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  • May 29, 2016

Baylor Demotes President Kenneth Starr Over Handling of Sex Assault Cases

Baylor Demotes President Kenneth Starr Over Handling of Sex Assault Cases

By Marc Tracy

 

Kenneth W. Starr, the former independent counsel who delivered a report that served as the basis for President Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998, was removed as president of Baylor University on Thursday after an investigation found the university mishandled accusations of sexual assault against football players.

The university also fired the football coach, Art Briles, whose ascendant program brought in millions of dollars in revenue but was dogged by accusations of sexual assault committed by its players — an increasingly familiar combination in big-time college sports.

Mr. Starr was stripped of his title as university president but will remain Baylor’s chancellor and a professor at the law school. The chancellor position is “centered around development and religious liberty,” a regent said on a conference call Thursday afternoon, adding that Mr. Starr’s “operational responsibilities have been removed.”

Mr. Starr’s demotion delivered a twist to the biography of a man whose reputation was built on what many considered an overzealous pursuit of allegations of sexual transgressions by Mr. Clinton. Now he is being punished for leading an administration that, according to a report by an outside law firm commissioned by the university’s governing board, looked the other way when Baylor football players were accused of sex crimes, and sometimes convicted of them.

“We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus,” Richard Willis, chairman of Baylor’s Board of Regents, said in a statement. “This investigation revealed the University’s mishandling of reports in what should have been a supportive, responsive and caring environment for students.”

Mr. Starr said in a statement to news organizations: “I join the Board of Regents and the Senior Administration of the University in expressing heartfelt contrition for the tragedy and sadness that has unfolded. To those victims who were not treated with the care, concern, and support they deserve, I am profoundly sorry.”

Violence against women on college campuses has risen as a national conversation in recent years, and one particular thread has been whether athletes in big-time sports like football and basketball are afforded favorable treatment by universities and communities that come together to support and protect successful teams.

Critics have said that Baylor sacrificed moral considerations — and the safety of other students — for the sake of its winning football team. The investigation said as much, describing the flouting of federal gender-equity law and rebuking a university leadership that “created a cultural perception that football was above the rules.”

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In one instance, according to a summary of the investigation released by the board, university administrators discouraged an accuser in a manner that “constituted retaliation against a complainant for reporting sexual assault.”

What investigations did occur, the summary said, “were conducted in the context of a broader culture and belief by many administrators that sexual violence ‘doesn’t happen here.’”

Mr. Starr, who was solicitor general and a federal judge before taking on the Clinton case, has been credited with raising hundreds of millions of dollars for Baylor, the country’s largest Baptist university, in part by yoking its fortunes to football. Much fund-raising was centered on building a gleaming on-campus home field, McLane Stadium, which opened in 2014, the same year that Mr. Starr added the title of chancellor to his role as president.

“Let me be clear,” Mr. Starr wrote in a public letter in February: “Sexual violence emphatically has no place whatsoever at Baylor University.”

That Baylor had an apparently functioning athletic department was seen as an achievement in itself: The university experienced one of the worst college sports scandals ever after a men’s basketball player murdered a teammate in 2003, with a subsequent investigation revealing drug use and payments to players, resulting in harsh N.C.A.A. penalties.

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