Question leads to awkward interruption during Starr interview

Crisis management specialist Merrie Spaeth (right), and former Baylor President Ken Starr re-enter the room after Spaeth interrupted Starr’s interview with Julie Hays (left). (Photo by Randy Davis)
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) A question during News 10’s interview with former Baylor Chancellor and President Ken Starr about a rape victim’s email that was sent to his office and to several other officials led to an awkward interruption during which a well-known crisis management specialist convinced Starr to change his response.

The email, with a subject line that read, “I was raped at Baylor”, was sent by a former student who says she was raped while attending the school in 2010.

The woman, who has not been identified, told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” Wednesday morning that she did not believe Starr’s call for transparency was genuine because he never responded to her email.

KWTX anchor Julie Hays asked Starr Wednesday if he had seen it, he first responded “I honestly may have. I’m not denying that I saw it.”

After he answered, Merrie Spaeth, whom Starr had introduced as a family friend, approached KWTX News Director, Mikel Lauber, who was positioned behind the camera during the interview.

Lauber says Spaeth asked him to promise to not use that portion of the interview.

When he said no, Spaeth interrupted the interview, telling Starr as the camera continued to roll that she needed to talk to him.

When Hays tried to ask another question, Spaeth interrupted and insisted that she needed to talk to Starr.

The two then left the room.

Several minutes later they returned, and Spaeth told Hays to ask the question again, saying that she wanted to make sure the answer didn’t end up “mis-edited.”

After a few minutes out of the room, the two returned.

When Hays asked again about the email, Starr responded, “I’m honestly going to say, I have no recollection of that.”

He then turned to Spaeth and asked, “Is that OK?”

Spaeth replied, “Don’t look at me, look at her,” referring to Hays.

He then turned back to Hays who asked the question a third time.

Starr responded, “I honestly have no recollection of seeing such an email and I believe that I would remember seeing such an email. The president of the University gets lots of emails. I don’t even see a lot of the emails that come into the office of the President. I have no recollection of it. None.”

Starr, in a statement issued on Friday, reiterated that he “did not recall seeing any such email and that I believe I would remember it if I had in fact seen it.”

“During the KWTX interview, I responded in a different way. There is no discrepancy in my answers. To the contrary, the answers are entirely consistent, and they are truthful,” he said in the statement.

He said a search of his email archives after the interview Wednesday “revealed an email fitting the description” of the one about which he was asked that his office received in Nov. 3, 2015.

An office assistant forwarded the email to “the appropriate senior officer in the administration responsible for risk management and compliance,” the statement said.

"Still today, I have no recollection of having seen the email either at the time or later, until the matter was brought to my attention two days ago. In any event, the victim’s email was handled promptly by my office and in full accordance with proper protocol," he said.

Spaeth has a long resume as a communication specialist.

In the early 1980s, after she was accepted to the White House Fellows program, she was assigned to work as a special assistant to FBI Direcor William Webster.

She went on to work as director of public affairs at the Federal Trade Commission and in 1983 became director of media relations at the White House for President Ronald Reagan.

She served as special assistant to FBI Director William Webster and was director of media relations at the White House for President Ronald Reagan.

In 1998 she coached Starr before he testified before the House Judiciary Committee as the U.S. House prepared to impeach President Bill Clinton.

She’s the president of Spaeth Communications, the firm she founded in 1987 in Dallas.

Her biography on the firm’s website describes her as “a thought-leader in communication theory, a master of executive coaching and acknowledged as one of the most influential communication counselors in the world.”

Starr told KWTX during the interview on Wednesday that he resigned as chancellor as a matter of conscience so that he could speak freely about the need for transparency after regents released only a 13-page summary of the findings of an independent law firm’s extensive review of the school’s handling of sexual assault complaints.

"That's why I resigned, as a matter of conscience, so I can call on the board of regents, who are good people and love Baylor, but they have continued to follow a policy that I had to follow as an official. But I urge them toward transparency, transparency,” he said.

As chancellor, Starr would have handled primarily external affairs in what’s largely a ceremonial position.

Baylor University Regents issued a statement Wednesday afternoon in which they said the accepted the resignation.

“The comprehensive investigation by Pepper Hamilton and the subsequent Findings of Fact fully and openly outlined systemic failures across the University regarding Title IX policies, procedures and University personnel,” the statement said.

“We recognize this is a tumultuous time for Baylor, most importantly for our current and former students and victims of sexual assault. We were horrified by what we learned from the investigation and again express our public acknowledgment and deepest apologies. The decisions made, and the actions we have taken, will ensure there is no room for deflection of responsibility or diminishing the experiences of the victims. We will continue to protect any details that may compromise the privacy of these individuals.”

Last Thursday regents reassigned Starr, fired head football coach Art Briles and put Athletic Director Ian McCaw on probation in the wake of a scathing report of a review of the sexual assault scandal that engulfed the school’s football program.

