BU board initially voted not to fire Briles, regent testifies

(KWTX staff photo/file)
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) The Baylor University Board of Regents initially voted not to fire head football coach Art Briles in 2016, but just days later decided to terminate him, a Baylor regent testified during a deposition in a Jane Doe sexual assault lawsuit against the school.

Excerpts of the Aug. 22 deposition of Regent Phil Stewart, a businessman from San Antonio and former law partner in two major firms, were included with a motion filed late Friday challenging Baylor’s efforts to restrict discovery in the suit in which 10 women claim
Baylor did not respond properly to their complaints of sexual assault.

Stewart testified that Briles survived what he called a “straw vote” just days before the official vote to terminate him, a revelation that seemed to come even as a surprise to the attorney questioning him.

“So you’re saying that the original vote was to retain Coach Briles,” Stewart was asked.

“I’m talking about there was a straw vote and he survived that straw vote,” Stewart replied.

“OK, well he didn’t survive the ultimate vote,” the questioner said.

“No, he did not,” Stewart replied.

Baylor regents are bound by strict confidentiality agreements and until now only the board chair or those approved by the chair have been able to publicly comment.

Stewart’s testimony sheds new light on the controversial investigation that led to the ouster of Briles, demotion and eventual resignation of Chancellor and President Ken Starr and suspension and eventual resignation of athletic director Ian McCaw.

But Baylor, in a statement Monday, said the women’s attorneys are going far afield in their demands for access to individuals and information.

“The plaintiffs have become hidden figures in this litigation, serving as a backdrop for plaintiffs’ counsel’s continued campaign to broadly investigate the operations of Baylor University. Despite the plaintiffs’ counsel’s scorched-earth discovery of board operational issues, these matters are not before the court in this case. The stories of 10 female students who have reported incidents of sexual assault are,” the university said.

“Baylor is not seeking to restrict discovery of the handling of non-party alleged sexual assaults that occurred between Sept. 1, 2003, and Feb. 28, 2016, nor is Baylor seeking to restrict discovery pertaining to the Plaintiffs’ specific incidents,” the university said.

“Baylor’s request is far narrower: it objects to the discovery of non-party, post-February 2016 sexual assaults and the discovery of board operational issues, the athletics department and alleged internal disputes relating to the Pepper Hamilton investigation.”

Waco lawyer Jim Dunnam, who along with Houston lawyer Chad Dunn, represents the 10 women, issued a brief statement Monday in which he said “Every week we learn more about the depths of the cover-up at Baylor. Part of this case is shining light on the truth and those responsible for the horrific failures at Baylor. As long as there is no transparency and no real reform, Baylor will remain a hostile environment for female students.”

Stewart testified during the deposition he strongly disagreed with the Pepper Hamilton findings and the method by which the findings were presented to the board.

He testified he believes that many other dealings within the board of regents and administration unrelated to Title IX issues played a role in the decisions ultimately announced on May 26, 2016, when the Baylor Board of regents released its 13-page “Findings of Fact.”

Stewart was critical of the nine-month-long investigation saying it did not "go far enough" in determining the role of the administration adding that he believed certain members of the administration may have been protected.

He also said he believed the presentation to the board was “orchestrated, staged to achieve desired results,” referring to the board's ultimate decision to terminate Briles and remove Starr, both of which were decisions he said he disagreed with and voted against.

"Quite frankly, I can recall a number of regents talking, you know, (saying ‘you know, I'm in such a daze I can barely even remember what was--what was said,’" he testified.

Stewart admits he was a harsh critic of Ken Starr as Baylor’s president and added he was also concerned that the board was unaware when it hired Pepper Hamilton based on the recommendation of Starr that there was a potential conflict of interest because Starr had a "long and close relationship" with former FBI Director Louis Freeh, a one-time managing partner of the Philadelphia-based law firm, information Stewart suggested he did not know until after the investigation concluded.

Freeh was a partner at Pepper Hamilton at the time Baylor hired the firm and Stewart notes that Freeh left Pepper Hamilton in January of 2016 during the middle of the firm's investigation of Baylor.

About the same time, Stewart recalls, there was a clear shift in focus to Starr.

Stewart said he did not know whether Freeh’s departure and the shift in focus were related.

Despite his criticism of Starr as president, Stewart said he did not vote to terminate Starr following the investigation because he believed Starr was fulfilling his duties as they related to Title IX.

“Actually for the first time, I was seeing in my mind a truly effective leader by taking charge on behalf of Baylor as it related to making sure that the entire university campus was focused on what we needed to be focused on: protecting our students and caring about our students and ensuring their safety,” Stewart said.

Starr has never made it a secret that he felt the board of regents had sought his ouster for years.

He references what he perceived as board efforts to remove him multiple times in “Bear Country,” the book he wrote after he severed ties with the university.

Former Baylor Vice President for Operations and Chief Financial Officer Reagan Ramsower was a subject of Stewart’s testimony as well, according to the deposition excerpts filed with the motion Friday.

When asked by plaintiffs’ lawyers who there was an effort to protect in the administration, Stewart suggested he had long been suspicious of Ramsower's power.

He also believes it was an ultimatum given to the board that led to Starr's ouster.

“What I recall happening was that Dr. Ramsower indicated to several of our regents that that he was considering accepting the position of president of a small Baptist university in West Texas and that if we did not remove Ken Starr as president and move his reporting responsibilities to Ken Starr, that he would take the position with this other university.”

“And given the significant position that Dr. Ramsower had at the university and his significant role in various mechanical aspects of the running of the university, it was certainly my sense, I can’t speak on behalf of the other regents, that this is not very good timing.”

“I was extremely concerned about it because, once again, he was in charge and in control of so much of the internal operations, the mechanical operations of the University. And so I was not happy with the timing of this announcement. We were under extreme pressure as regents with fiduciary responsibilities to deal with the information that have been imparted to us."

(John Carroll contributed to this story)