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Baylor University and Government Moral Intervention

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
"Declare your interest" is the conventional British instruction to writers writing on subjects close to their hearts.

So: I taught at Baylor University for five years as a Radford distinguished professor of journalism.

Loved the place. Loved the people. Still do.

What a mess down there now, yes, with the president and head football coach ousted over the school's supposedly inadequate responses to sexual assault claims under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.

According to independent investigators, "Baylor's senior leadership lacked consistent or meaningful engagement in the University's Title IX functions. ... The University lacked a proactive compliance function that would have identified the nature of the risks attendant to sexual and gender-based harassment and violence and interpersonal violence. ... The University did not provide sufficient institutional support for Title IX functions. ... The overwhelming majority of (sexual harassment and assault) cases did not move forward to an adjudicative hearing. ... Baylor failed to take appropriate action to respond to reports of sexual assault and dating violence reportedly committed by football players. ... The football program failed to identify and maintain controls over known risks."

Etc., etc., yuck.

There followed, as the world knows by now, the canning of President Ken Starr and head coach Art Briles, and the installation, by regents, of a program aimed at getting right with Title IX.

This former Radford distinguished professor of journalism at Baylor fears one urgent point might go unexamined. Here it is:

The moral structure on which society once generally relied for the maintenance of civility and decency in male-female relationships is kaput -- even at Baylor, a distinguished Southern Baptist University committed to Christian belief and witness. We've made -- literally -- a federal case of matters and beliefs once deferred to family and community for regulation.

I don't mean rape or assault -- crimes historically deemed as outrages punishable by government action.

I refer to what goes before, or doesn't go before, rape and assault: namely, the drinking in of attitudes the culture teaches, either deliberately or through osmosis.

It wasn't so very long ago that parents, pastors, priests, teachers, coaches and authority figures of all sorts defined the attitudes and decencies expected in male-female relationships and in human relationships in general, for that matter. There were expectations of respect and restraint. You didn't, in other words, ask someone out and rape her, leaving government officials to determine whether consent had been sought, refused, or implied.

Was such the universal standard? We all know it wasn't. Bushes and back seats accommodated all manner of breaches in the moral code -- but nowhere near so many as today: the sixth decade since it became possible, then regular, then a general expectation to "let it all hang out."

Such was the preaching -- not the Baptist kind -- that helped convert America from a nation respectful of the decencies to a place where, as everyone knows, you should do what you feel like doing.

In ye olden time, male and female collegians lived in separate dorms. There were curfews. Drunken orgies were a wee bit less numerous than now. Universities acted in loco parentis -- applying rules and standards consonant with parental expectations regarding how their children should live while away at college. The '60s and '70s sure took care of all that! Today, it's "Hey, good-lookin'. I know we just met, but ..."

This Radford distinguished professor of journalism can imagine President Ken Starr -- a smart and honorable man -- struggling to grapple with a sexual ethic hard to imagine at a Baptist university. It might be fair to call him a victim of the times -- and of a corresponding modern tendency to put government action in play as a substitute for old-time moral cogitation and enforcement.

No need to worry, under these circumstances, about shaping character and kindness and a sense of moral obligation to others. Here's government to do it for us, as usual, and to oversee the punishment of those who don't snap to and do it right. For example, Ken Starr: relic, as we might call him, of a cleaner, better America.

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