Starr conceded in the interview that the university could have done better in responding to reports of sexual violence.

"I do believe we failed at training our investigators and adjudicators. That is also one of the things I know the victims and their family's say we needed more vigorous investigations, more effective investigations, and more counseling,” he said.

"We're so sorry for what happened. We grieve, we grieve for what happened. But that doesn't mean we can't say it's a new day. That's the biblical perspective that we try to live up to at Baylor University."

Starr said the board did not consult with him before deciding to fire Briles and said he wasn’t given many details about Briles’ situation.

"Art Briles is a coach of second chance. Did he make misjudgments? I'll leave that to the board, the board has made its judgment. I am here to say coach Briles and this program are good. He's a good person, the program is a good person, (and) I'm going to vigorously defend it because I love these young men."

Truett Seminary Professor Dr. David Garland was named to serve as interim president, a role he played from August 2008 until May 2010, before Starr was hired.

McCaw announced his resignation Monday evening after earlier announcing that Baylor has hired Jim Grobe, 64, as acting head football coach effective immediately.

Grobe was head coach from 1995 to 2000 at Ohio University and who finished his career from 2001 to 2013 at Wake Forest.

The announcement came late Thursday morning as the school also released the findings and recommendations from an independent review of the university's response to reports of sexual violence by the Pepper Hamilton LLP law firm.

Baylor hired the firm in September 2015 to conduct an outside review of the university's in the wake of the first in a series of scathing ESPN reports.

The firm briefed university regents on May 13.

“We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus. This investigation revealed the university's mishandling of reports in what should have been a supportive, responsive and caring environment for students,” said Richard Willis, chairman of the Baylor Board of Regents.

“The depth to which these acts occurred shocked and outraged us. Our students and their families deserve more, and we have committed our full attention to improving our processes, establishing accountability and ensuring appropriate actions are taken to support former, current and future students.”

A report of the findings of the review by Pepper Hamilton summarizes over 13 pages the inadequacies it found at Baylor with respect to inattention and misconduct by university administrators and leadership in the athletic department regarding Title IX issues.

A majority of the report aims directly at the university’s administration and leadership and only partially at athletic department staff.

Pepper “found examples of actions by university administrators that directly discouraged complainants from reporting or participating in student conduct processes, or that contributed or accommodated a hostile environment.

“In one instance, those actions constituted retaliation against a complainant for reporting sexual assault,” the report said.

“In some instances, administrative responses and campus processes caused significant harm to complainants.”

In the section that speaks to athletics, the report says athletic senior staff failed to guard against harm to students by not following university rules and code of conduct, but then pointed out that administration failed to exercise oversight in athletics to ensure those policies were followed.

Law firm partner Gina Maisto Smith said during the news conference Thursday afternoon that the firm had “unfettered access” to students, faculty and staff during its investigation.

She said the firm also interviewed those affected by acts or alleged acts involving Baylor athletes.

She said a million pages of documents including interviews were reviewed.

During a conference call Thursday afternoon, officials said no decision has been made about an interim replacement for Briles, but defensive coordinator Phil Bennett was being widely mentioned as a likely choice.

Bennett is a veteran coach who, for six years, was head coach at SMU.

Other administrators and athletics program employees were fired, as well, Baylor said, but they were not identified and officials declined to comment on how many were terminated.

Starr, the former Whitewater special prosecutor and Pepperdine Law School Dean Kenneth Starr was officially inaugurated as Baylor University’s 14th president on Sept. 17, 2010.

“We know who we are. Our mission is unmistakably clear: "to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community,” he said in his inaugural speech.

Baylor regents and members of the school’s presidential search and advisory committees praised Starr for his intellect, his academic credentials, his administrative skill and his Christian faith as the university announced his selection on Feb. 16, 2010.

He was named to succeed President John Lilley, whom regents forced out in mid-2008 after selecting him to replace embattled former President Dr. Robert Sloan on Nov. 4, 2005.

Starr returned to Malibu, Calif. to complete the 2010 spring semester as dean of the Pepperdine Law School before moving into the president’s office on June 1, 2010 just in time to face the potential implosion of the Big 12 Conference.

During his six years as president, he mended rifts between the university and its faculty and alumni that had festered for more than a decade.

Starr had served as the Duane and Kelly Roberts Dean and Professor of Law at Pepperdine University from 2004 until May 2010, and was of counsel to the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, at which he was a partner from 1993 to 2004.

He served as solicitor general of the United States from 1989 to 1993 and took over the Whitewater probe in August 1994.

That investigation eventually led to the impeachment of then President Bill Clinton.

He holds degrees from George Washington University and Brown University and earned a law degree from Duke University in 1973.

He did not attend Baylor.

Starr is a fifth-generation Texan who was born in Vernon and grew up in San Antonio, the son of a Church of Christ minister.