Baylor regents strip Ken Starr of president’s title, apologize for mishandling sex assault cases

By Sue Ambrose and David Tarrant, The Dallas Morning News

Baylor University ousted Ken Starr as president Thursday after prolonged and widespread criticism of the Baptist college’s handling of sexual assaults by football players.

The university’s board said Starr will remain on the faculty as chancellor, a post he added in 2013 that focuses on raising the Waco college’s profile rather than on managing day-to-day operations. But that deal is still being negotiated, the university said.

A report released Thursday describes a colossal failure, on many levels, by Baylor officials to properly handle reports of sexual assault.

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Investigators found that the school had failed to follow through on many sexual assault reports. In a news conference Thursday, Baylor apologized.

“We are deeply sorry to all those who brought forward complaints that were not handled properly,” said Ron Murff, incoming chair of the school’s regents.

Starr’s demotion means that the 69-year-old — once best known for his relentless investigation into President Bill Clinton’s sex life — will wind down his professional life linked to one of the biggest scandals to hit an American university in recent years.

The lapses described Thursday extended to the highest levels at the Baptist college, according to the report, which says, “Baylor’s senior leadership lacked consistent or meaningful engagement” in creating a safe environment and helping students who reported sexual assaults.

“We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus,” Richard Willis, chairman of the Baylor Board of Regents, said in a statement. “The depth to which these acts occurred shocked and outraged us.”

Administrators came under fire in the report for “conduct that could be perceived as victim-blaming.”

And leadership in the athletics department created a “cultural perception that football was above the rules.” Athletic and football personnel also “chose not to report sexual violence and dating violence” to other school officials.

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Baylor hired law firm Pepper Hamilton in September after two football players were convicted of rape, including one who had been cleared in a Baylor internal inquiry. Since then, the sex assault scandal has mushroomed to at least nine alleged attacks involving football players. This year, female students have described further attacks by other men, including a fraternity president who was indicted on charges of sexual assault.

Releasing the results of the investigation and taking action against top school officials is unusual for the growing number of colleges facing sexual assault scandals, said John Clune, a Colorado lawyer who represents two Baylor victims.

“I think the message with the removal of Coach Briles and any other individuals should be a message to all these schools — that the safety and the well-being of female students is not something that can be exchanged for glory on the football field,” Clune said Thursday.

Baylor also sanctioned athletic director Ian McCaw and placed him on probation, as well as dismissing other unnamed members of the athletic department. The school has also hired a law firm to contact the NCAA to discuss potential infractions.

Audrey Hamlin, a Baylor junior who knows one of the sexual assault victims, said she cried when she heard the news.

She knew Baylor was taking responsibility for its failures when it decided to oust the popular and successful head coach of its football team.

“Knowing that they fired Art Briles tells me they heard the victims,” she said.

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