Ex-Baylor Board of Regents chair denies explosive allegations

Published: Oct. 1, 2018 at 4:12 PM CDT
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KWTX has learned Baylor University officials are investigating allegations a former chairman of the Baylor Board of Regents made racial slurs against black football players and inappropriate sexual remarks about female students, allegations the former official strenuously denies

Monday night, that former regent, Richard Willis, fired back with allegations of his own, saying it is all a campaign to attack his character and that "I never used any of the reprehensible words."

Baylor officials confirm university attorneys flew to France to investigate the allegations against Willis.

For months, KWTX News 10 has been bringing you stories shedding an alternative light on the Baylor football scandal.

Remember, when the scandal first broke, top university officials blamed the alleged sexual assaults against female students on Coach Art Briles and out-of-control athletes, specifically, black athletes.

Former Chairman of Baylor Board of Regents Richard Willis was at the helm in 2016 when the university faced allegations of wide-spread sexual assaults by black athletes on the Baylor football team.

He presided as chairman when Pepper Hamilton was hired and the Findings of Fact were written by the Baylor Board of Regents.

Many say Willis was the driving force behind the firing of head football coach Art Briles, assistant athletic director Tom Hill and director of football operations Colin Shillinglaw in May 2016.

The story went national and led to the free-fall demise of the powerhouse football program.

But that narrative and Willis’ motives may now be in question in the wake of these new allegations.

KWTX has learned that Baylor attorneys have been investigating allegations that, while on a business trip to Mexico in 2014, then Chairman Willis made racial slurs, referring to black Baylor football players using the “n” word and white female students at Baylor using the “p” word.

Willis also allegedly made disparaging remarks about then University President Kenneth Starr and his wife.

The allegations are part of sworn affidavits provided by two witnesses to the comments, Waco businessman Greg Klepper and Mexican business consultant Alejandro Urdaneta.

All three were in Mexico at a business dinner in 2014 when the inflammatory comments were allegedly made.

The Klepper affidavit alleging racist and inflammatory remarks is on file and under seal in connection with the federal Jane Doe, sexual assault lawsuits against Baylor.

Attorneys Jon Ker and Don Riddle represent both Klepper and Urdaneta and have confirmed Baylor attorneys are investigating their clients’ allegations.

“The chairman had referred to some portion of the Baylor football team using the “n” word,” said Ker.

“Willis made comment to the effect ‘the reason Baylor has such highly qualified (black) football players is because Baylor has the best blonde haired, blue-eyed…’ and he used a very bad term relating to the young girls at Baylor.”

As a part of the internal investigation, KWTX has also confirmed Baylor first sent attorneys to Waco meet with Klepper to get his side of the story.

Then just days later, two Baylor attorneys questioned Urdaneta by phone to get his version of the story.

But they wanted more.

KWTX has confirmed the two lawyers boarded a jet and flew to France to meet with Urdaneta face-to-face.

Both Ker and Riddle stayed in Texas but were listening in on the meeting in France by phone as the Baylor attorneys interviewed Urdaneta.

“The same two lawyers then went to the French Riviera and interviewed the man (Urdaneta) himself and Mr. Ker and I were party to that by telephone,” said Riddle. “He again (Urdaneta) corroborated Mr. Klepper’s explanation of the embarrassing things that he saw and heard.”

Ker and Riddle say both Klepper and Urdaneta have filed sworn affidavits saying they witnessed then Chairman Willis making the disparaging remarks.

What’s more, during the same 2014 trip to Mexico, Willis allegedly made derogatory remarks about Baylor University President Ken Starr and reportedly said “I’m personally going to run him out of town,” and later referred to Starr’s wife as a “Jew bitch”.

Monday evening Richard Willis responded to our multiple requests for comment with a written statement.

Willis says he is shocked and offended by the allegation that he purportedly used racist, disparaging and anti-Semitic language at a private dinner four years ago in Mexico.

"I never said any of those words," Willis says in the statement.

"The alleged comments are so reprehensible that it absolutely sickens me to think that anyone would go to such lengths to maliciously smear me or anyone else for having used them," he said.

"Rev. Ramiro Pena, Pastor of Christ the King Baptist Church, was with me the entire evening. He stated under oath in a deposition that he never heard me make these despicable comments on the evening in question or at any other time," Willis said in the statement.

Willis is blaming the campaign to attack his character on Greg Klepper, referring to him as a "disgruntled" businessman.

"While I was chairman of the Baylor Board of Regents, Mr. Klepper tried to get me to invest in his company. I analyzed the business and concluded that, for me, it was not a good investment," says Willis.

Willis went on to say that Klepper tried to use him to get business from the university and was disappointed when Willis would not take a role in that process.

"He (Klepper) was also upset that I would not become directly involved to help resolve a dispute he had with the general contractor managing the construction of McLane Stadium - a dispute he lost, " says Willis.

Willis says a small number of alumni have been trying to discredit the regents, in particular him, any way they can.

