Baylor President Ken Starr took swift action Friday in the wake of an internal review of the university’s handling of a sexual assault case involving a football player, calling for the hiring of an outside counsel to launch a more complete investigation.
In addition, Starr announced that he is creating a new position that will report directly to him and will oversee “all student-athlete behavior.”
“We must guarantee there is no room at Baylor University for those who would perpetrate sexual violence on our campus,” Starr said in a prepared statement making the announcement.
Starr launched what he described as a “comprehensive internal inquiry” after defensive end Sam Ukwuachu was sentenced last Friday in a Waco court to six months in jail and put on 10 years’ probation for raping a Baylor women’s soccer player in his apartment during homecoming weekend in 2013.
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That internal investigation was led by law professor Jeremy Counseller. Without divulging details, Starr made it clear that Counseller’s report shows the need for digging deeper and taking further action.
“After reviewing the results of his internal inquiry, I am recommending that our Board of Regents retain the services of outside counsel to investigate thoroughly these matters and recommend continued improvements,” Starr said.
He added that regents plan to announce their selection of an outside counsel “early next week.”
Starr did provide some details about the new position he is creating to help monitor athletes’ behavior in the future.
“I am creating a unique position, housed in the Division of Athletics, that has the authority and oversight of all student-athlete behavior,” he said. “This officer-level position will report directly to the President and ensure our student-athletes maintain the high level of personal ethics and integrity that Baylor Nation demands.”
Added Starr: “Baylor University is committed to maintaining the highest degree of campus safety to protect the welfare of all our students. This is central to Baylor’s mission as a Christian university and at the heart of our commitment to our students, faculty and staff. We must have zero tolerance for sexual violence on our athletic teams and our campus.”
Starr is no stranger to independent counsel investigations.
A renowned attorney and former judge who has argued 36 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, he was appointed to serve five times as an independent counsel for investigations, including the famous Whitewater case involving Bill and Hillary Clinton in the 1990s. He also handled the Monica Lewinsky investigation about the intern’s now-famous sexual escapades with President Clinton.
The case exploded into controversy in part because Ukwuachu, 22, was allowed to transfer into coach Art Briles’ program despite a prior history of disciplinary problems at Boise State.
The case has brought scrutiny to Baylor officials for their investigation of the soccer player’s report to campus and Waco police that Ukwuachu raped her and to Briles for allowing Ukwuachu to enroll.
A Baylor administrator testified that the school investigated the woman’s complaint but didn’t find enough evidence “to move forward.”
Baylor associate dean Bethany McCraw testified that, in her opinion, the institution lacked the evidence to pursue charges. McCraw said, according to published reports, that she did not review a nurse’s report on the sexual assault or Ukwuachu’s history at Boise State.
Officials at the two universities have offered much different explanations of what transpired before and during the transfer process.
Briles said in a statement last Friday that he spoke with then-Boise State coach Chris Petersen about Ukwuachu when the player was looking to transfer, but was never told of incidents of violence toward women. Petersen is now the coach at Washington.
“I know and respect Coach Petersen and he would never recommend a student-athlete to Baylor that he didn’t believe in. In our discussion, he did not disclose that there had been violence toward women, but he did tell me of a rocky relationship with his girlfriend which contributed to [Ukwuachu’s] depression,” Briles said. “The only disciplinary action I was aware of were team-related issues, insubordination of coaches and missing practice.”
Briles also said he spoke with Ukwuachu’s high school coach.
“As required with any transfer to Baylor, Boise State acknowledged that he was not suspended due to any institutional disciplinary reasons and further that he was eligible for competition if he chose to return to Boise State,” Briles said.
Baylor also released a copy of a “transfer information request” dated May 29, 2013, and filled out by a Boise State compliance officer. The “no” box is checked beside the question “has this student been suspended or disqualified from your institution for disciplinary reasons?”
“Yes” is checked beside the final question: “Would this student have been eligible had they returned to your institution?”
Petersen also released a statement the same day as Briles.
“After Sam Ukwuachu was dismissed from the Boise State football program and expressed an interest in transferring to Baylor, I initiated a call with coach Art Briles,” Petersen said. “In that conversation, I thoroughly apprised Coach Briles of the circumstances surrounding Sam’s disciplinary record and dismissal.”
In another development Friday, the Baylor sexual assault victim and her family have retained prominent Title IX attorneys John Clune and Chris Ford of Colorado to “investigate a number of issues surrounding the case,” The Dallas Morning News reported.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
John Gravois: 817-390-7734