Former Baylor chancellor Ken Starr (yes, that Ken Starr) praised the character of ousted head football coach Art Briles, saying he felt Briles had been the object of a “grave injustice,” in a Saturday interview with the Texas Tribune.
Starr was forced to resign and Briles was fired earlier this year after an investigation of the university’s repeated flaws in responding to sexual assault accusations against its football players. The independent investigation found “a fundamental failure by Baylor to implement Title IX,” including a “lack of strong institutional management” and “specific failings within both the football program and Athletics Department leadership, 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.”
In Saturday’s interview, conducted by Tribune CEO Evan Smith and livestreamed as part of the nonprofit media group’s annual festival, Starr centered his frustration with the situation on the treatment of Briles, who was fired in May for his role in the scandal and is apparently already looking for his next job in football.
To Starr, however, Briles should not be seen as the leader of a program that repeatedly twisted its priorities to place football victories above basic human security, but rather as the victim of exaggerated claims spun by the media.
“A grave injustice was done to Art Briles,” Starr said of the coach’s firing, going on to say that he takes issue with media descriptions of Briles’ behavior. “Coach Briles has been calumnied ... it’s completely unfair.”
Of Briles’s character, Starr had nothing but high praise, requesting “fairness to Coach Briles” in discussion of the administration’s failings and describing him as “an honorable, decent man who committed his life to molding the lives of young men.”
In an hour-long interview that involved much in the way of circumlocution and meandering non-answers from Starr, there was but one question that received an immediately clear reply:
“Was Art Briles given a raw deal?”
Starr reserved his fierce sympathy for Briles and discussed the victims of the sexual assaults only in passing. Much as Briles did in his interview with College GameDay two weeks ago, Starr shied away from any mention of the terms “sexual assault” and “rape,” instead choosing the language of “interpersonal violence” and “unpleasantness.”
This choice of diction, perhaps, made it easier for him to assert that a culture of sexual assault was not endemic at Baylor, particularly as the reported incidents that laid the foundation for Baylor’s scandal occurred off-campus rather than on. Starr offered a convenient solution for any students frustrated by their university’s demonstrated disregard for their humanity:
“My encouragement to students is—don’t go to these off-campus parties. Just don’t go.”
Besides, Starr countered, how could Baylor have a culture of sexual assault if each reported rape was just an individual episode? When asked how multiple reports of sexual assault were not evidence of a broader issue, he said: “These issues were not being brought to us as a question of policy.”
Perhaps this is so, if the safety of students is not a question of policy, if the federal right to an equal education is not a question of policy, and if the simple acknowledgment of one’s humanity is not a question of policy.
In his final response of the interview, Starr decried “this huge narrative” as “so unfair to the university.”
He did not offer anything as to who he considers part of the university; it would not seem to include the female students.