"These critics have sunk to a new low. This group believes it can rewrite history and erase the stories of sexual assault victims at a time when these women should be our greatest concern," says Willis.

"Let me be exceedingly clear: I never used any of the reprehensible words that Mr. Klepper claims I did. And I wouldn't say them - not in a casual conversation, not in the privacy of my home, not in anger, not ever," Willis said.

Willis says he will continue to cooperate with Baylor's investigation.

Rev. Ramiro Pena authorized the release of the following statement Tuesday morning supporting Willis:

“In the summer of 2014, I attended a dinner in Queretaro, Mexico with Richard Willis.

It is alleged Richard made horrible racist, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic remarks at that dinner.

These mean-spirited allegations are false.

I was sitting beside Richard Willis at the dinner and served as his interpreter, as he didn’t speak much Spanish and most of those in attendance, including the host, spoke little English.

If Richard had made the alleged remarks, I would remember them.

To me, the entire dinner and evening was unremarkable other than the graciousness of our hosts.

I’ve known Richard for more than a decade. I’ve stayed in his home and worked closely with him as a fellow Baylor Regent.

I’ve traveled with him on multiple occasions and I’ve never known him to be intemperate or profane.

I consider Richard to be a man of great character and deep Christian commitment.”

Baylor also issued the following statement from President Linda Livingstone just after 5 p.m. Monday to students, faculty and staff:

"Baylor University has been actively investigating an allegation that former Board of Regents Chair Richard Willis used extremely offensive and hurtful language in a private conversation in Mexico in 2014.

Mr. Willis, who served as Chair from 2012-16 and left the Board in 2017, adamantly denies making the statements.

The alleged comments are in direct opposition to everything Baylor stands for, and are so egregious that the University immediately launched an investigation when they first came to light through the litigation process a month ago.

A team of attorneys has interviewed Mr. Willis and most of the others who either participated in or may have overheard the alleged conversation.

As we seek the truth in this matter, we even sent outside legal counsel to France to speak with one participant who now lives there.

We also have been informed that the accuser’s lawyers have a recording of the conversation, but they have refused to share this critical piece of information with us unless formally subpoenaed, which we have now done.

The investigation is still on-going.

To date, one witness has stated that Mr. Willis never used the alleged offensive language on the evening in question, while another witness has corroborated some of the statements.

In accordance with due process, and out of fairness to everyone involved, we will continue our investigation until all reasonable avenues are exhausted to determine whether the alleged statements were made.

Once the investigation is complete, we will act quickly and decisively if these alleged comments were indeed said.

Baylor has made great strides in recent years to enhance diversity and cultural competency on our campus.

All of us at the University have worked hard to create an environment in which all students, faculty and staff are treated with respect and dignity.

Our prompt and thorough response to these allegations once again shows how seriously we take this commitment.

Hate speech, offensive statements or racist comments in any form – by anyone – will never be tolerated at Baylor University."

And, Jim Dunnam, the lawyer for the ten Jane Does also issued the following statement on the investigation:

"Plaintiffs have had this information for weeks, but chose to not publicize it until Mr Willis could be deposed.

Baylor's statement today is a pathetic attempt to get ahead of yet more horrific conduct by its leadership.

Even now, Baylor still cannot even acknowledge the obvious, that in addition to being racist, Mr. Willis' statements show complete disregard for the value of women.

Baylor claims it rejects Willis’ comments, but Baylor allowed Willis an unprecedented four terms as Chairman, during which time hundreds of young Baylor students were raped, including 10 Jane Doe Plaintiffs.

Baylor’s claim that it is attempting to search for the truth is contradicted by over 6 court filings by Baylor trying to prevent public access to this information.

Baylor has fought transparency at every turn, and is now attempting to claim otherwise.

Mr. Willis' statements have been well known to Baylor, yet Baylor took no action until it had exhausted every conceivable Court option to suppress the information from the public, so is now trying to get ahead of it.":

Bears for Leadership Reform President John Eddie Williams, Jr. issued a statement Tuesday:

“There are no words that adequately state our collective alarm and sense of disgust after learning of reports linking racist and misogynistic statements and language attributed to the former Baylor Board of Regents Chairman, Richard Willis. If confirmed, we believe it will cast a cloud of suspicion and skepticism on every decision made by the university’s board during the entire period when Willis was chair.

“Today, there are troubling questions with very few answers. Is there confirmation and evidence related to Mr. Willis’ views or prejudices regarding African Americans and women? If bias existed at the leadership level, did the board know it? Are the university’s efforts to contain information about the scandal related to the protection of this and other actions or words from the Board of Regents during this time? Most importantly, why hasn’t the current board responded to this report? That’s their job; it’s not the job of the university president who wasn’t even on campus during this period of time.

“If the accusations are true, it’s a reflection on the entire board leadership and the governance structure. We hope and pray that the allegations are not true, but only an investigation by an independent third-party can resolve these allegations. Transparency, accountability, and reform – three very important concepts.”