BU leaders: Progress made as sex assault investigations and lawsuits continue

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) Baylor University leaders said the school is making progress, but still has a long way to go following it's sexual assault scandal which broke 18 months ago.

(Photo by Rissa Shaw)

Officials gave an update on the school's status during a 'community conversation' Monday night at the Cashion Academic Center on campus.

The event featured a panel discussion followed by a question and answer session with Baylor's new President, Dr. Linda Livingstone, the new Chair of the Board of Regents, Joel Allison, and the Interim Provost, Dr. Michael McLendon.

“We’re making progress," said Livingstone. "There’s certainly a lot more work to do and it is an on-going process to build that trust over a long period of time, and we’re certainly committed to doing it and look forward to working with everyone to make that progress.”

Livingstone addressed the university's current investigations.

"We're moving forward with all of them in as timely a way as we can," said Livingstone.

She said there was a recent on-site visit from a committee with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), the regional accrediting body which put Baylor on warning last year.

Livingstone said they hoped the warning would be lifted per committee recommendation during SACSCOC's next meeting in early December.

She added, an external audit by Cozen O'Connor, the law firm of some the Pepper Hamilton attorneys joined following their original investigation on Baylor's mishandling of sexual assaults, affirmed the university had completed its 105 recommendations.

"We can certainly say that we've completed those, but to have outside groups affirming what we've done and that we have made these changes and that we've done what we said we were going to do, I think it gives all of us confidence that we're doing the right things and that we're moving forward in the right way," said Livingstone.

The university continues to be investigated by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights over a Title IX complaint; Livingstone said she hoped there would be a resolution in the next six to twelve months.

There is also an active Cleary Act investigation over the university's reporting of crime statistics which Livingstone said could take up to five years.

The Big 12 Conference continues it's own probe into Baylor's wrongdoing as part of sanctions handed down in February.

Livingstone said the conference is doing an external review and representatives would be coming back one or two more times to make sure the university has completed recommendations.

"We're continuing to cooperate with all of these, provide data, give them what they're requesting," said Livingstone.

There was also an update on the legal front; Livingstone said some cases had already been resolved, but there were still five active lawsuits against the university related to the sexual assault scandal, including (the most well-known) 'Jane Doe 1-10.'

She said one case was scheduled for trial in the summer of 2018, another was set for trial in early 2019.

Allison said his goal was for regents not to be in the news.

"It's my responsibility to keep the board in their lanes," said Allison.

He said they've worked hard on restructuring the board; they've already had two meetings under the new structure which includes 41 voting members, three vice chairs, shorter and open committee meetings and more.

"We need to understand the difference between transparency and confidentiality," he said.

Restoring trust in the BOR and uniting the Baylor family are top priorities for Allison.

"It's been hurtful and painful and embarrassing at times over the last 18 months," said Allison. "Our family got a little bit fractured at points."

The school's 15th and first female president, who was hired in June after president Ken Starr was fired in response to the rape scandal, said one of her main focuses was reconciliation.

"I understand why people have the questions that they do, I understand why there's so much pain," said Livingstone.

"When you go in and you know people’s reasons for feeling the way they do is because they love the university so much, it's a good foundation on which to build, and we can do that, and we can help work through some of those issues and bring people together as we move forward," said Livingstone.

Even during this difficult period, school leaders said they felt things were going very well as far as the morale and spirit of the campus.

"It's an exciting time for the life of the university," said McLendon.

Officials were excited to announce a new academic strategic plan, a draft of which would be rolled-out during the next Board of Regents meeting in February.

"There's just great things ahead for the university, I'm just unbelievably optimistic about the future of Baylor and look forward to everybody coming together as we work together to move the university towards that great future," said Livingstone.

"The world needs Baylor."