Yo, New York Times: Religion ghost in your update on Baylor's Kenneth Starr?

When your family is full of Baylor University graduates, there is a very good chance that someone is going to send you a link to an A1 piece in The New York Times about the president of the school that many refer to as "Jerusalem on the Brazos."

Baylor's current president is one Kenneth W. Starr, a name familiar to people here in DC Beltway-land and a name that may show up in Google searches more often as Hillary Clinton makes a run at (returning to) the White House. Yes, there is a religion ghost in this fine story about Starr.

This particular story focuses on Starr's role in current NCAA debates about the amateur status of the athletes whose skills bring millions of dollars into the bank accounts of American colleges and universities. I love the fine details and close connections in this summary passage near the top of the story:

In August, as the N.C.A.A. prepared to approve greater autonomy for five major conferences, Mr. Starr argued on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that universities were reforming themselves. In May, on Capitol Hill, he testified against unionization in a hearing that took on a partisan color.

Several lawsuits, as well as the Northwestern case, could end up in the federal appellate system. For the powers that be in intercollegiate athletics, having Mr. Starr on their side is a little like learning that LeBron James is on your pickup basketball team.

“When you’re talking about laying the foundation for appellate cases, Ken Starr is your man,” said Ken Gormley, the dean of the Duquesne University School of Law and author of “The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr.” “There’s only a handful of people in the country whose presence commands the attention of the Supreme Court itself and makes it more likely they will hear your case and that you will win, and he is one.” (When Mr. Starr was solicitor general, his principal deputy was John G. Roberts Jr., now the chief justice.)

It is, of course, impossible to write a story about Starr without a reference or two to one Monica Lewinsky. The goal of this Times report is (1) to discuss Starr's work on the NCAA issue, which requires some background on Baylor's rise from the depths in athletics and (2) to discuss how Starr, the man, vanished after the Clinton years and began a new, yet quietly productive, life far from the DC halls of power.

The story does, of course, mention that Baylor is a Baptist university and there is this interesting paragraph that ties several other threads together:

Baylor is representative of the college sports landscape, in which realignment, billion-dollar television contracts and lucrative postseasons have induced smaller, private universities to bolster their football programs. With its Christian mission, golden dome atop Pat Neff Hall and talented football team, Baylor appears to be an especially faithful rendition of the original mold, Notre Dame.

Let me stress that this is a solid story that connects many key dots in Starr's life. However, I was disappointed that the Times failed to explore the role of faith in the pilgrimage of Starr after his time in the searing global spotlight of the Clinton scandal.

There are hints, but that is all. For example, let's pick up reading right after that earlier reference to Starr's link with Chief Justice Roberts. Note the Bill Clinton reference in particular.

It is unclear whether Mr. Starr wanted to be back in this spotlight. A Republican, he became a more partisan figure than even some elected officials. Many remember the Starr report for its most sordid details, and he later expressed conflicted feelings about the investigation, telling Mr. Gormley that if he were to run into Mr. Clinton he would probably say, “I’m sorry that it all happened.”
Mr. Starr’s biography on the  Baylor website devotes only one paragraph to his quarter-century career in the nation’s capital as a federal appellate judge and the solicitor general, among other things, and a single sentence to his role as a Justice Department-appointed independent counsel who investigated a failed Arkansas real estate venture known as Whitewater, in which Mr. Clinton was an investor. The wide-ranging inquiry eventually revealed the relationship with Ms. Lewinksy and served as the basis for Mr. Clinton’s impeachment. Mr. Starr moved to Malibu, Calif., and became dean of the Pepperdine University School of Law in 2004, then moved in 2010 to dusty Waco, a few hours up Interstate 35 from San Antonio, his hometown.
“I think he sought solace in Texas during the rough times,” Mr. Gormley said.

So first he went to Pepperdine, one of the nation's most prominent Christian universities, and then he moved to Baylor, the world's largest Baptist university. Is it possible that he didn't make these moves for academic and zip code reasons alone? Perhaps someone could have probed the faith content of that apology he would offer to President Clinton? Was Texas, alone, the source of solace for this brilliant man?

Just saying. If the goal was an update on Kenneth Starr, the man, it might have helped to have asked about his faith and its connections to his current work, far from the Beltway.

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