WACO, Texas (CN) – Baylor University demoted school President Ken Starr and fired football coach Art Briles on Thursday in the wake of a damning external review of how the religious school handled sexual assault complaints against its football players.
A stunning reversal, Baylor’s board of regents announced that Starr, 69, has been removed as president and will remain as school chancellor and a faculty member. It said Briles, 60, is suspended with the intent to terminate, and athletic director Ian McCaw is sanctioned and put on probation.
In announcing the moves, Regent Ron Murff apologized to those who tried to report the sexual assaults to the school.
“We are deeply sorry for the harm that survivors have endured,” he said in a statement. “Baylor’s mission to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community remains our primary imperative.”
Starr’s removal as president comes one day after school officials denied rumors that he had been fired.
The board ordered the external review by the Pepper Hamilton law firm in August 2015 as cases began to mount accusing school officials of failing to adequately investigate rapes allegedly committed by football players.
The board said the review revealed a “fundamental failure by Baylor to implement Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.”
Regent Richard Willis said students and their families “deserve more” than what was done.
“We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus,” he said. “This investigation revealed the University’s mishandling of reports in what should have been a supportive, responsive and caring environment for students. The depth to which these acts occurred shocked and outraged us.”
Pepper Hamilton concluded that administrators “directly discouraged” some complainants from reporting a sexual assault and in once case “constituted retaliation against a complainant” for reporting.
“In addition to broader University failings, Pepper found specific failings within both the football program and Athletics department leadership, including a failure to identify and respond to a pattern of sexual violence by a football player and to a report of dating violence,” the board said. “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.”
Baylor settled a claim in January by an unidentified female student who claimed she was sexually assaulted by former football player Sam Ukwuachu, a 2013 transfer from Boise State University.
He was sentenced in August 2015 to 180 days in county jail, 10 years of probation and 400 hours of community service in McClennan County Court for sexual assault. The case resulted in intense criticism of Briles and school officials over their knowledge of previous accusations against Ukwuachu before the transfer was approved.
A former student sued Baylor last month in federal court, claiming its counseling department told her they were “too busy” to see her after she was allegedly raped by football player Tevin Elliott, who is serving 20 years for sexual assaults.
Plaintiff Jasmin Hernandez said her mother called Briles to tell him what Elliott had done and received a phone call from his secretary saying they would look into it.
“Hernandez’s father also called Briles’ office several times to follow up,” her complaint stated. “Hernandez’s father never received a return phone call from Briles or anyone in his office.”
The board confirmed that football coaches and staff “met directly with a complainant and/or a parent of a complainant and did not report the misconduct,” resulting in no action being taken, according to its 13-page finding of fact.
In a hurried conference call after the announcement, the board expressed their shock at Pepper Hamilton’s findings.
“We were angry, sad and very humbled,” regent David Harper said. “They gave use a frank and candid assessment and offered forward-looking recommendations.”
The board declined to answer questions about why Starr was not outright fired, saying it was inappropriate to talk about individual cases.
“He always had the position of chancellor,” Harper said. “We felt it was an appropriate move to take away the responsibility of president.”
Briles could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon – his Twitter account has been deleted.
In a text message to his players before the announcement, Briles said he was “hurtful” to report his firing.
“Due to this early release I’m sorry that I can’t talk to all y’all in person,” Briles wrote. “It looks the remainder of the staff will stay intact which is beneficial to y’all. I sincerely appreciate your love, trust and loyalty. Stay strong, stay motivated, stay faithful.”
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