It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Baylor acted like it would come clean and then didn’t actually do so. For about a minute, Baylor made it appear like it was going to open up about how its leaders downplayed or even covered up sexual assault on campus, especially when football players were the ones being accused. They sent out a press release, scheduled a conference call with reporters, and released two “reports.”
The press release was a press release, and the conference call ended up being nothing more than talking points read aloud, with sporadically thrown-in apologies. President Ken Starr (yes, that Ken Starr) isn’t getting fired, it turns out, but will still be around as a tenured professor at the law school and a chancellor whose job duties include “religious liberty.” Football coach Art Briles is “suspended,” and they’ll get around to firing him eventually. Some people have been fired from the administration and athletics, but Baylor regents refuse to give out any names or even details, like how many were let go. The most specific thing said about changing athletics was some PR bullshit about how they will “review policies and protocols regarding transfers and recruits as well as opportunities for Athletics personnel to integrate across non-athletics programs within the University.”
Then we come to the “reports.” Just how much more do the two “reports” released today tell us? Only slightly more than nothing.
You can read the Pepper Hamilton document, the first of the two so-called reports issued today, here. It’s just a long list of things Baylor promises to do better in the future, raising the question of what Baylor has done to earn anyone’s trust on this. At best this document reads like the top-level report before the detailed review that never comes.
You can read the second so-called report, the Board of Regents’ “finding of fact,” here. It contains almost no facts; it has no names, no timelines, no dates, no specific examples; and it has no quotes from anyone who was interviewed or selections from emails or documents that were cited. Yes, it levies some horrifying allegations—that administrators discouraged people from reporting, that there was a failure to respond to reports that were levied, and that in one case “those actions constituted retaliation against a complainant for reporting sexual assault”—but it doesn’t address them in anything more than the broadest possible language.
Who retaliated? Was it a member of the athletics staff? Was it physical or verbal? More broadly, who decided that athletics could handle sexual-assault reports internally, which goes directly against what universities were told in 2011 regarding Title IX—that complaints “must not be addressed solely by athletics department procedures”? You won’t find any of this information in either of these non-reports.
Having names matters. Who did the cover up? Was it the head coach? His assistants? The waterboy? How often did this happen? Did they know it was wrong or were they genuinely never educated in the law? Did anyone ever intervene? Did they take action to suppress the information from their supervisors? The public? How widespread was all this?
If the reports’ purpose was to inform the public about what happened here, they failed; if their purpose was, as perhaps it may have been, to get right-thinking sportswriters issuing outraged tweets and columns about how Baylor had diligently investigated itself and found itself wanting, as laid bare in searing reports, they succeeded.
There is an endless number of questions these reports don’t answer and don’t try to. Over and over again, they offer up bullshit like this:
This informal system of discipline involves multiple coaches and administrators, relies heavily upon individual judgment in lieu of clear standards for discipline, and has resulted in conduct being ignored or players being dismissed from the team based on an informal and subjective process. The ad hoc internal system of discipline lacks protocols for consistency with University policy and is wholly undocumented. 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. It is also inconsistent with institutional reporting obligations.
And then ... nothing. Just another vague paragraph, and on to the next subhed in the document. The supposed finding of fact—right when it might actually reveal what really went wrong at Baylor—just moves on. And this was intentional, not due to lack of access. The press release practically brags about how much access Pepper Hamilton was given:
Pepper had unfettered access to Baylor faculty, staff and administration. Pepper also spoke with students who have been impacted by interpersonal violence. Pepper Hamilton examined more than a million pieces of information – from correspondence to interviews to reports.
Conveniently, the same press release notes all the way at the bottom that no written report was ever actually prepared about what happened. (Emphasis added.)
Over the course of the investigation, a special committee of the Board of Regents was periodically updated on Pepper’s work. Additionally, in early May, Pepper presented their findings of fact and recommendations to Board leadership in Philadelphia and was onsite to brief the full Board during its May meeting in Waco. While no written report has been prepared, the Findings of Fact reflect the thorough briefings provided by Pepper and fully communicates the need for immediate action to remedy past harms, to provide accountability for University administrators and to make significant changes that can no longer wait.
Or, wait, maybe there is a report, and it will be issued in the fall?
Remember nine months ago, when Baylor was issuing statements and bragging about all its investigations without actually saying anything? This was better orchestrated, but I’m not sure it’s any different. As for September, I’m prepared for whatever might come out then to be equally useless. What happened today was nothing more than an immaculate demonstration of how to generate pages and pages of words that don’t actually say anything. And Baylor already has its “we can’t say anything else” excuse ready, per its press release:
The experiences of students impacted by interpersonal violence played a significant role in the investigation into the University’s response. While those experiences informed the findings, the details of individual cases are protected by Federal law and will not be referenced in any document made public by the University.
The link goes to the definition of FERPA, the 1970s law routinely abused by universities with scandals on their hands as a way to avoid saying anything. FERPA’s own author has admitted universities are using it in ways he never intended. (It’s worth pointing out that adult staffers, like coaches, are not covered by FERPA, but Baylor still chose to not name them.)
I listened in on the Baylor press call earlier today. Before the call started, we all had to say our name and our affiliation. Later, in the background I could overhear the people running the call lining up who they would call on. Reporters did try asking tough questions, like why was Starr still there and what role Baylor police played in all this, but the people on the call, including several regents and a person from Pepper Hamilton, refused to answer. They kept saying they were sorry, as if it were a magical word that would absolve them of all wrongdoing. Like everyone else in this mess, they refused to do anything on anything other than their own terms.
They also made sure to point out that they are a Christian university, including their “Christian mission” among the bullet points in their press release. Because after all this—after the lies, the coverups, the arrests, the convictions, and the silence—Baylor still has the audacity to cite its Christian mission, oblivious to the fact that if it followed that mission no one would be talking about this in the first place. Baylor can change the names, fire a few people, and release all the fraudulent reports it wants, but where improvement really starts is in showing, at minimum, the ability to give a shit. And giving a shit entails more than just saying “Sorry” over and over again.
Nobody expects universities to eliminate rape on campus overnight, but it’s reasonable to ask for leaders who care. Baylor put on a good show today—or at least one good enough to play a public and press looking for reports whether they existed or not—but admitted to almost nothing. If Baylor cared, it would open up about what it did wrong. It would give names, timelines, dates, and specifics, because you can’t apologize without saying what you did wrong. This isn’t a new concept. The New Testament talks plenty about compassion, forgiveness, and atonement. Perhaps Baylor’s leaders should try reading it some time.