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Ken Starr Baylor University Scandal

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Ken Starr is best known for his investigation that helped lead to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. And now he'll be playing a part in the defense of President Trump during his impeachment trial. In between these chapters in presidential impeachment, Starr worked for six years as president of Baylor University in Texas, which is the nation's largest Baptist university and where he was forced out over his handling of sexual assault scandals.

We're joined now by Paula Lavigne, an investigative reporter for ESPN who wrote a book about the scandal.

Welcome.

PAULA LAVIGNE: Thank you.

CHANG: So I want you to bring us back to 2010 when Ken Starr first became president of Baylor University. What brought him there? Like, what were the university's aspirations when they picked him to lead them?

LAVIGNE: Well, it was an interesting choice. I mean, he was not someone who had history with Baylor, but he was a big name, and they were looking to raise their profile and raise more money for the university and thought that bringing him in would really appeal to the donors. And he had a Christian background. That was a very important aspect for how they ran the university. And they were really hoping that he could bring them into the next chapter.

CHANG: Well, publicity is certainly what they got in 2015 when things drastically changed, when scandal first hit the national headlines because a football player at Baylor was convicted of sexual assault. Can you tell us what happened there?

LAVIGNE: Right. So football player Sam Ukwuachu was convicted of sexual assault. And why it raised some eyebrows more so than some other cases was that he had previously been cleared by a university investigation, which actually would've had a lower burden of proof than a criminal conviction. And what the media and others came up with were additional reports of sexual assaults involving football players. That led to an internal investigation. And then what the media and those investigators found was that Baylor's failure to address sexual violence was not just a problem with the football program. It was a campus-wide issue that had been getting worse over the years - women being silenced, victim blamed, retaliated against.

So this leads to May 2016. The board of regents decides to fire head football coach Art Briles. They suspend the athletic director, and they demote Ken Starr. He, later that summer, steps down from all of his roles at Baylor and departs.

CHANG: So what do we know about whatever personal role Ken Starr had in this scandal? Did he play a personal role?

LAVIGNE: Well, I think Ken Starr's role was one of someone who was responsible for making sure that this got addressed at Baylor but dropped the ball on that. A good example of that is that federal guidelines required the university to appoint someone as a Title IX coordinator. And so he does that, but he gives that job to someone who was handling human resources and who already had a full-time job and who was not really equipped to deal with that, just doesn't make it a priority.

CHANG: Was it his position that he didn't know so many women were coming forward with reports of sexual assault or he didn't know what happened to those reports of sexual assault?

LAVIGNE: Well, right. So after this all played out, that's what he was saying is, like, I wasn't aware that all of this was happening and how serious this all was. And a lot of what happened with his discussions and the board of regents when he was demoted has not come out because they've - both sides have agreed to keep silent about a lot of that.

But at the end of the day, no one has ever come forward and said that he specifically knew about a case of sexual assault that he covered up or that he had a role in covering up, and that is important. It's more that he was sort of out to lunch on the issue, big-picture.

CHANG: So what has Baylor University done to address the culture that led to this scandal?

LAVIGNE: I would say that there are people who say it hasn't gone far enough and that there are still issues. I mean, they did have a massive turnover with, you know, Ken Starr leaving, the athletic director, Briles and then, after that, a number of other people at lower levels. But I think something that's important to mention is that there's still a lot of loose ends to this. There are multiple women who filed Title IX gender discrimination lawsuits against Baylor. Some of those are still pending.

But another thing to keep in mind is that there were a number of entities that launched investigations, including the U.S. Department of Education, and that investigation is still ongoing.

CHANG: Paula Lavigne of ESPN. Her book was co-written with Mark Schlabach. It's called "Violated: Exposing Rape At Baylor University Amid College Football's Sexual Assault Crisis."

Thank you very much for joining us today.

LAVIGNE: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.