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Don't let the Art Briles debate overshadow what Baylor University likely did wrong

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Baylor's head coach really might not have known about the danger of accepting a certain transfer. But the school itself failed its women students after that player arrived.

Baylor University

Much of the outrage surrounding the Sam Ukwuachu scandal has been focused on what Bears coach Art Briles knew before Ukwuachu's transfer from Boise State. Ukwuachu would go on to be convicted of sexually assaulting a fellow Baylor student.

A BSU statement that Ukwuachu wasn't booted from the Broncos because of violence against women and that the school had no knowledge of any sexual assault would seem to confirm much of what Briles claimed he was told by then-Broncos coach Chris Petersen.

However, the more important issue is why Baylor University apparently failed to pursue a full Title IX investigation of Ukwuachu. Baylor seemingly deferred to the courts after a weak internal investigation.

Due to the reportedly overwhelming presence of sexual assault on college campuses, the rate at which those assaults go unreported and the troubles many cases face during prosecution, schools are required by Title IX to conduct their own investigations of alleged campus rape.

In cases of alleged sexual assault on campus — or other instances, such as among students in off-campus housing — a university is required to punish a student if it finds a preponderance of evidence (meaning a 51 percent likelihood or higher) supporting the conclusion that the student is guilty. That's less of a bar to clear than in court, where a guilty verdict requires evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, and that standard is controversial.

While Title IX merely requires schools to investigate and then act on their findings, many schools are now making expulsion mandatory.

Baylor released a statement that it has a full Title IX office, which means at least meeting minimum staffing requirements. But the fact that Baylor did not find a preponderance of evidence to support any punishment is disconcerting. In a case with available evidence like this one's, expulsion would have been a potential outcome at many universities.

Schools are required to find all the available evidence from both sides. Per Texas Monthly, Baylor only interviewed Ukwuachu, the victim, and a friend of each, plus consulted a questionable polygraph test. Among the evidence Baylor thus reportedly concluded without obtaining:

  • The results of the victim's rape kit, which indicated sexual trauma.
  • An interview with the university psychiatrist — BU's own employee — who diagnosed the victim with PTSD.
  • Interviews of those whom the victim texted for help that night.
  • Boise State documentation of any disciplinary action or troublesome behavior during Ukwuachu's time there. (Even though BSU later said it didn't know about any alleged violence against women, it did know about a frightening, drunken incident of self-harm and about a troubling relationship.)

Whether Baylor could've obtained all of that — and all of those became available without subpoena to independent party Texas Monthly — and whether it would've led to a guilty verdict, the point is that Baylor didn't exhaust the evidence.

Title IX offices are meant to have the resources to ensure they punish those who engage in sexual misconduct, and they have an obligation under the law to ensure campus is a safe place for women.

The victim transferred, with her father testifying that it was at least partially due to fallout from the assault, while Ukwuachu was allowed to stay enrolled on campus without any punishment. Based on currently public information, it appears Baylor failed its obligations under Title IX law. That would mean it failed to make its campus safe for all women.

This is not just a Baylor problem. More than 100 colleges are under investigation for Title IX violations, and it's likely Baylor will soon find its way onto that list.

For the football team's part, defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said the team was expecting Ukwuachu to play, apparently meaning if not found guilty in court. Suspending a player for the duration of a criminal case would not be unique to Baylor. Many college teams wait for the legal system to play out before fully deciding a player's status.

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