Former Baylor president Ken Starr on Saturday portrayed his former football coach, Art Briles, as a victim in the university's sexual assault scandal and strongly criticized the federal government's guidelines for Title IX investigations at universities.
"Coach Briles is an honorable, decent man who has devoted his life to helping mold and shape young men," Starr said in a pointed Q&A session at the Texas Tribune. "ESPN can mock that all they want, but they've done a grave and grievous unfairness. Totally unfair. And the mainstream media has picked that up. For me, I march on. I may be practicing law. I've written a book, which may be out. May I announce that? I will have a book on my experience at Baylor."
Starr appeared to be specifically referring to what former Boise State coach Chris Petersen told Briles when Sam Ukwuachu transferred from Boise to Baylor. Reports later showed Ukwuachu, who was convicted of raping a woman at Baylor, had a violent past at Boise. Starr said there was no such conversation between Petersen and Briles about violence.
Starr, who was fired as president and resigned as chancellor due to the scandal, said Baylor police and counselors were "completely insufficient" in dealing with sexual assault victims. He disagreed with an outside law firm's findings that Baylor senior leadership fundamentally failed victims.
Some of Starr's strongest comments focused on his criticism of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) for its Title IX guidelines. In April 2011, OCR sent a letter to colleges reminding them of the Title IX requirements related to sexual violence and harassment that must be followed as federally funded universities.
"I'm just going to go ahead and say it: I think that is an abuse of power, an abuse of authority," Starr said.
Several lawsuits around the country are challenging whether universities are acting improperly in Title IX investigations against male students who are accused of sexual assault.
"I was astonished that we said the [Baylor] cases are so complicated and so difficult and so sensitive we're going to be bringing in retired Supreme Court justices from Iowa and Pennsylvania so they had no ties to Baylor whatsoever," Starr said. "I think all of higher education has been engaged in this overcorrection because, to be honest, it's a question of institutional capacity. I am now very doubtful whether there can in fact be a full and fair adjudication of these particular types of issues under Title IX by the universities."
At one point, Starr seemed to suggest Baylor's religious standards caused the school to be targeted publicly. A woman in the audience asked Starr why Baylor got "crucified" given that statistics show 18 percent of Texas female students said they've been sexually assaulted in college and 15 percent of Texas A&M students said the same.
"I'll leave that to the feverish imaginations, but there is a huge cultural and societal problem of interpersonal violence," Starr said.
The moderator asked Starr if he was implying Baylor was targeted because of its community of faith. "I think that Baylor is held to a very high standard so if there's a perceived departure from those standards, we're going to be sought out," Starr said.
Starr cited academic success by Baylor's football team that gets ignored in "this huge narrative, which is so unfair to the university. But others are going to be picked on from time to time -- or chosen, shall I say."
One man in the audience, whose daughter graduated from Baylor, questioned how it was that Briles got fired but his assistant coaches supposedly didn't know about what transpired and remain on staff. The man asked, if Briles is a great person and Starr didn't know the facts -- as Starr continued to claim -- then who's responsible?
Starr wouldn't say whether he believes everyone still at Baylor has been properly held accountable because he said he doesn't know all of the facts. "I'm a transparency and sunshine guy," Starr said. The comment drew an audible laugh from the audience. "But these are all questions that are being asked in Baylor Nation, and I hope we can bring this to a resolution."
Prominent author/blogger Ana Marie Cox, who was in the audience, drew applause when she strongly condemned Starr.
"I'm appalled at what you said today," Cox told Starr. "I'm appalled that you said Art Briles is the real victim here. I'm appalled by your lack of curiosity apparently by what's going on at your own university. It's far beyond the football team, from what I can tell with the reports, that you're just finding out now. ... Given your history, your lack of curiosity is really astonishing to me. I mean, you're willing to diagnose a culture of binge drinking, but not a culture of sexual assault? Really?"