Mac Engel

Baylor needs transparency, not a letter from Ken Starr

Baylor University president Ken Starr released a letter saying the school is “firmly committed to providing a safe and supportive environment” for students.
Baylor University president Ken Starr released a letter saying the school is “firmly committed to providing a safe and supportive environment” for students. AP

Full disclosure: This is about Baylor, which I am sick of writing about just as much as you are tired of hearing about it.

And if the subject was covering up underage drinking, excessive weed or players skipping class, then it is much easier to scold and move on.

This is rape.

You likely missed it, but just a few hours before the Super Bowl, Baylor slyly released a letter from university President Ken Starr. It is the first response from a school administrator since ESPN’s Outside the Lines aired its piece on another case of rape coverup within the football program.

It is the second letter in the past six months from Starr regarding the school’s handling of rape allegations made by coeds against members of the football team. Last week, a former Baylor student wrote a blog that went viral about being raped during her senior year by a Baylor student and specifically how poorly the university handled it.

In all three instances, it looks like Baylor just blew off the victims.

As a private school, Baylor doesn’t have to answer to me or to thousands of other self-important journalists, or curious citizens who want to kick Baylor while it’s down. But it might have to answer for a failure to comply with Title IX regulations. The people in this scenario who have real leverage and should be asking questions are Baylor students and the moms and dads who pay the more than $55,000 per year required to attend that school.

There has to be more than an email or a letter.

This is rape.

The release of Starr’s letter was perfectly timed so it would be buried by Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Beyoncé and the rest of the Super Bowl. Well done, Baylor PR. The letter is a bit more than 1,400 words and was sent to Baylor students, their parents and faculty.

Baylor alums did not receive the email. Instead, many received an offer about how to “strengthen” their credentials by enrolling in Baylor’s online MBA program.

This requires a “town hall meeting” and some genuine effort at transparency to satisfy the people who attend this school, as well as the moms and dads who send their children there.

Don’t take it from me. Take it from a mom who has a kid at Baylor.

“I was more surprised by the [second letter]; it said, ‘This is what we are doing,’ but it doesn’t give any specifics,” said Sarah Mihalcin, who had a daughter graduate from Baylor and has a son there now. “It just seems to be shrouded in secrecy rather than being forthright. It just feels a little shielded.”

Mihalcin has four children, three of whom have already graduated. She knows the college routine and is quick to point out the accurate fact that on-campus rape is not just a Baylor problem.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimates that the “percentage of completed or attempted rape victimization among women in higher educational institutions may be between 20 and 25 percent over the course of a college career.” It also says “for every 1,000 women attending a college or university, there are 35 incidents of rape each academic year.”

At Baylor there are two cases where members of the football team committed rape and remained on the team and on scholarship for a long time before each was convicted.

Mihalcin agrees that Starr’s letter uses Title IX laws as a crutch to keep whatever the administration is doing on lockdown in the name of protecting the victims. There is a way to protect the victims while providing some sense of transparency.

The pricey Philadelphia law firm of Pepper Hamilton remains on the payroll to investigate Baylor’s procedures in this matter. The letter made it clear that, whatever the findings, they will not be made public, which gives the appearance the school can manicure and line-edit the report and recommendations however they see fit.

Given what has happened, there should be a tremendous trust issue. You and I may not be entitled to have questions answered, but Baylor students and their parents most certainly should be provided that chance.

“They threw out the name of the person in charge and she has these people working for her and they are on top of it, but there is no person if you have concerns you can contact,” Mihalcin said. “There is no email address to send questions to. No person to call. No website with answers to questions we might have. I’m just one parent but again it just comes off as shrouded in secrecy.

“I would have had a much different reaction if it was my daughter who was there and not my son. I know that sounds terrible, but it’s the truth. I would be much more concerned if it was my daughter and there was no avenue for discussion.”

When I was on Baylor’s campus last week, I asked seven female students that, if they were attacked, did they feel the school would have their back? Three said yes immediately and cited professors they felt they could turn to. Another answered in the affirmative. The other three were not sure.

I asked Baylor men’s basketball coach Scott Drew on Monday if he felt the need to stress to his players the importance of making good decisions on these issues.

“I think every coach at every institution believes in that school and what they stand for,” Drew said. “Athletics is a great opportunity to showcase the good in the university. As a coach at Baylor, I know it’s important we represent Baylor in the right manner. And that’s important to all of us coaches here.”

It should be but the biggest priority at Baylor, or any school, is to try to protect the students, i.e. customers.

Baylor doesn’t have to answer to me, but it should answer directly to its students, their parents and its alums. This issue is not Baylor-specific, but the appearance of a coverup is and it demands more than a letter.

I am sick of writing about this. But this is rape.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

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