A motion filed this week in an ongoing federal lawsuit against Baylor University alleges that high-ranking officials – including former president and chancellor Ken Starr – helped a student they knew had been accused of sexual harassment.
The accused student, the motion claims, had a close relationship with Starr and other Baylor leaders, and was employed on campus in a capacity where he oversaw female students and worked on Title IX initiatives. That's the federal statute that bans discrimination against women on campus.
The motion was filed Tuesday evening by former Democratic state Rep. Jim Dunnam and Houston attorney Chad Dunn, who are representing several anonymous women who have sued Baylor on the grounds that the school has failed to comply with Title IX.
Starr could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. He was president of the university from 2010 until last year, when he resigned under pressure in the fallout of a scandal over how the university handled allegations of sexual assault among students.
Baylor spokesman Jason Cook said in a statement that the school “will decline to comment in the media until legal counsel has an opportunity to thoroughly review the filing.” He said, “any response will be provided to the court in the appropriate legal forum.”
To back up its allegations, Dunn and Dunnam's motion refers to and quotes from documents and emails that are mentioned in footnotes, but could not be independently analyzed by The Texas Tribune. The lawyers received access to the documents through their lawsuit's discovery process.
In one document the lawyers quote in the motion, the student says he got a job in Starr's office because he was “already bros” with Starr. In another, he refers to Starr as “Uncle Ken." The student is referred to throughout the motion as "Assailant 3" — a reference to the fact that he has not just been accused of sexual harassment, but of sexually assaulting a female student who is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The motion makes several other accusations against the university or its officials:
It alleges that an official tasked with enforcing Title IX at Baylor “conducted an investigation at light speed” into "Assailant 3." The filing claims "Assailant 3" emailed Bethany McCraw, Baylor's associate dean for student conduct administration, on the same day a sexual harassment complaint was made against him in January 2014. According to the motion, he wrote: “I’ve gotten myself into what may be a lot of trouble, and I would really appreciate your counsel on the matter. Do you have any openings today?” The case was closed the next day, according to the motion. Asked about the allegation Wednesday, McCraw’s office referred questions to the university’s media relations department.
The motion says "Assailant 3" was working for Starr and Vice President for Student Life Kevin Jackson at the time he allegedly committed sexual assault against one of the lawsuit's plaintiffs. Quoting from the student's LinkedIn page, the motion says he “touted how he ‘worked with the university’s counseling center and Title IX office to write rhetoric for sexual harassment/assault awareness and prevention initiatives.’”
The motion also says that after the accused student graduated from Baylor, he sought and was denied a government security clearance – at least in part because of sexual misconduct allegations against him at Baylor. The motion alleges that Jackson and Starr tried to sway the federal government to reconsider the denial by writing a character reference on the student’s behalf. In an email exchange quoted in the motion, Jackson said the reference letter should have a “qualifier at the beginning… speaking to how [Starr] doesn’t know anything about the alleged incidents earlier.” Citing another e-mail exchange, the motion argues “Starr and Jackson both knew the exact reasons for the denial.” The security clearance denial was not reconsidered. On Wednesday, Jackson referred questions about the motion to Cook.
The motion says "Assailant 3" was readmitted to Baylor as a graduate student and "it was Jackson who recommended Assailant 3." The re-admittance happened shortly after one of the plaintiffs in the case reported an assault by the student to the Title IX office, and after “Assailant 3 had already undergone at least one formal sexual harassment claim at Baylor,” the motion says.
The plaintiff had been told that a Title IX investigation into her sexual assault allegation would be opened if the accused student returned to campus. The motion says there is no evidence of an investigation being opened in the documents that the plaintiffs' lawyers have reviewed.
Baylor's sexual assault scandal broke a year prior to Starr's resignation, when former football player Sam Ukwuachu was convicted of raping a member of the women’s soccer team. Testimony in his trial revealed Baylor had investigated the allegations against Ukwuachu but did not take punitive action.
Ukwuachu’s case unleashed a torrent of similar allegations from female students whose reports of being sexually assaulted were met with little support from Baylor. That prompted the university to retain an outside law firm to investigate.
A report of the firm’s findings, which were delivered to the university’s board of regents, found pervasive mishandling of sexual assault cases at the university. A public summary of the report released by the university didn’t highlight specific actions by Starr, but criticized the university for not having the proper procedures in place to respond to complaints of sexual violence or provide support to victims.
Baylor officials have said dramatic improvements have since been made to how the school handles reported instances of sexual assault. But Baylor remains entangled in lawsuits and is currently being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education, the Texas Rangers and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Tuesday’s motion was in response to another motion filed by the university earlier this month.
Previous filings by Dunnam, a Baylor alum, and Dunn have kept Baylor in the headlines.
A June filing included emails from 2009 in which then-Regent Neal “Buddy” Jones described female students he suspected of drinking alcohol at parties as "perverted little tarts," the "vilest and most despicable girls" and a "group of very bad apples."
In September, the lawyers unearthed an email conversation in which David Garland, who served as interim president after Starr’s departure, described hearing a radio interview about drinking in college that helped him understand why some women “seem willingly to make themselves victims.”
Disclosure: Baylor University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.