamstrung in how they can handle investigations. They don't have subpoena power, nor do they have access to forensic evidence, he wrote.
"It is also important to acknowledge why we may not have known more than we did," Starr wrote.
The findings of the Pepper Hamilton report pinpoint "specific failings" in Baylor's football program and athletic department, including "a failure to identify and respond to a pattern of sexual violence by a football player, to take action in response to reports of a sexual assault by multiple football players, and to take action in response to a report of dating violence."
The report found officials in the football program and athletics department chose not to share allegations of sexual assault against athletes with administrators outside of the athletics program. By handling misconduct of this magnitude internally, the report suggests football players and other athletes were above University rules.
"The football program’s separate system of internal discipline reinforces the perception that rules applicable to other students are not applicable to football players, improperly insulates football players from appropriate disciplinary consequences, and puts students, the program, and the institution at risk of future misconduct," the report reads.
The report also highlighted specific concerns with the "tone and culture" of the football program.
"The football program failed to identify and maintain controls over known risks, and unreasonably accepted known risks," the report concludes. "Leadership in football and the athletics department did not set the tone [or] establish a policy or practice for reporting and documenting significant misconduct."
The report offers 10 pages worth of recommendations for the university. Following its release, the Board instituted several personnel changes and created a task force to identify areas of improvement and carry out Pepper Hamilton's recommendations.
Any such changes will follow Baylor's move in February to increase funding for counseling staff and sexual assault training for staff and students.
This story has been updated.