Baylor removes Starr as president, will fire coach over rape cases

DALLAS (Reuters) - Baylor University has removed Kenneth Starr as president and will fire head football coach Art Briles after an independent report found administrators mishandled sexual abuse cases involving football players, the school announced on Thursday.

Kenneth Starr speaks to the media after arguing a case on student free-speech rights before the Supreme Court in Washington March 19, 2007. REUTERS/Molly Riley

The investigation found examples of actions by administrators at Baylor, the world’s largest Baptist university, that directly discouraged students from reporting sexual assaults. In one case, the actions included retaliating against a complainant for reporting a sexual assault.

Starr, the former independent counsel charged with investigating Bill Clinton during his presidency, will end his tenure as university president on May 31 and move to the role of chancellor, while remaining a professor at Baylor University Law School. Briles, who helped make Baylor one of the top football programs in the United States, was suspended with intent to terminate, the college said in its statement.

Athletic Director Ian McCaw was sanctioned and placed on probation, Baylor said. Other members of the administration and athletics program also have been dismissed but were not publicly named by the university.

The investigation by the Pepper Hamilton law firm came after several months of criticism of the school for not thoroughly investigating reports of rapes of female students by its male athletes.

The findings “reflect significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor’s football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of athlete misconduct,” the university said in a statement.

Baylor asked for an independent investigation of its handling of sexual assault accusations following the 2015 conviction of football player Sam Ukwuachu, who was sentenced last year by a Texas judge to six months in jail for sexually assaulting a student in 2013. The judge deemed the school’s investigation of the case so insufficient that he barred defense from citing it.

In March, a former student at Baylor brought a negligence lawsuit in federal court against the school, accusing it of acting callously and indifferently after she was raped by a football player Tevin Elliott, who was sentenced to 20 years in 2014.

In April, defensive end Shawn Oakman was arrested for allegedly assaulting a woman.

Richard Willis, chair of the Baylor Board of Regents, said he was outraged by the results of the investigation.

“We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus,” he said in the school’s statement. “This investigation revealed the university’s mishandling of reports in what should have been a supportive, responsive and caring environment for students.”

Before hiring Briles in 2008, the Baylor Bears had endured 12 straight losing seasons. Under him, they won two Big 12 Conference titles and compiled a 65-37 record.

Reporting by Lisa Maria Garza; Editing by Alden Bentley and Bill Trott