News & Politics

Cover-Up Culture Persists at Baylor Amid Widespread Campus Rape Crisis

The latest developments this week indicate that Baylor University is not only failing to adequately address a widespread rape crisis across its campus, but is still actively engaged in a bunker mentality and culture of cover-up that punishes victims of sexual assault. The charges suggest that instead of dealing with problems they knew, or should have known, existed on campus, many members of the administration instead deliberately withheld information and, in many cases, retaliated against victims.

Earlier this week, Baylor was hit with the resignation of its Title IX coordinator, Patty Crawford, originally hired to help investigate sexual assault allegations and create what Baylor called “a safe and caring community.” This resignation came amid negotiations of a settlement with Crawford pursuant to a human resources complaint she filed with the university over alleged retaliatory actions against her for investigations she launched. Instead of reaching a settlement, Crawford quit outright when she was offered extra money in exchange for a confidentiality agreement.

In an interview with CBS News on Wednesday (which you can watch in full here), Crawford says that she was set up to fail by the administration that hired her. In the interview, she describes how her office fielded hundreds of reports of assault, but the more she tried to do, the more resistance she got from the top: “Continuing to lose authority, being disconnected from meetings and conversations, the university making decisions that only the Title IX coordinator should make, based more on protection of the brand rather than protecting our students …. I trusted the university, but it came to a point where I couldn’t have integrity with my work, and I had to resign.”

Crawford says that things got progressively more difficult leading up to her resignation, causing her to file a federal complaint.

I think Baylor set me up to fail, from the beginning, in November 2014. I continued to work very hard, and the harder I worked the more resistance I received from senior leadership. I increased reports by 700 percent during my time, and it became clear that was not something the university wanted. In July, I made it clear in writing that I had concerns that the university was violating Title IX and my environment got worse.

A group of senior leaders who made sure that they were protecting the brand, I believe, more than the students. I filed a complaint to the federal government last week, to the office of civil rights, and to human resources. It led me to a place on Monday where I had to make a decision: Was I going to remain part of the problem, or was I going to resign? The allegations in my report are that I never had the authority, the resources or the independence to do the job appropriately, which the department of education writes in its guidance for Title IX coordinators.

The controversy, which has expanded to reveal a sordid underbelly and a culture of abuse and retaliation, originally involved prominent members of the Baylor Bears football team — including a player who transferred to Baylor after being kicked off his last team for domestic violence. The transfer of Samuel Ukwuachu from Boise State to Baylor led ultimately to the firing of head coach Art Briles and school president Ken Starr.

(Yes, it’s the same Ken Starr who investigated Whitewater and Bill Clinton. It’s ironic that he was so dogged in investigating sexual malfeasance of a sitting POTUS, while subsequently being asleep at the wheel during the crisis at Baylor. But I digress.)

The Samuel Ukwuachu episode was a story of outsized ambition that caused too many people in authority to look the other way to avoid doing the right thing. It’s been especially damaging for a place like Baylor, a private, Baptist institution that prides itself on promoting an environment of nurturing Christian values. Texas Monthly magazine detailed the decade-long plan to bring Baylor into national prominence:

It wasn’t the way things were supposed to happen. After Ukwuachu was convicted … Starr sent out a press release that, while lamenting the woman’s suffering, declared that “By God’s grace, we are living in a golden era at Baylor University.” He wasn’t wrong about that, at least if you look at the things the school had achieved since 2002, the year that the school’s administration unveiled its “Baylor 2012” vision for the university’s future.

That ten-year plan was intended to bring Baylor “into the top tier of American universities, while reaffirming and deepening its distinctive Christian mission.” The school scaled up its focus on research, big-name faculty, and sports. It tripled its tuition between 2002 and 2016. It took on unprecedented debt—building a $266 million football stadium, a $103 million sciences building—in pursuit of its ambition to enter that top tier of schools, to become the Baptist Notre Dame.

Coach Briles had every reason to know Ukwuachu’s history of assaulting women and anger issues when he transferred to Baylor. After all, the reason he was able to transfer to Baylor is that he was first kicked off the Boise State football team for repeated violations of team rules. In fact, the Baylor athletic department asked Boise State to write a letter supporting a waiver of an NCAA rule that requires a transferring player to sit out one season. Boise State declined. Media reports indicate that Baylor’s athletic department had every reason to know Ukwuachu’s history.

A few months after Ukwuachu transfered to Baylor, in 2013, he raped a member of the women’s soccer team. She was an 18-year-old virgin at the time. Ukwuachu received a felony conviction, with a sentence of 6 months in jail and 10 years on probation.

This was not the first time a football player had raped a female student on campus. Nor was it the first time the university retaliated against the victim instead of properly investigating the charges. In 2012, linebacker Tevin Elliott was convicted of two counts of sexual assault. During that trial, many of Elliott’s prior victims testified that he had assaulted them as well. He’s currently serving 20 years. The victim’s mother said Baylor faculty was not helpful in guiding her daughter during this academically stressful time. In fact, the victim lost her scholarship and was unable to finish her degree at Baylor.

The Elliott trial revealed troubling activities within the Waco police department as well. Elliott’s previous victims never had their cases investigated by the police, and victim interviews were never conducted. Charges were never brought against Elliott for these crimes.

In an independent report commissioned by the Board of Regents, Baylor was revealed to have covered up sexual assaults and retaliated against at least one victim (details were not revealed). This is the report that led to the eventual firing of Briles and Starr earlier this year.

What has been revealed is a longtime culture of covering up assaults involving other areas of campus life — fraternities, the tennis team, engineering, architecture, and others. The Title IX coordinator was supposed to investigate the scope of the problem on the Baylor campus, provide mandates to improve reporting of sexual assaults and proper response to the issue, and find ways to create an open culture where predatory sex abusers are less likely to operate. Instead, Baylor University continues to sweep the problem under the rug while attacking the legitimacy of the people brought in to solve their problem. Multiple lawsuits have been filed by victims. One lawsuit calls the campus a “hunting ground for sexual predators.”

Baylor University is at a crossroads. Does it return to its roots, providing a nurturing, Christian campus that values honesty, safety, and morality? Or does it continue to be led by blind ambition, failing to take even the most basic steps to do the right thing?