Education Law

Baylor demotes Ken Starr, will fire football coach over school's handling of sex-assault allegations

  • Print.

Baylor University flag

Image of Baylor University flag by Aspen Photo /

After initially denying rumors that Ken Starr was on the way out as president of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, officials announced Thursday that he is being demoted, and the school’s football coach is being fired.

The actions follow a report by Pepper Hamilton, concerning an internal investigation of the private Christian university by the law firm that Starr himself recommended. It found “fundamental failure” in the school’s handling of sexual assault and dating violence allegations by students against football players, as well as a culture of noncompliance with federal regulatory statutes that can impact U.S. education funding, according to the New York Times (reg. req.). Those include Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (PDF).

“Actions by university administrators directly discouraged some complainants from reporting or participating in student conduct processes and in one instance constituted retaliation against a complainant for reporting sexual assault,” the university said in a report made public Thursday.

Starr will lose his job as university president but retain his role as chancellor and will be a professor at Baylor’s law school, the university said in a lengthy news release.

Head football coach Art Briles has been suspended with intent to terminate and athletic director Ian McCaw has been put on probation.

In 2014 and 2015, two former Baylor football players were convicted of sexual assault. It was after the second conviction, of a former player named Sam Ukwuachu, that Starr initiated an inquiry which was later handed to the outside firm Pepper Hamilton for an independent investigation, the Times reports. Baylor’s board of regents made public findings of fact (PDF) incorporating Pepper Hamilton’s conclusions on Thursday. The document includes a determination that “Baylor failed to take appropriate action to respond to reports of sexual assault and dating violence reportedly committed by football players.”

Instead, the document says, “In certain instances, including reports of a sexual assault by multiple football players, athletics and football personnel affirmatively chose not to report sexual violence and dating violence to an appropriate administrator outside of athletics. In those instances, football coaches or staff met directly with a complainant and/or a parent of a complainant and did not report the misconduct. As a result, no action was taken to support complainants; fairly and impartially evaluate the conduct under Title IX; address identified cultural concerns within the football program; or protect campus safety once aware of a potential pattern of sexual violence by multiple football players.”

Recommendations (PDF) made public by the board of regents include “swift and certain” compliance with Title IX; apologies and “appropriate remedies” to those wronged; and “appropriate external reports to enforcement authorities.”

The release includes an apology and says that Baylor has already self-reported issues to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. It also notes the appointment of an executive-level task force appointed by the board of regents to implement needed changes.

“We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus. This investigation revealed the university’s mishandling of reports in what should have been a supportive, responsive and caring environment for students,” said board chairman Richard Willis in the release. “The depth to which these acts occurred shocked and outraged us. Our students and their families deserve more, and we have committed our full attention to improving our processes, establishing accountability and ensuring appropriate actions are taken to support former, current and future students.”

Starr is best known for his role investigating former President Bill Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky in the 1990s and serving as Whitewater independent counsel. A former U.S. solicitor general and federal judge, he was law school dean for Pepperdine University before joining Baylor.

Starr was formerly a member of the ABA Journal’s board of editors.

Related coverage:

Associated Press: “Baylor to fire football coach Briles, re-assign president”

Christianity Today: “Baylor to Fire Head Coach Art Briles, Demote President Ken Starr”

See also:

ABA Journal: “Meet the lawyers behind high-profile investigations”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.