*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
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 Baptist university's administration and athletics program — the board declined to say who or how many — were also fired, according to the university. The university also said it has reported the findings to the NCAA "to discuss potential infractions.
In a statement, Starr expressed "heartfelt contrition for the tragedy and sadness that has unfolded," but added that he was "not privy to any of the allegations regarding interpersonal violence until the fall of 2015, at which time I immediately launched an internal investigation."
That investigative report 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 highlighted university-wide problems, but also honed in on specific misdeeds inside the football program. It said in some cases coaches or staff met with victims or their families, but didn't report the allegations of sexual assault to anyone outside the athletics department. As a result, the report said, nobody did anything to "fairly and impartially" investigate.
"The choices made by football staff and athletics leadership, in some instances, posted a risk to campus safety and the integrity of the University," the report said.
The document doesn't mention Starr or Briles by name but makes references to actions by "senior leadership" and "football coaches" at the university. Board members were briefed on the report earlier this month. They declined to say when they decided to take the actions announced Thursday.
"We were shocked," said Regent David Harper. "We were sad and angry."
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 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 Mundhenk, 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. Mundhenk 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.”
Others were openly critical of the university's actions. They questioned why Starr, who as president was ultimately responsible for the university's compliance with federal regulations, will remain in a prominent position on campus despite the damning report. When asked about that on Thursday, the regents took pains to say out that Starr "no longer has any operating responsibilities within the university." The job, they said, focuses on "development and religious liberty."
Regents also pointed out that he was a tenured professor at the law school. But they wouldn't discuss the specific reasons that Starr still has a job.
"We don't talk about individual people, it's just inappropriate to do that," said Board Chairman Richard Willis.
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. Instead, they looked to handle these issues internally.
The report found that, in some instances, the football program "dismissed players for unspecified team violations and assisted them in transferring to other schools." In doing so, the report concluded members of the football program staff "abdicated responsibilities" under Title IX.
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.
After the announcement, several Baylor football players took to Twitter to defend Briles and suggested the university was expecting too much from a football coach.
"He's not a sheriff nor a lawyer," Baylor linebacker Travon Blanchard wrote on Twitter. "He coaches football like he is paid to do, then goes home to his life ..!!"
Taylor Young, also a linebacker for Baylor, said on Twitter that Briles' focus was on football and anything "outside of the lines of football the school and police handle."
- Findings of Fact from Pepper Hamilton Investigation (89.7 KB) DOWNLOAD
- Recommendations from Pepper Hamilton Investigation (102.8 KB) DOWNLOAD