Safeguarding Baylor's Students

February 7, 2016
Dear Baylor Nation,

Greetings from Baylor University, where the spring semester is in full swing. The month of February is a special time in the life of our University. Each year, we celebrate the founding of Baylor University on February 1, 1845 — 171 years ago. Today, in this Anno Domini 2016, we continue to carry forward our Founders’ vision to address the needs of the broken world around us.

Consistent with our Founders’ vision, Baylor has always been — and steadfastly remains — firmly committed to providing a safe and supportive environment for our wonderful students. As a community, our care and concern extends throughout every area of our campus life, including our efforts — like those of other colleges and universities across America — to eliminate the scourge of sexual violence. Such despicable violations of our basic humanity contradict every value Baylor lifts up as a caring Christian community.

Our hearts break for those whose lives are impacted by execrable acts of sexual violence. No one should have to endure the trauma of these terrible acts of wrongdoing. We must never lose sight of the long-term, deeply personal effects such contemptible conduct has on the lives of survivors. Let me be clear: Sexual violence emphatically has no place whatsoever at Baylor University.

Last fall, Baylor University’s Board of Regents initiated a comprehensive external review of the University’s response to previous reports of sexual violence. Pepper Hamilton, one of the nation’s most experienced law firms with expertise in the institutional response to all aspects of sexual misconduct, is conducting this review. Members of the Philadelphia-based law firm were on our campus throughout the fall semester. This spring, they are continuing their work, meeting with administrators and students and conducting an extensive review of University documents. Baylor has provided unfettered access to Pepper Hamilton to any information requested, and we will continue to cooperate fully with their comprehensive review. We have requested, and we expect, a frank and candid assessment that both addresses past practices and offers forward-looking recommendations. We trust that this report will serve as a beacon for self-awareness on our continuing journey toward an even stronger and safer community.

When Pepper Hamilton’s review is complete, we will determine how best to share the firm’s recommendations. While operating within the constraints of federal law, namely the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (also known as FERPA), we commit to informing Baylor Nation of both short-term improvements and measures that may require longer-term implementation.

In addition to the media coverage about this review, you may have seen or heard recent news reports that focused on Baylor’s response to incidents of student-involved sexual assault. We were deeply saddened to learn about these instances of interpersonal violence; we acknowledge and commend the great courage these survivors demonstrated by coming forward to share their experiences. Their stories continue to raise consciousness and awareness about these critically important issues.

Some of you have voiced frustration, inquiring why Baylor has been silent on the University’s handling of response to specific reports of sexual assault. As I briefly suggested above, student information is scrupulously protected by FERPA student-privacy laws. These federal measures prevent universities, including Baylor, from speaking publicly about particular incidents. Reports of sexual violence necessarily involve intensely personal and deeply private matters. Even when students choose to come forward to share details publicly about their experiences, the U.S. Department of Education has been clear that that action does not constitute a waiver of FERPA student-privacy laws. The fact that information is a matter of general public interest, as it manifestly is, does not provide an educational institution with permission to release that information. While Baylor can speak generally to policies, procedures and practices, we cannot speak to individual cases and remain within the confines of governing law.

In addition, it is vital to the integrity of the ongoing review by Pepper Hamilton that we refrain from comment and observations about policies and practices until their review is concluded. Although it is difficult for us, we are constrained to show restraint as we allow the firm’s review to proceed to completion in an orderly manner. In the meantime, please know that we are meeting with current and former students who have expressed concerns, and are exploring how we can best ensure that they are fully supported and have access to the helpful resources of the University’s Title IX Office.

As you doubtless know, an important federal law — Title IX — provides important civil rights protections within the setting of higher education. Like many institutions, Baylor’s response to Title IX recommendations has evolved over time. Inasmuch as our response has been called into question, it is imperative to describe the evolution of our University’s procedures. Following guidance from the Department of Education in April 2011, Baylor began work on Title IX initiatives to assess our policies and practices. From 2011 to 2014, Title IX responsibilities were assigned to senior-level administrators. During that period, the University also convened multiple working groups to consider staffing, education and prevention programming, campus resources and policy implications. The important work of these groups led to expanded training and educational opportunities; recommendations for a full-time and dedicated Title IX Coordinator; and more robust policies and significantly expanded personnel and institutional resources to prevent and respond to sexual violence.

In November 2014, Baylor welcomed a full-time Title IX Coordinator, Patty Crawford. She promptly began to work to ensure that her office is a highly visible and accessible presence on campus and that all University students and employees are aware of Title IX policies and available resources. With the assistance of the highly professional staff in the Title IX Office and collaborative relationships with other University departments, Patty ensures that students have unimpeded access to both support and resources, including academic accommodations, access to counseling, residence modifications, “no contact” orders, and other interim remedial and protective measures.

Patty is supported by a full-time Title IX case manager and two trained Title IX investigators. The University’s Title IX Policy, which was adopted in August 2015, governs the University’s response to reports of sexual harassment, sexual violence and interpersonal violence. Under that policy, a trained and experienced external professional reviews the investigative report, meets with the parties and witnesses and renders an objective and impartial determination as to responsibility. When a student is found to have committed an act of sexual violence, strong disciplinary consequences ensue in accordance with the University’s Title IX policy.

We have been equally engaged in prevention and education efforts. Nearly every member of Baylor’s campus has been provided the opportunity to attend Title IX training. We have provided extensive training for student leaders, incoming freshmen and transfer students, all varsity athletics team members, student organizations, as well as faculty and staff members. We are currently conducting additional training and awareness programs all across campus. We are also greatly benefitting from ongoing collaboration with a very able and energetic student advisory group.

Needless to say, our work is not done. In this sensitive arena, it may never be. That said, this is an important moment in time for American higher education — and for Baylor. Here at Baylor, we have a unique opportunity to evaluate culture and climate, to identify challenges and to model the faithful Christian community we continually aspire to be.

We know from past demonstrations of your gracious support on various matters of crucial importance to our success that you deeply love and treasure Baylor University. Baylor is a precious jewel in the pantheon of American higher education. So it is that Baylor Nation repeatedly has come forward with linked hands to champion Baylor’s sacred mission, especially in times of challenge.

We are deeply thankful for your abiding belief in and generous support of Baylor University as a place where a transformational education prepares students for worldwide leadership and service. By God’s good grace, and guided by the vision of our wise Founders, Baylor University has served a hurting world for these past 171 years. Through thick and thin, Baylor has come through the storms and vicissitudes of a broken and hurting world. We fervently pray that in the months and years to come, our beloved institution will continue to grow in preparing our students to serve others in the spirit of Christ.

We ask you as an ever-widening circle of parents, alumni and friends to pray for Baylor, for those who have been tragically impacted by ignoble acts of interpersonal violence, and for the continued and faithful pursuit of Baylor’s noble calling — Pro Ecclesia. Pro Texana.

Yours sincerely,

Ken Starr

Ken Starr
President and Chancellor
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