Review clears former BU regent chair of racial slurs, sexist remarks

Published: Feb. 18, 2020 at 4:20 PM CST
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Allegations that Richard Willis, the former chairman of the Baylor University Board of Regents made racial slurs against Baylor’s black football players and inappropriate sexual remarks about female students at the university are unfounded, according to the results of a yearlong independent investigation.

The allegations were part of sworn affidavits provided by two men who said they were witnesses to the comments at a business meeting in 2014 in Mexico and surfaced in court filings in the fall of 2018 in Jane Doe lawsuits against the university.

Waco businessman Greg Klepper and Mexican business consultant Alejandro Urdaneta were at the meeting along with Willis and then Regent Ramiro Pena.

KWTX first reported in October 2018 that Baylor attorneys were investigating allegations that, while on the business trip to Mexico, 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.

In response to the allegations, the university retained the firm Ashcroft Sutton & Reyes of Austin to conduct an independent review and law firm partner Johnny Sutton, who served as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas from 2001 to 2009, led the probe.

"Based on our investigation, we conclude that Messrs. Willis and Peña did not make racist, sexist, or anti-Semitic remarks during a trip to Querétaro, Mexico in July 2014...(and) we do not believe Messrs. Willis or Peña drank to the point of intoxication during the trip," the 58-page report concludes.

Klepper and Urdaneta refused to be interviewed as part of the investigation, but their accounts of the incidents provided in other interviews, depositions and affidavits are inconsistent and not believed to be credible, the report says.

Willis was at the helm in 2016 when the university faced allegations of widespread sexual assaults by black athletes on the Baylor football team.

He presided as chairman when Pepper Hamilton was hired to review the school’s handling of sexual assaults involving athletes.

On May 26, 2016, the Baylor Board of Regents released its 13-page findings of fact following a months-long investigation by Pepper Hamilton law firm and fired head football coach Art Briles, Director of Football Operations Colin Shillinglaw and Tom Hill, who had worked for the university for 28 years and at one time oversaw seven sports, including volleyball.

Willis said he was shocked and offended by the allegations when the claims first surfaced.

"I never said any of those words," Willis said in a statement in October 2018.

‘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."

"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.

Pena supported Willis’ claim.

“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,” he said in October 2018.

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

Willis blamed the attack on his character on 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," Willis said in the 2018 statement.

Willis said 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, " Willis said.

The independent review also questioned Klepper’s objectivity.

“Mr. Klepper may be biased against certain administrators at Baylor, or Baylor generally, given prior litigation his company lost against Baylor University and his support for former Baylor football coach Art Briles,” the report said.