Ambassadors for the Baylor mission

When I accepted the job as Baylor University’s vice president and director of Athletics last summer, there was no shortage of people — including some of my closest friends — who questioned my decision.

They had read the headlines: Baylor was in turmoil.

The university president, head football coach and previous athletic director had departed after an internal investigation revealed a failure within the football program and throughout the university to respond to sexual assault complaints. Mistakes were made. Baylor had failed its students.

But from the first time I set foot on the Waco campus, it was clear to me that there was more to the story. What came into my view was a university that was contrite, committed to its Christian ideals and determined to tackle one of the most challenging issues on college campuses today.

The more I’ve come to know Baylor, the more I am convinced that this is a place with a worthy mission. Its academic excellence, service-oriented focus and Christian heritage are truly unique in the world of higher education. And as such, it calls each of us to challenge the way things have been done in the past and to work toward a stronger future.

In spite of these recent challenges, Baylor continues to attract bright students from around the country because they have done what I did — looked beyond the headlines to see the real Baylor. It is their faith that inspires and motivates us to ensure that the tragic events of the past never happen again.

As Interim President David Garland and his administration made so clear to me, our top priority begins and ends with student safety. More than 80 students, faculty members and administrators have been working to implement 105 sweeping recommendations from the Pepper Hamilton law firm. More than 80 recommendations are either complete or operationalized across the campus.

At the same time, the university has invested $4.3 million into a Title IX office that now has the personnel and resources to respond promptly to sexual assault victims.

Baylor also has modernized its campus police. That includes adding 11 officers, requiring all personnel to take intensive training in trauma-sensitive investigation techniques, installing scores of surveillance cameras throughout campus and coordinating across the university and community to assist complainants with the Title IX process.

In Athletics, where the football program had become a focus of the sexual assault controversy, we’ve moved quickly to redefine the culture, wherever necessary.

Ours is a realm where too many times, student-athletes, coaches and athletic directors are judged solely by results. But I’ve made it clear we will not cut corners. Nothing will ever be more important than doing the right thing, day after day, on and off the field.

This commitment led us to hire Matt Rhule, an excellent head football coach who is nationally recognized for developing young men of character.

Together, we have established high standards of conduct, not only for sexual violence but for any improper conduct by players or staff. And, as the recent dismissal of two Athletics staff members shows, we aren’t afraid to enforce those standards.

I’ve learned that the actions of a few were in no way reflective of the integrity and commitment displayed by the many wonderful, caring individuals who make up our athletic department.

As was evidenced by our impressive men’s and women’s basketball teams this spring — and indeed across all of our 19 intercollegiate athletic programs — our student-athletes, coaches and staff are outstanding ambassadors for the Baylor mission.

Unfortunately for our university, there may well be more negative media stories about Baylor in the coming weeks and months as legal proceedings move forward.

Baylor will continue to face its share of scrutiny. Yet, we in Athletics and across campus are determined to use our time in the national spotlight to serve as a beacon for how universities can address the scourge of sexual violence.

As Baylor’s director of Athletics, I can promise this: We will win games and develop champions. But we will do so the right way, upholding the values of both our university and our God.

Mack Rhoades, Baylor University

Mack Rhoades was named Baylor's Vice President and Director of Athletics in July 2016.