A High Bar

A High Bar May 31, 2016

The world of college football was rocked last week — at least that’s what they tell me — when Baylor University demoted president Ken Starr and fired football coach Art Briles after the university’s board of regents received the results of a commissioned investigation into ongoing reports of sexual assault on Baylor’s campus, many incidences of which involved Baylor football players.

Football of late has been a huge income generator for Baylor, as it is for many universities. And while Ken Starr should have been flat out fired, along with athletic director Ian McCaw, the university did pay serious attention to this investigation by firing the football coach, self-reporting to the NCAA, and committing to follow through with the extensive recommendations of outside investigating law firm Pepper Hamilton.

pat neff hallIt’s shameful that Baylor University, of all places, seems to have somehow become a community in which sexual assault is not only tolerated but covered-up in oblation to the god of athletic income generation. But in its public apology and declaration of intent to make the situation right, Baylor has finally, publicly addressed a situation taking place on college campuses all over the country. In doing so, the university has begun the long road to redeeming itself by setting the bar high: will other universities with similar or even worse sexual assault situations step up and start paying attention to this critical issue?

The sobering documentary film “The Hunting Ground” reveals the deep problem and insidious prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses, especially as related to university athletic programs. The film reports that 16 percent of women on college campuses are sexually assaulted but 88 percent never report those assaults. Why? Because most universities will not take action to address instances of sexual violence, in many cases blaming the victim for even reporting the assault. The 2015 film reports statistics like this: last year there were 135 sexual assaults reported at Harvard University, and 10 expulsions. University of California, Berkeley: 78 reported sexual assaults, three expulsions. Stanford University: 259 reported sexual assaults, one expulsion. University of Virginia: 205 reported sexual assaults, zero expulsions.

Yes, at UVA, that’s zero expulsions for complaints of sexual assault, 183 expulsions for cheating or other honor code violations.

While I’m glad Baylor’s action, finally, rocked the world of college football, I cannot imagine why we even find ourselves applauding action like this. It seems unfathomable, especially as the mother of three college students myself, that we would have resort to public outcry to force universities to even start paying attention to preventing sexual violence on campus and supporting victims when the unthinkable happens.

Now that someone seems to be paying attention, I would like very much for Baylor University to go further in its actions to express commitment to addressing this very serious problem: please go back and soundly fire Ken Starr, Ian McCaw, and any other administrator or staff member involved in ignoring or suppressing reports of sexual assault on campus. And then go even further than that.

If it’s true that Baylor’s recent action set a high bar for colleges and universities everywhere, Baylor can now become a school that builds and models safe, nurturing community that acts swiftly to rid the campus of sexual predators and makes the care and healing of victims its highest priority. Baylor University should do that because that’s what institutions of higher learning preparing tomorrow’s leaders should always do.

And Baylor University should do that because it still calls itself a Christian university, and talk about a high bar: the gospel of Jesus Christ demands nothing less.


Published first at Baptist News Global.

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