Report: A Baylor 'mole' infiltrated sexual assault survivor groups to help shape PR strategy

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A Baylor University mole allegedly infiltrated sexual assault survivor groups on campus in the wake of the massive sexual assault scandal in recent years to help better shape their PR strategy. (Getty Images)
A Baylor University mole allegedly infiltrated sexual assault survivor groups on campus in the wake of the massive sexual assault scandal in recent years to help better shape their PR strategy. (Getty Images)

In the wake of the massive sexual assault scandal at Baylor, a new report alleges that a Baylor University official reportedly “infiltrated” several sexual assault survivor groups on campus in recent years.

That official would then take information he learned from the groups back to the school so it could better shape its public relations strategy and better handle the groups and their demonstrations, according PR Week.

“Baylor had – I don’t know what else you’d call it – a mole that would interact with survivor groups,” an unnamed source told PR Week.

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The “mole” was allegedly Matt Burchett, who is the director of student activities at Baylor. According to the report, Burchett helped arrange demonstrations, events and protests for the survivor groups, and then passed along what he learned to school officials both before and after the events.

He also allegedly tried to help shape the group’s public statements, encouraging them to avoid phrases like “Baylor failed.” According to the report, he also “suggested edits” before the group sent a letter to former president Kenneth Starr.

“[Burchett] would coordinate with them, befriend them, and pretend he was helping them organize vigils and demonstrations [about] sexual assault,” the source told PR Week.

In an email described to PR Week, Kevin Jackson, Baylor’s vice president of student life and Burchett’s boss, said Burchett was “adept at this kind of thing.”

Baylor denies Burchett was a “mole”

Both Burchett and other university officials have since refuted claims that he was working as a “mole” within the group. Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said he was up front with the students, and was simply helping for logistical reasons to better help them coordinate with the university.

“For one thing, a ‘mole’ is someone who operates secretly,” Fogleman told Inside Higher Ed on Monday. “Dr. Burchett was above board in his role. He was not undercover nor was he duping anyone. What’s more, the students were certainly free to reject his suggestions. As part of his official duties, Dr. Burchett regularly facilitates expressive activities by students and coordinates a variety of resources from across campus to meet their needs. Information is shared back and forth to ensure such events are safe and provide a platform for the students to communicate their message.”

Burchett said he never received any feedback from students after events, other than that they felt “supported by the university in planning them.”

“My role is, my intent is, to listen to the students and understand what their hopes and visions are on campus, then as an adviser to ask questions, make recommendations, so they can fully realize that vision — while also, and I believe this to be true — provide freedom for them to do what they wish,” Burchett told Inside Higher Ed.

Baylor’s Title IX lawsuit, scandal

Baylor has been under fire in recent years amid a massive sexual assault scandal involving the football program. One lawsuit, that has since been settled, alleged that 52 acts of rape by 31 players occurred between 2011 and 2014.

Starr, former Baylor head coach Art Briles, and former athletic director Ian McCaw — who were in charge at the school during the scandal — have either been fired or resigned.

Baylor, Briles and McCaw are currently involved in a Title IX lawsuit from 10 anonymous students who allege the university mishandled sexual assault cases over the past decade. The NCAA is still investigating the program.

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