Ken Starr

The double whammy facing Baylor (with good cause) in the sexual-assault scandal

The double whammy facing Baylor (with good cause) in the sexual-assault scandal

As you would expect, I heard from quite a few people this week about the events unfolding at Baylor University, where I did my undergraduate degree in journalism and American history and a master's in church-state studies back in the 1970s.

Baylor is one of those subjects that I know too much about and the emotions are quite complex. My family's ties to the school are deep and I am well aware of the debt that I owe many Baylor people -- my journalism mentor David McHam, historian (and political gadfly) Ralph Lynn and the late choirmaster and composer Robert H. Young head that list.

Then again, the Baylor administration (camped on the "moderate" side of Baptist life at the time) turned the journalism program upside down midway through my undergraduate years after efforts to control the coverage of controversial subjects such as, you got it, sexual assaults on or near campus. I was one of a dozen or so student journalists caught up in that. When I left, I pretty much avoided coming back to the campus for several decades.

So when Michelle Boorstein called from The Washington Post -- "The Ken Starr-Baylor story shows how religious schools struggle to deal with sex assault" -- I am afraid that my comments were rather dense and complex. She was very patient and professional as we tried to figure out the heart of what I was trying to say. She ended up with this:

For such religious schools, the question is how to balance the country’s encouragement of sexual assault victims to come forward with campus rules that restrict sexual behavior and, as a result, often inhibit open discussion. Baylor’s sexual conduct policy says it expects students to express sexual intimacy “in the context of marital fidelity.”
“This raises questions about whether serious religious universities can take part in sports at the highest levels,” said Terry Mattingly, a columnist who is part of a prominent family of Baylor graduates and who founded a journalism center at the Council for Christian Colleges and University. “It could make it harder to talk about it.”

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So far, news media avoiding big faith questions in Baylor sexual assault case

So far, news media avoiding big faith questions in Baylor sexual assault case

As long-time GetReligion readers know, I am a conflicted Baylor University graduate. I had great times there and rough times, as well. The later were almost all linked to attempts by student journalists, including me, to do journalism about subjects that cause tension on all campuses (think Penn State), but especially at private, religious colleges and universities.

What kinds of subjects? Well, like sexual assaults. Hold that thought.

These ties that bind have led to lots of GetReligion work because Baylor is frequently in the news. Open the search engine here, enter "Baylor" and you will find pages of material about press coverage of complicated events at my alma mater. Here's how one early post opened:

A long, long time ago, I was a journalism major at Baylor University, which, as you may know, is the world's largest Baptist university. Baylor is located in Waco, Texas, which many folks in the Lone Star state like to call "Jerusalem on the Brazos." It didn't take long, as a young journalist, to realize that stories linking Baylor to anything having to do with sin and sex were like journalistic catnip in mainstream news newsrooms.

Or how about this language, drawn from one of my national "On Religion" columns?

Every decade or so Baylor University endures another media storm about Southern Baptists, sex and freedom of the press. Take, for example, the historic 1981 Playboy controversy. It proved that few journalists can resist a chance to use phrases such as "seminude Baylor coeds pose for Playboy." ...
I know how these Baylor dramas tend to play out, because in the mid-1970s there was another blowup in which students tried to write some dangerously candid news reports. In that case, I was one of the journalism students who got caught in the crossfire.

So now we have another Baylor controversy in the news, potentially a scandal, that involves sin, sex and, wait for it, college football. As you would expect, there has been coverage. But has the word "Baptist" played a significant role? This is an important question, since Baylor has plenty of critics that consider it a hive for right-wing fundamentalists, while others believe it has compromised and modernized too much.

In terms of hard news, the key story is from The Waco Tribune-Herald.

 

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So Baylor University made a massive change to its policies on sex? Really?

So Baylor University made a massive change to its policies on sex? Really?

Trust me on this. Headline writers in the great state of Texas, and sometimes even nationwide, cannot resist themselves when it comes to juicy news stories about sex and my alma mater, Baylor University. Consider this doozy of a headline from the alternative Dallas Observer:

GAY SEX A-OK FOR MARRIED BAYLOR STUDENTS! THAT'S HOW WE SEE IT, ANYWAY

Yes, no one expects traditional, American model of the press journalism from this kind of alternative paper handed out for free to sell personals ads, as well as ads for hip nightclubs and fast-food joints. In this case, however, it's handy to read what the Observer said because its story was based, as usual, on its editors reading the mainstream media coverage in Texas and then reacting. So here is a key passage:

Sure, the wording on Baylor's new sexual misconduct policy is incredibly vague. But reading between the lines here, we're pretty sure that Baylor's Board of Regents is tacitly saying that Baylor students are now allowed to have homosexual sex. As long as they're married. And that they perform their homosexual acts in accordance with the Bible. And they understand that their sexuality is a gift from God. How about you just read the full, revised policy below?
Baylor will be guided by the biblical understanding that human sexuality is a gift from God and that physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity. Thus, it is expected that Baylor students, faculty and staff will engage in behaviors consistent with this understanding of human sexuality.

The problem, which you know if you clicked the "misconduct policy" link in that text (here it is again, leading you to the .pdf), is that this is not the "full" text. The policy also includes an "application" statement that says, in typical lawyer language:

This policy will be interpreted by the University in a manner consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message of 1963. Under no circumstances may this policy be construed to waive any of the rights granted to Baylor University under the exemption issued to the University on September 26, 1985, by the U.S. Department of Education covering certain regulations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 or under the religious exemption Section 702 Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Now what in tarnation, you can hear editors saying, is the Baptist Faith and Message of 1963?

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