Commentary: Why Baylor is overdue for a new board of regents

This week, we learned of yet another Title IX suit filed against Baylor, marking the seventh and most recent suit against the university.

The case alleges a 2012 gang rape perpetrated by members of the university’s football team against a Baylor volleyball player. Equally disturbing, the case alleges that a 21-second video recording of the rape was later circulated among football players.

The lawsuit also highlights the appalling culture where sexual assault by football players was considered a “bonding experience.” To add insult to injury, victims were alienated and could find no relief from their school. This could very well be the largest scandal ever in U.S. collegiate athletics — and we cannot sit idly as those who allowed it to take place avoid consequences.

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Where there could have been accountability, there has been shortsighted, institutional collusion. Where the athletic department had the opportunity to address the crimes of their athletes, they instead fought to cover up their violence to protect their cash cow football program. They neglected the very women who were initially drawn to the university’s message, which states: “The mission of Baylor University is to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community.”

Instead of ousting the board members when the systematic cover up became public, they remained in their leadership positions — even after their own version of an independent investigation, known as the Pepper Hamilton Report, claimed the board had “governance issues” and conflicts of interest. Thirteen members of the board served through the time period in question. To this day, they have maintained their positions, further undermining claims of comprehensive reform.

An actual complete report of what took place at Baylor has never been released to the public. The Pepper Hamilton “Findings of Fact” report was written by the Board of Regents themselves and fails to mention which officials were responsible for the actions — or inaction — we already know about.

The Texas Rangers have begun their own independent investigation into the Board of Regents and the members of the athletic department, which could uncover everything that happened. The simple improvements Baylor has made are just a facade. We clearly have all the information needed to demand a complete regime change of the higher-ups at Baylor.

It is ridiculous and outright shameful that the Texas Legislature is considering going into a special session to pass the notorious, so-called “bathroom bill.”

In fact, we have already passed legislation in the past month that hurts insurance policyholders, endangers minorities and decreases women’s access to family planning. Where are our priorities?

Protecting our higher education institutions from sexual assault ought to be an obvious, bipartisan emergency item. Not only are we failing to protect our students, we are allowing a criminal administration to operate at one of our college campuses.

Yes, part of the athletic department staff was fired, though this is not a sincere attempt by the university to address the allegations. Responding to a student’s cry for help shouldn’t be a difficult task and should always take priority over athletic success.

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As Muhammad Aziz, the plaintiff’s lawyer, stated: clarified, “What we are seeking to enforce is just a safe education environment for the girls at the school.” The fact that there needs to be an enforcement of providing a safe education to students who pay $56,628 a year is inconceivable.

As this session winds down, I am disappointed in the path we continue to travel. How far are we regressing if we do nothing but wait with baited breath for another to speak up? I applaud the bravery that these survivors carry every single day, as their stories continue to be buried by people who care more about a university’s reputation than they do about the post-traumatic stress these victims will go through.

As an elected official — and more importantly, as a father of two girls — I will never grow weary of fighting for a safer environment at institutions of higher learning. This is why I am calling for the removal of any board member who has been serving since 2010.

Gutierrez, a San Antonio Democrat, represents House District 119.

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